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Motion: World Autism Awareness Day

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. E.S. Bourke:

That this council—

1. Recognises that April is Autism Month and 2 April is World Autism Awareness Day.

2. Acknowledges that Autism Awareness Day recognises and celebrates the rights of autistic people to lead full and meaningful lives as an integral part of our society.

3. Congratulates the Malinauskas government on its commitment to improving the lives of our autistic and autism communities through—

(a) appointing the nation’s first Assistant Minister for Autism;

(b) investing $28.8 million to fund access to an autism inclusive teacher in every public primary school;

(c) seeking to increase the number of autism-qualified staff in preschools;

(d) working with service providers to offer early intervention services in children’s centres;

(e) developing a state autism strategy that will operate with the state disability plan and requiring all government agencies to sign up to an autism charter; and

(f) investing $50 million to fund 100 speech pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists and counsellors for access in public schools.

4. Thanks everyone who participated in the public consultation on the development of the state's first autism strategy and charter.


The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I rise on behalf of the Greens as the spokesperson for disability to speak in strong support for this motion. On 2 April 2023, we celebrated World Autism Awareness Day. World Autism Awareness Day was declared by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2007 and designed to raise an understanding of autism and encourage early diagnosis and interventions.

The Greens believe that services and supports for people with disabilities are a core government responsibility. The Greens utilise the social model of disability, which encourages the removal of barriers that are preventing disabled people from equally participating in society with those around them.

This social model acknowledges that ableism exists and constantly enforces the barriers that autistic and neurodiverse people face. When combined with the affirmative model that embraces disability as an identity, it celebrates the contribution that neurodiverse and autistic people make to society, with an assertion of their right to have that contribution and their humanity recognised separately to that of their family's.

With this, we must consider the way we speak about those who are neurodiverse. Naming autism as a disorder is a very medicalised way of speaking. We often describe that as using deficit language, which says people have deficits rather than being neurodiverse, which we all are. Us in this chamber, we in this chamber, know better than anyone that words and language are powerful tools.

In 2018, an estimated 353,880 Australians were diagnosed with autism, which is approximately one in 70 people. This is a significant increase from the estimated 64,000 diagnosed in 2009. Autism is most commonly identified in children and young people, with one in 160 children between the ages of six and 12 years having autism.

I would like to specifically address the barriers to diagnoses faced in particular by autistic women and girls. In many areas of health men are seen and treated as the standard and women suffer as a result because their individualised needs are not considered. This is particularly prevalent for women when seeking a diagnosis for autism. Taken altogether, research suggests that it is unlikely that autism is equally common among men and women, yet growing evidence suggests that the current diagnostic procedures may fail to capture how autism manifests in women and thus exaggerates the already existing difference in prevalence rates.

Women have also been found to be diagnosed with autism at significantly later ages and therefore have experienced greater delays in the time from the initial evaluation to receiving a clinical autism diagnosis. It is important to reflect on how this may impact on numbers and statistics. A fundamental issue with the current diagnostic procedures is that the behavioural markers used are established based on the pre-existing conceptions of what autistic behaviours look like.

These criteria have been developed based on the predominantly male populations previously identified as autistic. It is important that autistic women and girls receive a diagnosis or recognise that they are autistic so they can access support; however, because of stereotyped ideas about what autism looks like and who can be autistic, many autistic women and girls struggle to get a diagnosis, receive a diagnosis late in life, or are misdiagnosed with conditions other than autism.

I hope the Malinauskas government, in the work undertaken through the Assistant Minister for Autism, adequately reviews the problems facing women on the spectrum. In saying that, however, I applaud the current work of the Malinauskas government in their consultation with the autistic and autism communities to co-design the state's first autism strategy and autism charter. The development and creation of the strategy is an important step towards creating a more knowledgeable and inclusive community where autistic people can meaningfully participate.

For far too long, disabled people have been shut out of decision-making and policy-creating affecting our community. This has perpetuated discrimination, it has perpetuated violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation, and it has seen devastating consequences providing solutions that are centred on these barriers in society as crucial to improving the ability of disabled people to thrive and contribute to their communities in a meaningful and positive and equal manner.

With that, I commend the motion. I note that there is a tabled amendment. I note with great concern that it does remove the recognition of the autistic community and the Greens will not be supporting the amendment.

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