Autism - early intervention - a matter of public importance

from 17/9/2013

Autism—early intervention programs

Discussion of matter of public importance

MR ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Mr Doszpot): Madam Speaker has received letters from Ms Berry, Dr Bourke, myself, Mr Gentleman, Mr Hanson, Ms Lawder, Ms Porter, Mr Smyth and Mr Wall proposing that matters of public importance be submitted to the Assembly. In accordance with standing order 79, Madam Speaker has determined that the matter proposed by Ms Lawder be submitted to the Assembly, namely:

The importance of providing intensive early intervention programs for children with autism in the ACT.

MS LAWDER (Brindabella) (4.17): It gives me great pleasure to rise today to talk about an important topic—early intervention services for children with autism. Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is a complex neurobiological disorder that typically lasts throughout a person's lifetime. ASD encompasses characteristics varying in severity across domains of cognitive, communication and social development with restricted interest and repetitive behaviour.

Individually, each child who appears on the spectrum is different from the next, but sadly ASD is not rare. One in 100 children in Australia is diagnosed with ASD. As a previous member of the National People with Disabilities and Carer Council, I know very well the challenges that families face when they have a family member with a disability. For those families who have a child with autism, there can be further challenges that come with a lack of understanding of ASD in our community.

Commonly, a child with ASD is overlooked, with the assumption that they are just being naughty or simply the result of lazy parenting. It is an enormous undertaking for any family along the time line from when they suspect their child is not developing as quickly or in the same way as others to when they are able to get a diagnosis, help and support. We need to be doing more in the ACT to assist families in this.

Research has proven that the earlier an ASD diagnosis is made and the sooner intervention services can be provided with intensive therapy, the more likely it is that a child with ASD will learn skills and be able to move into a mainstream school and maintain a relatively stable life. We have programs to assist in the ACT now, but they are nowhere near the standard they need to be to have the best chance of helping our children.

The programs are sometimes described as fragmented, that diagnosis is too slow, that support is hard to access and that there are just too few early intervention services. The ACT is one of only two jurisdictions in Australia that do not have a specific early intervention centre for children with ASD. The federal Labor government a few years ago, as part of their helping children with autism program, built six autism-specific early learning and care centres around Australia, but not one in the ACT. These centres provide early learning programs and specific support for children aged zero to six years with ASD.

These autism-specific early learning centres provide parents with much more support than they would otherwise be getting. These valuable centres, through their affiliation with universities and hospitals, also assist with research and workforce training to achieve a better understanding of ASD in our community.

For reasons unknown to us, the federal Labor government did not think the ACT was worthy of this and, along with the Northern Territory, we missed out. The Canberra Liberals disagree wholeheartedly with the idea that the ACT does not need or deserve a centre such as this. We understand the importance of providing intensive early intervention programs for children with autism in the ACT and we believe an autism-specific early learning centre is vital. In fact, the Canberra Liberals took a policy to the ACT election last year to fill the hole we have here in the ACT. It was a fully funded, fully costed policy that we took to the election to have an autism-specific early intervention centre for children aged 2½ to six years here in the ACT.

The school was to be purpose built to cater for up to 40 children in this age bracket with a high staff ratio of two to one. The autism-specific early intervention school was to be modelled on the successful AEIOU Foundation schools already operating throughout Queensland. Unfortunately, the government and the Greens last year smacked this proposal down. They did not want to engage on the merits of the policy. They did not list this as a priority, and they ensured the policy did not get any headway. Again, as recently as April this year, the Canberra Liberals brought a motion into this place encouraging the government to support this policy, because we wanted this centre to go ahead, regardless of politics, because it is not about politics. It is about priorities; it is about people's lives and the future of our children.

Our priority here is supporting those families in the ACT that are most impacted by ASD. Research has shown that 75 per cent of those with ASD who complete a two-year program with the AEIOU early learning centres transition successfully into mainstream school. I repeat: 75 per cent. Can you imagine the pressure this takes off those families? Can you imagine the optimism these families would then feel when their child was able to attend a mainstream school and when their child, as a result of early intervention, was able to learn new skills and communicate functionally? I do not understand why this was rejected for so long.

The AEIOU annual report has the following quote from a mother with an autistic son, which I would like to share with you:

AEIOU has changed our lives. We moved from Canberra so that our little boy could take up the place he was offered and we've never looked back. The professional and loving staff we've met through our time as part of Park Ridge have moved us and we've often been in awe of their skill, dedication and patience.

This family should not have had to leave the ACT to get the support they needed. We need to be doing more here. We need to apply early intervention best practice and really enable those children with ASD to achieve their full potential.

Another story I read in the media only a couple of months ago emphasises why we need an early intervention program here in the ACT. A Canberra family made the tough decision to pack up their Canberra home and move to Manchester in England to give their autistic sons better treatment. The mother said, "When he was diagnosed, my younger son was non-verbal and it was quite a battle to get speech therapy in Australia. Early intervention is key, and we weren't getting any real assurances about the level of support he would have."

Due to the early intervention her younger son was given in the UK, he has gone from being non-verbal to being quite a talkative and happy kid who is now able to say what he wants rather than get angry. Why would a family need to go to the UK to get this type of support? We should be able to provide it here in Australia.

New Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart, who has a daughter with autism, saw the value in this policy and last year publicly pledged that all moneys raised by the Ricky Stuart Foundation would go towards this school, should it become a reality. Last year that amount was in excess of $250,000, which would have gone quite a way to helping these families.

We are hopeful that an AEIOU centre may be under consideration at the University of Canberra. I would like to congratulate the University of Canberra for the efforts they have made so far. It is disappointing that the government have not taken a bipartisan approach to this policy. They rejected our motion in April. But I now encourage the government to do whatever they can to support the university towards their undertaking.

I would very much look forward to an early intervention centre being operational in the ACT at some point in the future and I very much look forward to seeing the benefits within the Canberra community that early intervention for children with autism will provide. Thank you.

MS BURCH (Brindabella—Minister for Education and Training, Minister for Disability, Children and Young People, Minister for the Arts, Minister for Women, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Racing and Gaming) (4.25): I am pleased today to speak to the matter of public importance that considers the importance of providing intensive early intervention programs for children with autism in the ACT. Ms Lawder may not be aware of this—actually, I think she is aware of some of the history of this—but it was only last May that I presented to the Assembly a comprehensive report on services available to ACT families and individuals affected by autism. I am quite happy to provide that to your office.

Again, it was only a few months ago that Mrs Lawder's predecessor, Mr Seselja, made much the same speech to this place when speaking to a motion. It is now quite ironic that Mr Seselja is aspiring to be a member of a government that does not even have a minister recognising disability. Indeed, Ms Lawder should note that at the last election there was only one community support policy offered by the Canberra Liberals, the ticket that you espoused. That was for the AEIOU school to be established here. There was no other disability commitment, no other community support, no support for therapy or for children or community services, other than this quite singular support.

As I have said in this place, on its merits it works for some children, but it is not a universal program for all children with autism. That is what I think that many on your side of the chamber seem to forget, Ms Lawder. I ask you to read through that document on broad support for early intervention. I will make sure that I put through to your office.

During Autism Awareness Month, I outlined the government's ongoing commitment to assist families to access the services they need and the significant changes to services that will be available under DisabilityCare. As members of the Assembly are aware, autism is a lifelong disorder that affects as many as one in 100 people across our community. Every child with autism is unique, as Ms Lawder has rightly identified.

Support required for individuals is different depending on different circumstances and responses. It depends on the person's capabilities and on the family's capacities and aspirations. For example, a child with autism may require substantial assistance with communication and behaviour while another is more affected by sensory issues and educational concerns. So no single early intervention program will assist every child with autism.

The government understands that early intervention for children with autism is the most effective way to support children and to provide those better outcomes. Research indicates that there are benefits from early intensive family-based therapy programs so long as they are adapted to the child's capabilities and take into account the family circumstances.

Factors in early intervention programs that are backed by rigorous research evidence include individualised supports and programs, highly structured and supportive environments, supported transitions between settings, a functional approach to behaviour management and family involvement. Consistent with these factors, the ACT government has invested in a full range of diagnostic, intervention, education and family support services for children affected by autism. Families seeking support for children with autism largely do so by connecting to either Therapy ACT or the health and education directorates.

The services available through these government agencies provide families with the knowledge, skills, and support for the needs of their children to optimise their child's development and to increase their ability to participate in family and community life. There are a range of early intervention services that are available to families. At Therapy ACT, professional staff provide services to approximately 240 children with autism, from diagnosis to the age of eight years across speech pathology, psychology, occupational therapy and social work services.

Intensive support is provided through this team, recognising the need for intervention early in the life of the child, and also early in the identification of difficulties that the family may be facing. Social workers meet with families, providing support, counselling and linkages with community and to other services. Speech pathologists assist families with communication and social interaction goals, occupational therapists with sensory processing and fine motor skills, and psychologists with behavioural issues.

The priority is working in partnerships with families affected by autism. When a child receives a diagnosis, allied health professionals spend time with families identifying the specific goals that they have for their children. Families are invited to join the series of family support groups and workshops, and this program forms the starting point of therapeutic intervention.

As children with autism may have trouble generalising new skills to different settings, interventions are developed that can be incorporated into family routines and play activities so that learning is incorporated into activities that take place every day and give the child with autism their best chance of learning. This may include setting up support in the home and in the school. Therapy ACT work closely with other service providers, such as teachers and support staff, to provide continuity of service across the autism-specific settings available in the ACT and also into mainstream settings such as playgroups and preschools.

The therapy assistance in schools program provides face-to-face early intervention for more than 250 children with developmental delays and disability each year, including children with autism in specialist and mainstream schools. Therapy ACT continues to develop new and innovative early intervention programs for children with autism. This year they have implemented two pilot trials of children's friendship training for children aged between seven and eight and nine and 12 years.

The children friendship training is an evidence-based social skills program developed by the University of California, Los Angeles. It is designed for primary school children who are on the autism spectrum disorder. It is an intensive 12-week program run in a group format with concurrent sessions for the children and, importantly, their parents. It enables parents to play an active role in their children's social skill development and to support the transfer of these skills into their child's own unique setting.

Early intervention services available through the Health Directorate include medical services provided through community paediatric and child health services, input into paediatric multidisciplinary assessments and ongoing care for medical conditions arising from the diagnosis of autism.

Ongoing care for medical conditions is an important aspect of early intervention for children with autism, ensuring that families have access to appropriate advice to support their children's health and wellbeing. As a result of sensory disorders, children with autism may experience nutritional deficiencies and behavioural issues that require appropriate medical interventions. Early intervention programs for children with autism are not only delivered by government services. In addition, the ACT government supports Autism Asperger ACT to deliver family support programs and to coordinate grants available through the commonwealth government for eligible children.

A range of non-government providers offer services for people with autism, and families may choose to purchase intensive early intervention programs from non-government and private providers with funds they receive through the helping with children package. Families rightly want to have choice and control of the services that they access for their family member with autism. This is the key principle of the NDIS. We understand that the system reform will be needed to deliver on this new response. Under NDIS, true and lasting change will be driven by the choices of people with a disability and their families when they have the resources to purchase the support they want.

In preparation for the NDIS, grants are being offered through the enhanced service offer. Some families with children with autism have chosen to apply for early intervention programs while others have identified other supports. It goes to the fact that there is not one single response or program that is the answer to all children with a disability.

I do thank Ms Lawder for bringing this to the Assembly. I think that the Community Services Directorate, Therapy ACT, Disability ACT, and the child and family centres, in addition to health and education, provide a range of services that do support children with autism. I know that there is a continued interest from those opposite for this school. I do not dismiss it outright but there are many changes afoot. I think we need to consider where it fits in in the broader scheme of things. With the sound support and the sound offerings of programs we have, I think our response to our community is solid indeed.

MR DOSZPOT (Molonglo) (4.35): I thank Ms Lawder for bringing this matter of public importance before the Assembly today—namely, the importance of providing intensive early intervention programs for children with autism in the ACT. The Labor government's efforts on autism are shameful. Ms Burch, once again I think you have simply chosen not to listen—

Ms Burch interjecting—

MR DOSZPOT: Not to listen to the issues at stake. The issues are early intervention, and early intervention, Ms Burch, starts from two years of age.

The ACT is one of only two jurisdictions in Australia that do not have a specific early learning centre for autistic children. Why? Because the Greens and Labor have both continued to dismiss out of hand the Liberals' policy that would do exactly that—establish a unique autism-exclusive early learning centre for children two to six years of age designed to address with intensive therapy the needs of young children, Ms Burch. It was well researched and properly costed, and it was a policy modelled on a Queensland centre that had delivered outstanding results over several years.

We were told at the time, and again in April this year when we moved a motion of support urging the government to adopt our motion, that our policy was expensive and not properly costed and that it would not deliver anything different from what was already available. But we know that is not true, Ms Burch. We know that families are eligible to access federal support, and do so. Early intervention is key. We know that intensive therapy is vital, and correct and quick diagnosis underpins the chance of success.

Interestingly, and not without coincidence, the University of Canberra, where a former Greens leader is now employed, is about to deliver an AEIOU centre for early intervention education for children diagnosed with autism. It is exactly the model that the Canberra Liberals said was so needed for Canberra and so ideal for Canberra families. We congratulate the University of Canberra for this initiative. It will not only benefit the families of children with autism disorders but also help to provide more opportunities for university undergraduates studying teaching, psychology, speech therapy and other disciplines that form the successful team used in the AEIOU model.

Member for Brindabella Andrew Wall and I had the great opportunity to visit the centre at Griffith University recently. It confirmed all that I had read and researched about this program. I have seen other autism therapies in other states and other countries, but the AEIOU model has the most complete range of services and, not by coincidence, the highest success rate for moving students into a mainstream setting. They have a number of core outcomes for all young children moving through their centre. These include that all children will be vocal and all children will be able to socialise. For families with children not afflicted by this disorder, these might seem small steps, but they represent enormous progress for families dealing with these issues.

I hate to think what might have resulted if the University of Canberra had not picked this up—hopefully they will pick this up. We would probably be bringing this motion on, yet again, next year. And we would have families with autism continuing to be politely patient, hoping that it might soon be their turn for good news. In the meantime, how many young people would have had their chance for the best education and life skills outcomes denied?

Ms Burch, we are calling on you, we are calling on the government and we are calling on the Greens. Mr Rattenbury, you have your chance to actually show that what is being done in Queensland is something that could and should be done here. Well done, University of Canberra, to date. Hopefully they will come to a conclusion. At this point I have to say: shame, Labor, and shame, Greens, for not supporting the motion that we originally placed and what the University of Canberra is now trying to do.

MR RATTENBURY (Molonglo) (4.40): I would like to thank Ms Lawder for today raising for discussion this issue about the provision of adequate and specific services for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. It is a very important topic.

I also note that when we discussed the motion around establishing an autism school in May here in the Assembly, the minister undertook to provide information to the Assembly about the nature of the services provided in the ACT to people on the autism spectrum and the impact of the NDIS on autism services. She did that on 16 May this year, and I will return to that in a few moments.

Autism spectrum disorder is primarily a disorder of social communication that is generally identified in young children from around two years of age. There are three main areas in which children on the autism spectrum have difficulties: social interaction, communication and associated behaviours such as rituals, obsessions and sensory issues. There are no firm conclusions that have been drawn, as I understand it, about the causes of ASD, but there is increasing evidence that the rate of autism is increasing in the community, with autism now affecting around one in 160 people, with a higher prevalence amongst boys than girls. There is no cure for those with ASD as such, but certainly evidence indicates that specific early intervention can bring improvements, and there is no doubt that a clear pathway for assessment, and then support and therapeutic input, is something that is highly valued by parents of children with ASD.

The nature of ASD in very young children often means that there a range of difficulties experienced that are language related, but also behavioural. There are also challenging behaviours for parents to manage—repetitive behaviours, rituals, poor play skills, obsession with objects or routines, and aversions to particular textures or tastes of food that make mealtimes difficult. It is little wonder that parents and carers need support and guidance.

While the finer details of intervention are not the same for every child, there is a broad suite of strategies that are considered to be a good place to start when commencing intervention. It is those things that mean that specific autism facilities can be established specifically geared to meet the communication needs of children with ASD.

Over the past two decades there have been significant changes to the services that are provided to children with ASD in Canberra as government has sought to respond to an increased number of children being diagnosed. The government has outlined the services that are now available in the paper that was tabled in the Assembly, but it is safe to say that 15 years ago most of the specific ASD services did not exist. The federal government's funding, through the helping children with autism initiative announced in 2008, acknowledged this growing need in the community for support for access to early intervention and provided up to $12,000 per child once a diagnosis had been made. There are more community advocacy and support groups and, hopefully, a growing community awareness.

I assumed, when I saw this MPI today, that Ms Lawder was here to prosecute the case for an autism-specific school in the ACT, something that was confirmed by Mr Doszpot's media release. I must admit to being slightly disappointed that Mr Doszpot has sought to politicise this issue in the way he has made his comments. I made it clear in my speech when we debated this in the Assembly recently that I was open to discussing this idea further, both with Mr Doszpot and with parents and autism advocates. However, there has been no approach to me in that regard since that debate.

To read this afternoon that I said an autism-specific school was "not required"is a misrepresentation of my position. What I actually said was that I would want to see more evidence that this is what parents of children with autism want for their children. That would obviously require further information and further discussion with autism advocates, and a clear indication that the level of service delivery being provided by government was not adequate and was not providing best practice intervention. Further, there would need to be discussion about what the level of government support should be and how any support would be offered.

As I said at the time, it may well be that some parents want an autism-specific school but other parents might prefer that their child is in an autism intervention unit with an integration day at their local preschool. It may be that this delivers a good level of intervention and occurs closer to the child's home, allowing less disruption to the whole family. Some parents are passionate about ensuring children are integrated, with support, into a mainstream environment, and would not wish for their child to attend a special-needs school.

I would like to note that the information tabled by the government outlined a comprehensive menu of assessment and therapy options for children with ASD, but it is clear that the government does not offer the kind of six hours a day, five days a week model in a single setting that is being advocated for by the Canberra Liberals as being what is required. Rather, there is a combination of services, including playgroups, autism intervention units and early childhood units, combined with mainstream preschool for those who are eligible.

Ms Lawder's MPI today makes reference to the importance of "intensive early intervention programs"for children. To be honest, I am unclear as to whether there is a technical definition of what constitutes "intensive", but I have been told that there are differing opinions on the required intensity of therapeutic models to deliver the best outcomes. However, I would not profess to be an expert in that area. It would seem to me that what we want to do is offer the best possible service we can within the resources that we have and within a framework of best practice. Once again, I would reiterate that this is a complex policy discussion and I believe that some kind of in-depth discussion about the service delivery model would need to be undertaken with government before anything else happened.

I highlighted that I thought there were attractions to a single educational facility that provides services to the bulk of children with ASD—such as a single uniform curriculum that was developed and tweaked to suit over time. I would add that a specific school might also be in a good position to provide the very structured setting that children with ASD often require—a setting that is specifically tailored to meet their needs in the early years, where the appropriate visual information can be provided and used consistently. I understand that when routines are established for children with ASD, and some communication supports are put in place, other behaviours can often improve and their anxiety can reduce, which then means that a child with ASD is more switched on to learning. Mainstream integration could then be something that follows at a later stage and can be managed in a staged way.

I am confident, looking at the information provided, that the government has done a pretty good job of streamlining the ASD assessment process, with the establishment of the Therapy ACT autism assessment team, a multidisciplinary assessment which involves home and school visits, and specific follow-up, developing programs and support for children who are diagnosed.

I am a little confused when it comes to what is happening at the University of Canberra. Mr Doszpot's press release states:

... the University of Canberra ... is in the final planning stages of establishing such a centre for children with autism.

Yet in the discussion today, Mr Doszpot, you said you hoped that the University of Canberra would go down that path. That is quite different from being in the final planning stages. I am a little unsure, but I am quite certain that the Community Services Directorate and the government more broadly will be very much open to having a conversation with the University of Canberra about what the model might be and what government support would be provided.

I would like to thank the minister and her directorate for providing the comprehensive summary of information about services for people with ASD in the ACT, and for an update on the implementation of DisabilityCare. That was one of the key outcomes from the motion that we discussed earlier in the year, and that has provided a good level of information both for members of the Assembly and also for parents and advocates.

I would also like to thank Ms Lawder for raising this in the Assembly today. I remain open to further discussions about how services are best provided. As I said, since the last time this came up not one person has approached me. To have Mr Doszpot come in here today and, as he is increasingly doing in debates in this place, make it very personal—getting stuck in and basically saying, "You do not give a stuff about this,"which is the tenor of the comments that are being made—is a long way from the reality of the fact that not one person has approached me since this Assembly last discussed this matter earlier in the year.

It is important to reflect that in the context of the conversation it is not good enough to come in here and take the occasional political pot-shot for the purposes of scoring points. These matters are actually complex—as, hopefully, I have outlined in my remarks today. I see the complexity in this issue. I see that the different advocates in this discussion have quite different views on the matter. Coming in here and simply having a go at each other is not a way to proceed with this matter. We need to sit down and have some serious discussions about it if the concerns are still there and if the supports identified in the government's summary back to the Assembly are not considered adequate by the community.

MR GENTLEMAN (Brindabella) (4.49): I thank Ms Lawder for bringing this discussion forward today. I would like to discuss what this government is doing in relation to autism and education. The government recognises the specific needs of children with autism and the importance of early intervention in preparing them for lifelong learning and for life in their schools and communities and the wider society. We also recognise the needs of families and that some may prefer larger settings with more children whilst others prefer smaller groups according to their child's needs. In response to this, the Education and Training Directorate provides a range of programs prior to school entry to support children's learning and to prepare them for life in their schools and their community.

All children attending early intervention have individualised programs developed in consultation with families. All early intervention programs are staffed by experienced early childhood special education teachers and learning support assistants. Placement in these programs is facilitated by early intervention school psychologists, and parents are involved in all placement decisions.

The early intervention program includes communication and social awareness playgroups for children two and three years of age for 2½ hours a week. This provides a structured playgroup for up to six children with autism or severe communication and social awareness difficulties. Parents and carers attend these sessions with their children. The focus of the program is on developing play, communication and social skills.

The autism intervention units are for children between three years and school entry, and attendance is for nine hours a week. These units provide an autism-specific program and cater for four students in each unit. They are based on local preschools and managed and supported by the primary specialist schools.

Early childhood centres are for children between three years and school entry for between eight and 15 hours a week. These are based on local preschools and managed and supported by the primary specialist schools. They provide an early intervention program for children with moderate development delay or autism. A maximum of eight attend these programs.

Early childhood units are for children between three years and school entry. They provide for children who have severe development delay or autism. They are located at the primary specialist schools Cranleigh and Malkara.

Early intervention units are for children between three years and school entry for 5½ hours a week. They provide for children who have had or are at risk of having delays in development, autism or disability, are at risk from social or environmental factors, or have severe communication and social difficulties and/or multiple disabilities. There are a maximum of 12 children in these programs. They are managed and supported by the local primary school.

The support at preschool program is for children attending their local preschool. Preschools are able to access additional support for children with autism attending their programs. This support is usually additional learning support assistance time to ensure the child with autism is able to access and participate in the preschool program.

The directorate works in collaboration with staff from Therapy ACT to provide evidence-based professional learning for staff in these programs. Through the positive partnerships program to support students with autism, the directorate works with Therapy ACT and the Catholic Education Office to provide parent and carer workshops each year.

Through these programs, the government demonstrates its strong commitment to ensuring that children with autism are given every opportunity early in life to access and participate in an individualised program of learning to meet their needs.

MR WALL (Brindabella) (4.53): Ensuring there is a wide range of options available to parents of autistic children is an issue close at heart to all members of the Canberra Liberals, and I thank Ms Lawder for raising the importance of early intervention programs for children with autism in the Assembly today.

Recently Mr Doszpot and I had the privilege of visiting the AEIOU Foundation in Brisbane. AEIOU currently operate nine early intervention centres across Queensland. Their aim is to be the leading provider of quality early intervention learning for children with autism and to ensure that every child is provided with the maximum opportunity to reach their potential.

The AEIOU centre that I visited is located within the Griffith University campus. The co-location of the centre with the university offers benefits to both the foundation and the university itself. The university is able to provide an environment where students and academics are able to observe the different teaching methods used in the classroom without disrupting the day-to-day operation of the centre. AEIOU gains benefits from the research that is carried out on the university campus in the hope of better understanding autism and its causes and how best to manage it.

A relationship like this in the ACT would not only offer increased options to parents of autistic children who live in and around the ACT but would also increase the opportunity of the ACT's tertiary institutions in the fields of research and development.

It has been noted in much of the research that surrounds early intervention for children with autism that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. A wide variety of intervention models are available, each with varying amounts of research and evidence to support the outcomes that are claimed to be able to be achieved. However, there is much consensus that there are some key elements to shaping a successful intervention program: an autism-specific curriculum focusing on attention, compliance, imitation, language and social skills; highly supportive teaching environments which deal with the need for predictability and routine and which have the capacity to support challenging behaviours, obsessions and rituals; support for children as they transition in and out of the program as well as support for the family members; and a partnership with the professionals involved in treatments. It is on these principles that the AEIOU Foundation delivers its program with great success.

I would like to briefly touch on some of the long-term benefits of early intervention for children with autism. There are significant long-term benefits to the territory beyond what my colleagues have already outlined today. The lifelong costs associated with supporting an individual with a disability such as autism are significant. AEIOU have done some modelling around the impact of their early intervention programs and what changes they may have on the quality of life of an individual over a lifetime. For the purposes of the study, individuals were broken into three different groups depending on the severity of their disorder.

Group 1 was of children with a severe intellectual impairment, likely to be non-verbal and suffering from significant behavioural issues and anxieties. That forms about 20 per cent of the childhood population of autistic kids. Group 2 was children with a mild to moderate intellectual impairment, likely to experience difficulties with language and communication, particularly in social settings. Group 3 was of children with a high-functioning autism. While not suffering from intellectual disabilities, these individuals can experience difficulties in other areas of their lives and the long-term impacts can be often quite severe. This, again, forms about 20 per cent of children.

In the education years, of the children of group 2 who did not undertake an early intervention program, 80 per cent required full-time special education, with the balance of them entering into a mainstream school but still requiring regular special ed, compared to only 40 per cent of children who received early intervention requiring full-time special education, with 60 per cent managing to enter mainstream schooling.

Of the children in group 3 who did not receive early intervention support, only 20 per cent managed to attend a mainstream school without any additional support while 65 per cent of those who received early intervention were able to enter mainstream schooling without any other support or assistance.

Later in life the employment prospects of those individuals who went through an early intervention program are significantly improved, with 95 per cent of those belonging to group 3 and 70 per cent from group 2 going on to maintain employment at or above minimum wage. The most significant improvements can be found and measured in living independence for individuals in group 1—80 per cent of those who did not receive any early intervention are expected to require full-time care compared to only half that number for individuals who received early intervention in those formative years. There are significant improvements in these figures across all groups, with 70 per cent of those classified as group 3 and who received early intervention support managing to live completely independently.

To put these benefits into dollar terms over the lifetime of an individual with autism, the savings to the community for a group 3 individual are estimated to be at around $750,000, ranging through to $1.3 million in savings to the community for an individual belonging to group 1. This highlights that early intervention is the best recipe for improving lifelong outcomes for those with autism.

I thank the AEIOU Foundation in Queensland for extending an invitation to Mr Doszpot and me to come up and visit their centre and to experience at first hand their great work and the success they are having up there. I again pledge the support of the Canberra Liberals for the establishment of a centre based on the AEIOU model here in the ACT, and I urge the government to do all that they can to expedite the establishment of an early intervention centre in the territory.

Discussion concluded.