Statement to Autism Rally on Steps of Parliament

This morning I am going to start by asking you a question. Put your hand up if you have faced challenges accessing adequate intervention and education for your child with autism spectrum disorder.

Yes, I thought so.

Today I speak in support of parents, families and children that manage the challenge that autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, brings every day.

With diagnosis, particularly early diagnosis of ASD increasing by about fifteen percent (15%), the need for adequate early intervention funding is ever-increasing. Unfortunately, the money is not keeping up with the diagnosis rate.

Autism can dramatically affect a person’s ability to understand the world around them because of social and behavioural impairments, and may also result in difficulties with speech and communication.

ASD is a far-reaching and life-long condition; funding and support should be life-long, too.

I recognise Government schemes such as the Better Start Initiative and the Helping Children with Autism package, but they do little to address the real problem. What we need is a program like that run in Queensland by not-for-profit AEIOU.

Best practice guidelines for early intervention with autism say that we must start between two and four years of age. A program of at least 20 hours a week for two years is critical to providing a stable a good early start for our children with ASD. The program must have a mutli-disciplinary approach and a staff ratio of 2-4 children per adult.

And the thing about early intervention funding is it saves money in the long run. If people with ASD are well adapted and integrated into our education system and social structures, they can lead fulfilling and productive lives rather than ending up isolated and excluded from society.

In addition to this early intervention, re-instating of case managers is essential, as is the elimination of unmet need.

With today being D-Day for Premier Rann and Jay Weatherill about to take the reins, this is the time for the incoming Premier to nail his colours to the wall.

Premier Rann has spent much time in previous months carrying on about his legacy – well today I call on Premier in Waiting Weatherill to declare what his intention are for the people of this state.

What will his legacy be?

Premiers are remembered for what they do for the people who most need help, those that are having the toughest time, those that are at the margins.

A swish farewell party at the swanky Film Corporation premises will not see one child with ASD better integrated into our society. All the mining contracts signed with big business will mean nothing if our young people with ASD end up filling our courts and jails, or queued up at Centrelink because the education and training system has failed them.

So, Mr Weatherill, as former Disability Minister, and current Education Minister, we hope that you have more insight into these issues, more appreciation of the urgency needed on ASD.

Yesterday Monsignor Cappo’s Disability Blueprint was tabled in our Parliament. The blueprint is excellent in its scope and targets. But eloquently expressed intentions and beautifully produced documents amount to absolutely zilch if they aren’t backed up by swift systemic change and adequate funding.

As the Monsignor has previously said, our disability system is in crisis; it’s in a state of disrepair and in need of urgent attention.

Mr Weatherill now has the document that lights the way for the disability sector in this state and I urge him to enable it – provide the leadership we desperately need in this area.

Thank you.