Page 3291 - Week 11 - Tuesday, 17 September 2013

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To read this afternoon that I said an autism-specific school was “not required” is a misrepresentation of my position. What I actually said was that I would want to see more evidence that this is what parents of children with autism want for their children. That would obviously require further information and further discussion with autism advocates, and a clear indication that the level of service delivery being provided by government was not adequate and was not providing best practice intervention. Further, there would need to be discussion about what the level of government support should be and how any support would be offered.

As I said at the time, it may well be that some parents want an autism-specific school but other parents might prefer that their child is in an autism intervention unit with an integration day at their local preschool. It may be that this delivers a good level of intervention and occurs closer to the child’s home, allowing less disruption to the whole family. Some parents are passionate about ensuring children are integrated, with support, into a mainstream environment, and would not wish for their child to attend a special-needs school.

I would like to note that the information tabled by the government outlined a comprehensive menu of assessment and therapy options for children with ASD, but it is clear that the government does not offer the kind of six hours a day, five days a week model in a single setting that is being advocated for by the Canberra Liberals as being what is required. Rather, there is a combination of services, including playgroups, autism intervention units and early childhood units, combined with mainstream preschool for those who are eligible.

Ms Lawder’s MPI today makes reference to the importance of “intensive early intervention programs” for children. To be honest, I am unclear as to whether there is a technical definition of what constitutes “intensive”, but I have been told that there are differing opinions on the required intensity of therapeutic models to deliver the best outcomes. However, I would not profess to be an expert in that area. It would seem to me that what we want to do is offer the best possible service we can within the resources that we have and within a framework of best practice. Once again, I would reiterate that this is a complex policy discussion and I believe that some kind of in-depth discussion about the service delivery model would need to be undertaken with government before anything else happened.

I highlighted that I thought there were attractions to a single educational facility that provides services to the bulk of children with ASD—such as a single uniform curriculum that was developed and tweaked to suit over time. I would add that a specific school might also be in a good position to provide the very structured setting that children with ASD often require—a setting that is specifically tailored to meet their needs in the early years, where the appropriate visual information can be provided and used consistently. I understand that when routines are established for children with ASD, and some communication supports are put in place, other behaviours can often improve and their anxiety can reduce, which then means that a child with ASD is more switched on to learning. Mainstream integration could then be something that follows at a later stage and can be managed in a staged way.

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