Autism Centre for the ACT

The Chronicle reports (Autism school pledged by Naomi Fallon, 2/10/2012) that ACT Labor criticised the Liberal's election promise of “a school for children with autism [to] fulfil an unmet need in the ACT education system”.

The Liberals say families affected by ASD are “crying out for more support”. SOfASD agrees.

Education Minister, Chris Burke MLA, complains, “parents could still expect to pay very high fees”.

“This school's going to need to charge fees higher than [Canberra Grammar School] – something in the order of $20,000 a year per child”, he said. “That doesn't sound equitable to me. Sure they've managed to secure some … funding, but it's not going to cover the millions of dollars that they'll need to run this school each year.”

The Liberal's plan is based on an existing Brisbane Autism Specific Early Learning and Child Care Centre (ASELCC)[1] operated by the AEIOU Foundation (AEIOU) and is based/located at Griffith University’s Nathan Campus.

The Brisbane ASELCC is one of six centres created by the federal Labor Government. Federal Labor did not think this model sounded inequitable, even though their model provides relatively few places … and none in either of the territories. The ACT Government even accepts that the National Disability Strategy 2010-20 claims there are eight centres when there are only six: the ACT Labor Government has not pressed the Commonwealth for an ASELCC in the ACT.

Equity for families of children with autism, according to Labor, means families with a child that needs early intervention for their autism have to fund the vast majority of the service themselves … at a much greater cost than under the Liberal's plan … or just miss out altogether. ACT Labor's model for families affected by autism is extremely inequitable.

SOfASD asked ACT Labor how it would reduce the massive inequity of outcomes that people with autism currently experience. ACT Labor refused to acknowledge overwhelming evidence that its existing services for children with autism spectrum disorders do not work anywhere near as well as they should. ACT Labor claims it provides “best practice” services; but the services it provides are nothing at all like best practice.

FaHCSIA advises that children with ASD need 15-25 hours per week of intensive ASD-specific early intervention. Therapy ACT staff simply lack the training, experience and resources needed to supervise programs with the intensity and fidelity of clinical methods that is required. FaHCSIA says there is only one evidence-based treatment approach. Most children with autism need some behavioural elements in their program. Therapy ACT says it simply does not use behavioural methods (Applied Behaviour Analysis) at all, so Therapy ACT's services cannot possibly meet the needs of most children with autism.

DHCS officials told an Estimates Committee that they employed a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA). This is not true; the BCBA website lists people who are a BCBA by area; there are not many in Australia and there has never been a BCBA located in Canberra.

ACT Government officials tell families that behavioural methods turn children with autism into “little robots”. They say that children with autism who get behavioural treatment will display repetitive and stereotypic (“robotic”) behaviour. Apparently, these “expert” staff do not realise that “repetitive and stereotypic (“robotic”) behaviour” need to be present for an autism diagnosis; this behaviour comes with the child, not from the child's treatment.

Despite overwhelming evidence, Minister Burch claims that children with autism cannot benefit from early intervention of any form. She gets her advice from department officials, people with little or no real knowledge of autism, and ignores expert advice. She says “coping strategies” are all that is possible. Experts say most children with autism benefit substantially from effective early intervention. ACT Labor refuses to provide the services these children need.

ACT Labor's disability-related elections plans* are:

  • for payroll tax concessions for businesses that employ school leavers with a disability - $1.48 million;
  • to build and service two six-bedroom houses that provide accommodation for disability tenants with low support needs - $3.75 million;
  • to build three independent-living housing complexes - $3 million; and
  • for an electronic ''Taxi Smart-Card'' system for people with a disability who rely on taxi services.

* http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/promises-promises-what-the-parties-are-offering-20121013-27ke3.html

ACT Labor's plans for the disability sector have all the negatives that Minister Burke attributed to the Liberal's “autism school” plan, and more.

There is no evidence that payroll tax concessions will improve employment of people with autism spectrum disorders.

Labor's disability housing plans are inequitable in so many ways; including the substantial financial burdens that they place on families of people with a disability. These plans just ignore the chronic unmet needs of the most vulnerable in the ACT.

Families will continue to ferry adults with autism back and forth to disability services that do not ensure access for adults with autism; ACT Labor's model for disability services enslaves family members to provide transport since a significant number of adults with severe or profound autism cannot access bus or taxi services.

The Liberals' plan for an “autism school” in the ACT simply replicates what Labor Governments did in every other Australian jurisdiction except for the Northern Territory. ACT Labor thinks the approach that other Labor Governments used for children with autism is inequitable. ACT Labor's election plans increase the already massive disconnect between people with autism and the rest of the community. ACT Labor really has it in for people with autism.

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[1] More information is available from http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/our-responsibilities/disability-and-carers/program-services/for-people-with-disability/helping-children-with-autism/autism-specific-early-learning-and-care-centres and particularly from http://fahcsia.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/09_2012/aselcc_evaluation_report_obrienandrich.pdf  and http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/08_2012/gov_response_to_aselcc_eval_0.pdf.