Speakers call for better support at autism services inquiry hearing in Bendigo

PARENTS made an emotional plea for better understanding and acceptance of people with autism during a public hearing in Bendigo on Monday.

The hearing was one of several being held across the state by the state parliament’s family and development committee as part of its inquiry into services for people with autism spectrum disorder.

Susanna and Martin Flanagan told the committee, chaired by Bendigo West MP Maree Edwards, of the financial, emotional and mental costs a lack of proper support and understanding had had on them and their three children, the whole family having been diagnosed with autism.

They said when their middle child began school they struggled with a lack of support and an unwillingness to make adjustments to cater to their child’s needs, which had such a detrimental impact on the wellbeing of that child they decided to have their children educated at home.

The need for better training for teachers was one of the major issues raised by Murray Dawson-Smith, chief executive officer of disability service provider Distinctive Options.

Mr Dawson-Smith called for student teachers to undertake mandated minimum training and practical experience with children with autism as part of their education, as well as school principals to be formally assessed on their inclusiveness of students with autism.

He said education was an area in which the state government, as an employer of teachers, had an opportunity to add value to the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The capacity of the NDIS to meet the needs of people with autism was another concern raised by Mr Dawson-Smith.

He said the number of people with autism who would seek support from the NDIS had been “grossly underestimated” when it was launched.

Several other speakers also attended the hearing, including representatives from Bendigo Autistic Advocacy and Support Service and the Macedon Ranges Autism Network.

During the inquiry, the parliamentary committee will consider the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder in Victoria, the availability and adequacy of services provided by all levels of government, the adequacy of services to be provided under the NDIS, and the projected demand for services.

The committee will submit its report by mid-2017.