ABS autism reports

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) conducts its Survey of Disability Ageing and Carers about every 5 years. The report summaries are available here (2012 data) and here (2009 data). The reports include sections on:

  • autism prevalence ... both nationally and by state
  • education participation and outcomes
  • labour force participation
  • the level of disability that people with autism/ASD experience, their need for assitance and the assistance they receive

The observations show abysmal outcomes for people with "autism". These unnecessarily inequitable outcomes would be avoided or reduced if services appropriate for people with autism were available ... but governments at both the federal and state/territory level refuse to recognise that people with autism have distinct needs, needs that are different from the needs of people with disabilities that are better understood.

The 2012 report says:

  • "The 2012 SDAC showed an estimated 115,400 Australians (0.5%) had autism. This was an 79% increase on the 64,400 people estimated to have the condition in 2009." Prevalence varies enormously with age: "There was considerable variation in the prevalence of autism across age groups, with a marked drop off in prevalence after peaking in the 5 to 9 years age group".
  • "It is unlikely however, that people are being diagnosed with other conditions instead of autism as there is no correlating increase in other conditions in the SDAC data that would suggest alternative diagnoses (e.g. other developmental disorders, mental retardation/intellectual disability) in these late teenage years."
  • "The prevalence of autism by state or territory of usual residence varied slightly, ranging from 0.30% in the Australian Capital Territory to 0.72% in Victoria."
  • "Of people with autism who had finished school, 81% had not completed a post-school qualification."
  • "In 2012, the labour force participation rate for people with autism was 42%. This compares with 53% labour force participation rate for people with disabilities and 83% for people without disabilities."
  • "Of people with autism, 73% reported having a profound or severe core activity limitation ..."
  • "27,100 people with autism who reported needing more help with communication (understanding or being understood by others) and 48,100 needing more help with cognitive or emotional tasks (managing their emotions and/or behaviour)" and "The bulk of care was provided by informal carers (relatives or friends), ..."

Specific observations from the 2009 data are:

  • in 2009, "an estimated 64,600 Australians had autism. This is an increase of 34,200 from the 2003 SDAC, or more than double the prevalence identified in 2003." and "females made up only 18% of the reported cases".
  • most reported cases of autism/ASD in Australia are under 25 years of age ... "Almost three quarters of people with autism in the SDAC were aged 5-18 years - the age at which they are attending school.".
  • "12% of children with autism attended school and did not experience any educational restrictions. Of the remaining 88% who did experience some restrictions, 3% of children were not able to attend school because of their disability and 47% needed to attend either a special class in a mainstream school, or a special school."
  • "For children with autism who were attending school, 82% reported ‘having difficulty’ at school, the majority of whom had difficulty with communication, learning and fitting in socially"
  • "Children with autism need a high level of support to attend school, with 41% needing a counsellor or disability support person and 51% requiring special tuition. Of those children with autism attending school, 24% did not receive any additional support (excluding attending a special school or attending special classes in mainstream schools)."
  • "Data from the SDAC suggests the difficulties experienced in the education system continue after school. Of people with autism who had finished school, 77% had not completed a post-school qualification. This is well above the rate for both the rest of the population with disability and people with no disability"
  • "the labour force participation rate for people with autism was 34%. This compares with 54% labour force participation rate for people with disabilities and 83% for people without disabilities."
  • "The National Disability Strategy notes 'Employment contributes to mental health, personal well being and a sense of identity'. These are issues people with autism may be struggling with because of their condition anyway, with lower labour force participation potentially making it worse."
  • "Of people with autism, 74% reported having a profound or severe core activity limitation (that is, they need help or supervision with at least one of the following three activities - mobility, communication or self-care)."
  • "People with autism needed assistance with a range of activities, with the highest needs in the area of cognitive and emotional tasks and communication. This is consistent with the core restrictions evident in many people with autism spectrum disorders."
  • "many people with autism did not" receive "as much assistance as they needed". "The need for more assistance in the core activities of mobility, communication and self-care are particularly noteworthy". "This means there were 15,400 people with autism needing more help with communication (understanding or being understood by others) and 22,600 needing more help with cognitive or emotional tasks (managing their emotions and/or behaviour)."

Getting politicians and bureaucrats to recognise and address the needs of PwASD is a major challenge for ASD and disability advocates. PwASD will continue to experience these disgraceful outcome while Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries and the bureaucrats they direct ignore the distinct needs of PwASD.