Funding Cuts for People with Autism

Wingard: In South Australia, autism spectrum disorder diagnoses are increasing by about 15% a year but funding is not keeping pace, Autism SA says. … Ms Vincent, you say the decrease in funding to support people with autism is not only unfair but illogical – why is that?

Kelly Vincent MLC: Absolutely … research shows that the amount of people diagnosed with autism is increasing by 15% per year … [unclear] increase in the amount of people with different types of autism, not just the more generic type … it’s completely illogical in that sense to decrease funding while the numbers are increasing but also illogical because the Government has actually shown some initiative in the way … addressing the needs of people with autism with packages like Helping Kids With Autism packages … yet they’re taking away with the other hand so it is almost like giving with one hand and taking with the other.
Wingard: It appears contractual obligations with both Governments has meant funding was directed at early intervention programs like you mentioned and cuts out when a child turns seven but … most people in South Australia with the disorder were aged between six and 18 – this is illogical in itself, isn’t it?
Kelly Vincent MLC: Absolutely, absolutely and given also that the average age for a child to be diagnosed with autism is between two and three, if we only have support packages going up to six or seven, really families and children are left with a very narrow window of opportunity to use that package and so we’re not reaping the full benefits of what could be a great program.
Wingard: The Government does have in place measures to support children with autism … you say these don’t address the whole issue: what’s missing and what’s needed?
Kelly Vincent MLC: As I’ve already said, given that the package only covers children up to the age of seven, children don’t stop having autism once they turn seven, it’s a bit like giving a child with a vision impairment or blindness a guide dog for the first seven years of their life and then taking that away. We wouldn’t expect that child to cope and so we shouldn’t expect children with autism to [unclear] just because they’ve turned seven. Autism is obviously a life-long condition and therefore support should be lifelong as well but … what’s missing also is support for obviously people over the age of seven but also in particular adults, so children 18 years and over [sic] with autism, these children will continue to struggle to find opportunities in tertiary education and in the workforce so a lot of support is needed there too.
Wingard: Each person with autism is different, as you’ve mentioned there are so many different variables and a very diverse spectrum in how it presents and people with the disorder often requiring different forms of assistance. How can we make a more holistic support plan for people with autism?
Kelly Vincent MLC: I think one of the biggest problems is at the moment the system is very based on diagnoses rather than needs so we may have children especially who exhibit symptoms very like autism, like a language disorder … behavioural disorder … but because they don’t have that technical autism diagnosis, they’re not eligible for the services even though they may need exactly the same services as a child with autism … firstly we need to move towards a system which is more based on needs rather than official diagnosis. Obviously we’ll still need perhaps a GP to prove that need but if you can prove it then you should be eligible for the same service.
Wingard: Do you have any plans to talk with the Government about increasing funding in this area?
Kelly Vincent MLC: I have met with Jenny Macklin in the past … she seemed very receptive to the idea that what we have in place is not working but I will continue to campaign around this vitally important issue.
Wingard: …thank you.