Page 1404 - Week 05 - Wednesday, 10 April 2013

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living with autism, including their families. And there have been many great initiatives so far this month that have raised awareness, and I congratulate the many community groups that have been involved in forums and the go blue campaigns.

But what we also need as part of this debate is real commitment from government. Raising awareness is a great thing, but in the end what we need are the dollars, the strategies and the policies that improve the lives of people living with autism and their families. At the very basic level, we need to ensure that we are providing the right level of support and funding for people with autism so that they can grasp all the opportunities out there.

Mr Doszpot’s motion notes that only nine hours of therapy support per week is currently provided directly through the autism intervention unit, despite experts recommending a minimum of 20 hours. This is simply not good enough. One of the difficulties for educators in mainstream schools is that there is not one single treatment that is appropriate for all children with autism spectrum disorder. Individually tailored programs using a range of teaching strategies are required. It is also widely accepted that the earlier special intervention programs can start for a child, the greater the chance that child has of reaching their full educational and social potential.

We know that Autism Asperger ACT have made numerous and successive budget submissions calling for more funding, but they have had little or no success. I am aware that some parents have moved interstate to gain better resources and facilities for their children.

In December last year, I was fortunate enough to visit one of these facilities run by the AEIOU Foundation. The AEIOU Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation, and one of Queensland’s leading providers of full-time early education for children with autism who are aged between 2½ and six years. Each AEIOU centre is staffed with full-time specialist early childhood teachers and skilled learning facilitators, with support from speech pathologists, occupational and music therapists. The AEIOU Foundation was established in 2005. It has since grown to currently operate 10 centres across Queensland. The foundation currently has 200 students enrolled.

The evidence of the success of these centres is compelling. The AEIOU Foundation states that 90 per cent of children that complete the program can communicate functionally and 75 per cent of children that complete the program successfully transition into mainstream schools—75 per cent. This is an extraordinary outcome and is the sort of outcome that parents are crying out for.

Early intervention is the absolute key and if you do not buy it from the argument of how it transforms people’s lives then buy it from the economic argument. If you have the early intervention and you spend the money early, how much less will the government have to spend and families have to spend in the future as these kids are able to transition into mainstream schools? It makes sense at a human level. It makes sense at an economic level as well. We should not forget that this investment in two years of early intervention, this two-year intensive program, is a fantastic investment.

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