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During the course of the inquiry, the committee heard first-hand accounts of the devastating impact that inadequate or inappropriate support has on the lives of autistic people and their families.

However, the committee does not believe these problems are insurmountable. Significant inroads could be made by improving service integration and access, increasing understanding of autism in both community and professional settings, encouraging the development of autism-specific and autism-friendly services, and building workforce capacity and capability.

It is clear that autistic people and their families find the current service environment complex and poorly integrated. According to multiple stakeholders, the shared responsibility for delivering funded services and supports—involving all Australian governments, the non-government sector, businesses and the wider community— creates a disjointed approach to policy and program delivery.

The committee heard overwhelming stakeholder support for a national autism strategy that establishes a clear roadmap, with specific goals and targets, toward improving the lives of autistic people in Australia. The committee is also encouraged by international experiences which show that national strategies, while not a panacea, do lead to improved outcomes. Importantly, they serve to establish a baseline against which progress can be measured and reported.

It is also apparent to the committee that the NDIS needs to substantially improve the provision of services and supports that autistic children and adults require. While recognising this is symptomatic of broader problems with the scheme, the committee heard that many NDIA staff and service providers seem to lack even the most basic understanding of autism and the kinds of supports autistic people need. This is particularly troubling given the high number of autistic participants in the NDIS.

Report overview:

This report comprises 16 chapters, including the introductory chapter, with the remaining chapters set out as follows:

  • Chapter 2 provides a background on autism, the way it is diagnosed, its prevalence in Australia and the diversity of the spectrum.
  • Chapter 3 summarises information on life outcomes for autistic people.
  • Chapter 4 outlines the economic and social costs of failing to support autistic people.
  • Chapter 5 evaluates whether a National Autism Strategy should be developed.
  • Chapter 6 examines the adequacy of available services and supports for autistic Australians.
  • Chapter 7 looks at services and supports for specific groups of autistic people, including adults, females, disadvantaged and vulnerable cohorts, and families and carers.
  • Chapter 8 explores the current state of research and data collection.
  • Chapter 9 considers if current advocacy services are adequate.
  • Chapter 10 examines diagnostic services and current challenges to obtaining a consistent, timely and best-practice diagnosis.
  • Chapter 11 evaluates early intervention approaches and post-diagnosis support.
  • Chapter 12 considers ways to improve the education experiences and outcomes for autistic people.
  • Chapter 13 investigates employment outcomes for autistic people and how they might be improved.
  • Chapter 14 considers the interface for autistic people with health and mental health systems.
  • Chapter 15 looks at housing and accommodation services for autistic people.
  • Chapter 16 explores the over-representation of autistic people in the criminal justice system.
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