Page 3283 - Week 11 - Tuesday, 17 September 2013

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Autism—early intervention programs

Discussion of matter of public importance

MR ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Mr Doszpot): Madam Speaker has received letters from Ms Berry, Dr Bourke, myself, Mr Gentleman, Mr Hanson, Ms Lawder, Ms Porter, Mr Smyth and Mr Wall proposing that matters of public importance be submitted to the Assembly. In accordance with standing order 79, Madam Speaker has determined that the matter proposed by Ms Lawder be submitted to the Assembly, namely:

The importance of providing intensive early intervention programs for children with autism in the ACT.

MS LAWDER (Brindabella) (4.17): It gives me great pleasure to rise today to talk about an important topic—early intervention services for children with autism. Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is a complex neurobiological disorder that typically lasts throughout a person’s lifetime. ASD encompasses characteristics varying in severity across domains of cognitive, communication and social development with restricted interest and repetitive behaviour.

Individually, each child who appears on the spectrum is different from the next, but sadly ASD is not rare. One in 100 children in Australia is diagnosed with ASD. As a previous member of the National People with Disabilities and Carer Council, I know very well the challenges that families face when they have a family member with a disability. For those families who have a child with autism, there can be further challenges that come with a lack of understanding of ASD in our community.

Commonly, a child with ASD is overlooked, with the assumption that they are just being naughty or simply the result of lazy parenting. It is an enormous undertaking for any family along the time line from when they suspect their child is not developing as quickly or in the same way as others to when they are able to get a diagnosis, help and support. We need to be doing more in the ACT to assist families in this.

Research has proven that the earlier an ASD diagnosis is made and the sooner intervention services can be provided with intensive therapy, the more likely it is that a child with ASD will learn skills and be able to move into a mainstream school and maintain a relatively stable life. We have programs to assist in the ACT now, but they are nowhere near the standard they need to be to have the best chance of helping our children.

The programs are sometimes described as fragmented, that diagnosis is too slow, that support is hard to access and that there are just too few early intervention services. The ACT is one of only two jurisdictions in Australia that do not have a specific early intervention centre for children with ASD. The federal Labor government a few years ago, as part of their helping children with autism program, built six autism-specific early learning and care centres around Australia, but not one in the ACT. These centres provide early learning programs and specific support for children aged zero to six years with ASD.

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