Babies targeted for two new early autism pilots

3 minute read

The government has committed to two more early intervention pilots in a bid to reduce the number of children falling into the NDIS morass.

Two new intervention pilot programs targeting babies with early signs of autism have been announced by the Department of Social Services at a cost of $22.1 million over four years.

Up to 1500 babies aged 9 to 14 months will be the subject of the “pre-emptive early intervention pilots” which the department says have been developed “in consultation with the early childhood, disability and health sectors, families and states and territories”.

“The pilots will address the issue of developmental concerns not being detected early enough and provide strengths-based and family-centred interventions to improve outcomes for young children and their families,” said the department’s announcement.

The programs will give parents “play-based techniques” to interact with their child when their brain is developing most rapidly.

An earlier pilot, funded by the NDIS rather than the DSS, was announced in April by NDIS Minister Bill Shorten, for 700 West Australian infants showing signs of autism. The sites for the two new trials have yet to be announced.

The two new pilots will be linked to the government’s Early Years Strategy, due for release in October, and its National Autism Strategy, which is still being developed, according to media reports today.

With the Albanese government keen to reduce the cost of the NDIS, the two new pilots are being seen as a chance to prevent or delay a formal diagnosis of autism, which is the single most common reason for entering the NDIS.

“I do think we need to do more early intervention so that the only off-ramp for a child with a learning delay isn’t the NDIS,” Mr Shorten told ABC radio.

“There’s an absence of alternatives which is funnelling people to the NDIS. I don’t blame people, parents seeking to be on the NDIS. I mean, if you had a child with a developmental delay at three, you just want to look after your child.

“A diagnosis of autism shouldn’t mean that you end up on the NDIS.”

Amanda Rishworth, the Minister for Social Services met today with the new National Autism Strategy Oversight Council, which is responsible for making sure the National Autism Strategy is guided by people with lived experience.

“The National Autism Strategy will form a whole-of-life plan to improve outcomes for all autistic Australians, spanning a number of key reform areas including healthcare, education and employment,” Ms Rishworth said.

“The strong representation of people with lived experience of autism on the council, combined with experts and researchers, ensures autistic voices will be central in the development of the strategy.

“We want to ensure no one gets left behind and that includes the one in six Australians with disability, including autistic Australians.”

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