Topics: National Autism Strategy
URSULA HEGER, HOST: Improving the health, education and employment outcomes for people living with neurodiversity will be central to a new Autism strategy being developed by the Federal Government. At the moment more than 200,000 Australians have Autism, and horrifyingly, they have a lower life expectancy than non-Autistic people. Joining me now from Canberra is Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth. Thank you for being here Minister. Firstly, what is this strategy going to do? Why do we need it?
AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: This strategy really is trying to address some of the barriers that Autistic people feel that they have in community and in society. We've developed a discussion paper which is out now for consultation with an oversight committee of Autistic people. And what they've told us is that there are still barriers to getting a good education, there's barriers to employment, there's barriers to getting good health care and mental health care support. So this strategy is looking at what are some of the solutions to remove that exclusion and ensure that Autistic people get the type of services that everyone else enjoys.
URSULA HEGER: Is it correct that there is no medical diagnosis for Autism?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: There is a diagnosis for Autism, but this strategy is not necessarily about a diagnosis or not a diagnosis. What this strategy is about is ensuring that the systems pathways, the services pathways, the opportunities in community and society are open for people that are neurodiverse. I'll give you an example – a lot of people feel they've got a lot to offer at the workplace and a simple question from an employer might be ‘how do you like to be communicated with?’. Because an Autistic person might not like the traditional way of communication. That simple change could open up a huge employment opportunity for an Autistic person that could bring a lot of skills. So, that is the type of thing that we are exploring, it’s how do we get pathways for diagnosis, but also importantly, how do we get a society that makes small adjustments that really open up opportunities for Autistic people.
URSULA HEGER: So, you're saying that there is still a stigma surrounding Autism, in particular within workplaces, say, and how people are communicated with and how they can contribute to a workplace?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Absolutely there is across community and society as well as workplaces and education institutions. There is stigma, but there's also a lack of understanding and awareness about what are some of the small adjustments that can be made to actually open up a service or open up support for someone that is Autistic. So, there is a lot of opportunity here. One thing we do know is that through this lack of awareness and understanding, we see more Autistic people have contact, for example, with the justice system. And so it is looking at all our, I guess we call them mainstream systems, our education systems, and looking at not just the stigma that's attached and breaking that stigma down, but actually improving awareness. And importantly, ensuring people understand and know what are those things that you can change around the environment that makes it more inviting and more inclusive for someone with Autism? And keep in mind that there are a lot of Autistic people across the age ranges. We're not just talking about little children here, we're talking about Autistic people of all ages, really.
URSULA HEGER: So, you're saying we will see practical outcomes, whether it be the courts or the education system. How exactly does that work? Do you have one set of teaching strategies for Autistic people? Or when it came to the courts, would you have a separate set of rules for Autistic people? Does it need to go that far?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: What we are actually looking at is what is best practice? What is best practice as well as incorporating the lived experience of people that are Autistic. So, we are now out for consultation, we don't have the answers just yet. What we want to do is go out for consultation over the next two months and we would absolutely encourage Autistic people, their families and communities to input into this consultation. There's a variety of ways to participate. It can be in person, it can be online, it can be through webinars, it can be on a chat board that's open 24-hours a day. There's a lot of opportunity to contribute as well as through questionnaires. And what we want to do is hear the lived experience of Autistic people, but also embed the research. Often one size doesn't fit all, but with some small adjustments, such as that really important question – ‘how would you like to be communicated with?’ – we can really break down some of those barriers.
URSULA HEGER: Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth, Thank you very much for joining us today.
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Thank you.