ABC 666 Canberra had a short discussion (around 7.20am, 19/5/2016 = 1:39:20 into the ABC's online catchup at this link: https://radio.abc.net.au/programitem/peEDnx500Q) with Ms Anne Rowe about the difficulty accessing speech therapists in the ACT.
No clear reason was given for the difficulty reported in accessing speech therapist in the ACT.
SOfASD observes the following factors:
- access to speech therapists in the ACT has been "difficult" for at least a decade.
- the ACT is the first jurisdiction with full NDIS roll-out ... which increases funding for early intervention, but without
- any plan or action to improve availability of allied health services in the ACT.
- recognition of or planning for increasing autism/ASD diagnoses
- the problem is likely to get substantially worse when the full (national) NDIS roll-out gets underway after 1 July 2016.
- local universities do not train speech therapists; even if local training were available, there is very little prospect that it would train speech therapists in best practice early intervention for autistic children.
When the Commonwealth introduced the Helping Children with Autism and Better Start packages, both federal and territory governments ignored the challenge of supplying the allied health services needed. NDIA is doing the same thing ... following a failed plan (or lack thereof).
With the NDIS introduction, the ACT Government chose a privatisation experiment. We can now say, this experiment failed; privatised allied health has not delivered the necessary expansion of service availability. It is time to do something different.
SOfASD would like to know what the federal and territory governments plan to do to address this issue if they are elected at their next elections.
Canberra speech therapist shortage forcing families to travel to Sydney for child servicesPHOTO: Early intervention is key to helping children overcome speech delays. (Speech Pathology Australia)
Young children diagnosed with a speech delay require early intervention therapy to develop their communication skills.A shortage of speech therapists in Canberra is forcing some parents to travel to Sydney to access regular services for their children.
Ideally this therapy should be regular, particularly for children with autism and Asperger syndrome.
Anne Rowe from Autism Asperger ACT said dozens of Canberra families were unable to secure weekly or fortnightly speech lessons for their children.
"They just can't get therapy services in Canberra so some drive to Sydney," she told 666 ABC Canberra Breakfast.
Ms Rowe's sons, Jed, 6 and Ashton, 4, are both on the autism spectrum.
They were diagnosed at the age of two but have not been able to attend regular speech therapy lessons.PHOTO: Brothers Jed, 6, and Ashton, 4, both need regular speech therapy lessons. (Supplied: Anne Rowe)
Ms Rowe said travelling to Sydney was not an option for her Canberra-based family and there appeared to be few alternatives.
"Given their autism, they have a very low attention span," she said.
"Sitting in a car for two-and-a-half hours once [or] twice a week or fortnight is just not really an option for us."
Both of Ms Rowe's sons have a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) plan that includes speech lessons, but that has not helped them gain access to a speech therapist.
She said it was a stressful situation.
"As a parent, if you're looking at your child and you can see they need help with something, you're first instinct is I have to get them some help, help them develop into who they're going to be, especially now before they go to school," she said.
"Speech affects everything."
Shortage due to NDIS rollout
Gaynor Dickson from Speech Pathology Australia said the shortage in Canberra was most likely due to the expansion of services under the NDIS.
"The market is still adjusting to what's there, so we're waiting for the private services to move in to meet the market need," she said.
"I'm not quite sure what it is about the ACT around that situation because in other states that hasn't been so much of a problem.
"So it's something specific to Canberra."
But Ms Rowe said there had long been a shortage of speech therapists in Canberra.
She said the closure of the government body ACT Therapy had made the situation worse.PHOTO: The ACT Government acknowledges there is a high demand for speech pathology services. (Speech Pathology Australia)
ACT Therapy used to be the central point for assessing children and assigning therapy plans, such as speech lessons, but it was closed as part of the NDIS rollout.
"I had two providers tell me that their books are just bursting at the seams, their waiting lists are so long that I'd be better off trying to find someone else," she said.
"I went to a bigger organisation, who told me there would be at least a five-month wait for an initial assessment.
"Even after that they couldn't guarantee me weekly or even fortnightly appointments.
"With autism it is really, really important they [children] have their routine in place."
666 ABC Canberra Breakfast received calls and text messages confirming Ms Rowe's experience was not isolated.
ACT Government aware of the shortage
A Community Services Directorate spokesperson said in a statement that the ACT had "traditionally encountered difficulty in meeting the demand for speech pathology services".
"The ACT Government is aware that many parents are finding it difficult to make an appointment and see a speech pathologist within a reasonable timeframe," the statement said.
"As at March 29, 2016, 51 organisations and sole traders were registered with the NDIS to deliver allied health and therapy services in the ACT.
"Of these 51 organisations, 27 indicated they were providing a range of speech pathologist services and were employing approximately 44 full-time workers in these roles.
"The providers did indicate high levels of demand for speech pathology services in the ACT, but most were continuing to respond to new clients and waiting times depend on the type of service required."
The spokesperson said Canberra's lack of speech pathology university courses also contributed to the shortage and the need to regularly recruit interstate.
"The ACT would encourage anyone who already has an NDIS plan, who cannot source an allied health professional as part of their NDIS plan, to contact the National Disability Insurance Agency to seek support in sourcing speech pathology."