The National Autism Strategy is being developed with the autism community to support autistic people across Australia to have the lives they want and deserve.

Consultations were held across Australia in late 2023 and included sessions with Kiind members. We would like to thank everyone who participated in these consultations.

The Australian Government Department of Social Services has released the draft National Autism Strategy for public feedback.

There has been much commentary on the draft strategy already so we will not be covering the whole strategy, instead we will focus on three key opportunities that we think the draft strategy has missed.


A specific focus on children

The Draft National Autism Strategy mentions ‘Autistic people’ 167 times but mentions ‘children’ only 12 times.

While the National Autism Strategy is intended to consider autism across the lifespan, and ‘people’ is meant to be inclusive, the truth is that we tend to conceptualise ‘people’ as adults, which means children are unintentionally overlooked in the draft strategy.

Autism is most prevalent in children and young people, in fact 83% of people with autism are aged under 25.

Autistic children, as key members of the autistic community in Australia, need to be named in the National Autism Strategy, which should also better understand and explore the intersectionality between autism and childhood and adolescence.

The strategy should highlight the distinct needs of autistic children and young people and their families and examine how their needs differ from the adult autistic population.


Education is more than a pathway to employment

While we acknowledge the importance of supporting autism through the lifespan, we find it curious that education is discussed under Economic Inclusion, and not a standalone Outcome Area in the draft strategy.

Autism is most prevalent among school age children, and we know from the lived experience of families that education is a major system of strain and exclusion for many autistic children and young people. Find out more in the Insights Report from our Journey Mapping project.

There are very few families we speak to who have not struggled to have their children’s needs met in education. For this reason, we ask that Education be considered separately from Economic Inclusion in the National Autism Strategy.

Educational inclusion promotes children’s skills and wellbeing across all developmental domains including social, emotional, physical, cognitive and language development.

Education is the number one factor influencing children’s social inclusion and has significant consequences for their lifespan development and therefore should be included in the National Autism Strategy as a core Outcome Area with corresponding commitments.


Neurodivergent families need extra recognition and support

When one family member receives an autism diagnosis, this can sometimes bring attention to the possibility of autism among other family members.

It’s quite common for siblings and parents to receive diagnostic assessment after a child’s initial diagnosis. Often parents and carers put themselves last due to waitlists and cost barriers.

To help families receive support, the government should consider offering bulk-billed diagnostic screening and assessment for the whole family where one person receives a diagnosis.

Recognition and support for neurodivergent families requires an understanding of how the whole family system interacts.

Neurodivergent parents provide compassionate, safe and supportive parenting, but they can also be prone to stress and burnout.

Family-centred support means recognising the strengths and needs of all family members. For example, one parent who describes themselves as ‘Neurospicy’ told us: “If I can’t co-regulate myself, how can I co-regulate my children?”

Additional supports and capacity-building to help families manage daily life can enhance the wellbeing of parents and carers, and children, improving relationships and core skills, and reducing stress.

Autistic parents may benefit from additional respite or in-home support to meet their own needs for regulation. For example: “As an autistic single parent of a neurotypical child, I need more support! I need breaks from parenting, so I can work but also so I can have time to decompress and recover from overstimulation.”

Providing strengths-based models of parenting and family-centred care tailored to family circumstances can improve outcomes for parent and child.

We would like to see more examples of family-centred practice that recognises neurodivergence discussed in the National Autism Strategy, with a focus on improved diagnostic pathways, early intervention, and other supports for the whole family.

Holistic family-centred supports should be available for all autistic people and their families regardless of age, though these services are particularly critical for children aged 0-9 years and their families.


What do you think?

You can provide feedback on the draft strategy by Friday, 31 May 2024. Click here to access the draft strategy and feedback survey.

Kiind will be providing feedback and is interested in your opinion. To have your say on the draft strategy, please get in touch or share your experience with us.