Disability Reform Minister Jenny Macklin: Declared the NDIS will cover "most" people with autism. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Kathryn Wicks, Dan Harrison
The national disability insurance scheme will cover ''most'' people with autism and could pay the full cost of early intervention programs, Disability Reform Minister Jenny Macklin has declared in the latest clue as to what the $22 billion-a-year scheme will cover.
Autism affects about one in 100 children in Australia. Diagnoses of the condition more than doubled in Australia from 2003 to 2009 - 64,000 Australians have autism, latest figures show.
There were fears that the condition would be excluded from the scheme, or that the support provided by DisabilityCare Australia would be no greater than the current program, which funds only a fraction of the cost of the most effective therapies.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has demanded the government clarify whether autism will be included in the scheme, but ministers have only pointed to the legislation passed in March, which set broad parameters.
But in an interview with Fairfax Media, Ms Macklin confirmed the scheme would support ''most'' people with autism but stressed the agency would work with people to identify their individual needs.
''People are very different, they have very different levels of disability, and very different levels of ability, so what they need from DisabilityCare Australia will really vary.''
The government's Helping Children with Autism program provides families of children with autism $6000 a year for two years. About 19,000 children used that funding in the program's first five years. But the annual cost of applied behaviour analysis therapy - the only specific early intervention the federal Families Department rates as effective based on ''established research evidence'' - is $40,000.
That research shows about 50 per cent of children with autism are able to reach a normal educational outcome by age six.
Ms Macklin said that where an early intervention therapy is deemed ''reasonable and necessary'' DisabilityCare would be able to fund its full cost.
Funding applied behaviour analysis therapy could cost the scheme more than $300 million a year once it is fully operational.
Ms Macklin said DisabilityCare would over time replace the autism program, but no family would see their level of support reduced.
''If people are getting an autism support package from the Commonwealth now, that will continue until that child is brought into DisabilityCare Australia and their needs are assessed,'' she said.
Nicole Rogerson, chief executive of Autism Awareness Australia and the mother of a 17-year-old boy with autism, said ''we would be absolutely thrilled if what the minister is saying actually happens''.
''Autism is not a stagnant diagnosis,'' she said.
''If we give children with milder forms of it really intensive, evidence-based intervention, some of those children will go on to come off the diagnostic criteria for autism and will go on to have completely independent lives, and that should be the outcome of the NDIS.''