In the ACT, people with autism spectrum disorders await Government awareness and recognition of their unmet need for appropriate disability services.
Recently, Autism Asperger ACT raised concerns that ACT Government officials wrote “autism is not a mental illness”. Mr Buckley, Chair of the association’s Political Action Group, asked “If officials think autism spectrum disorders are not mental illness, then which part of the body do they think is affected? Where in the health system do we look for treatment and rehabilitation?”
In 2010, the Chief Minister got ACT Health Department officials to contact the association but, after a brief exchange with ACT Mental Health officials, communication quickly ceased. “The brief exchange went nowhere” Mr Buckley said.
The ACT Government must recognise that autism spectrum disorders need serious attention. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that 2003 data showed autism was second highest burden of disease and injury for boys in Australia. Nationally, the number of people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders rose from 13,200 in 1998 to 30,400 in 2003, then to 53,530 in 2009 (from the Australian Bureau of Statistics Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers). The data also show most of these people have severe or profound disability. There are increasing numbers of people including adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, diagnoses that by definition recognise severe and pervasive disability. People with autism spectrum disorders need appropriate services.
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People are disappointed that the ACT Health Minister did not consult Autism Asperger ACT on her draft ACT Charter of Rights for Mental Health Consumers (see http://www.chiefminister.act.gov.au/media.php?v=10437) or ask the views of this relevant community group.
Autism Asperger ACT wrote to the Health Minister asking whether the ACT Government has changed its position on the relationship of autism to mental health. The Association asked whether the ACT Government was interested in input about the draft charter from a group that could in the future represent a significant consumer group. The Government did not respond.
The consultation closing date is looming. Autism Asperger ACT sent a response hoping the ACT Government will consider its views (see http://autismaspergeract.com.au/node/208).
The ACT Government appears unaware of the difficulty an organisation of people with autism spectrum disorders and their carers have in addressing community consultations such as this. While the Government funds other “consumer” organisations, it does not help Autism Asperger ACT respond to the barrage of ACT Government inquiries and community consultations that relate to people with autism spectrum disorders.
The number of people with autism spectrum disorders has increased substantially over the last two decades. The ACT Government has not ensured its services and staff are keeping pace with demand for autism-specific services. Despite repeated efforts from Autism Asperger ACT, the ACT Government has not consulted with the substantial local knowledge and expertise.
“The ACT Government needs to recognise and address the substantial unmet needs of people with autism spectrum disorders in the ACT for essential services”, Mr Buckley said.