Response to the recent media reporting on autism
The Australian – Letter to the editor – 21/1/16 – re: recent reporting on autism
The recent series of articles published in The Australian on the topic of autism have caught the attention of many of us, but not for the right reasons. We need to stop viewing people on the autism spectrum as a burden and framing them an additional cost for us as a nation to bear.
More needs to be done to address the current stigma that surrounds people on the autism spectrum, and the use of headlines like ‘explosion in autism diagnosis’ that only serve to perpetuate this stigma, which results in further isolation and exclusion of people on the autism spectrum.
Certainly Australia has seen an increase autism diagnoses, particularly in children, over the past thirty years. But this is not unique to Australia, its a global trend. There are a number reasons for the increase including greater public awareness of autism and a recent shift in the diagnostic rules for better identification rather than the suggestion of a pandemic.
There have been significant benefits from increased diagnoses as it has meant people on the autism spectrum have received support earlier. The evidence is clear that the earlier autism is diagnosed and effective early interventions put in place, the greater the outcomes across a person’s lifetime. This goes to the core of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and its insurance principles, where investing early and adequately in interventions leads to greater participation and reduces the total amount of funding required to support an individual over their life time.
Increased diagnoses has led to an increase in demand for services from clinical early intervention therapies and to support in the classrooms. However, there is a massive mismatch between growth in demand and availability of services and support resulting in many people on the autism spectrum not receiving the supports they require need to participate and contribute to society in ways they wish.
Amaze is working to drive systemic change in a number of key areas including; better access to assessment and diagnosis of autism to get support earlier, better support for educators and students in the education system and increasing employment, cultural and recreational participation for people on the autism spectrum.
The biggest step forward we could make is an attitudinal shift whereby everyone in society increases their knowledge and understanding of autism and make small adjustments and exhibit patience and genuine willingness to include people on the autism spectrum. Increasing our collective understanding of autism will see us reap benefits from the many unique strengths that people on the autism spectrum offer.
For far too long people on the autism spectrum have been viewed in a negative light, or common myths about autism have gone unchallenged – to which these recent articles have perpetuated. We need to challenge ourselves to look beyond these myths and look at the strengths before weaknesses – stopping the language of burden and suffering – and becoming more accepting and appreciative of those who are different.
Fiona Sharkie, CEO Amaze
Amaze is the peak body for people on the autism spectrum and their supporters in Victoria – www.amaze.org.au