The Victorian autism plan was launched before the COVID-19 pandemic. The unequal effects of the pandemic have made it starkly clear that we must continue to improve inclusion and accessibility for marginalised communities.
This will require innovative and human-centred policy and a commitment to meeting the needs of diverse communities. This refresh of the autism plan is an opportunity for us to reflect on our progress since 2019 and outline ways to drive greater inclusion for autistic people.
The pandemic had profound and wide-ranging effects on autistic people. These include:
- reduced and changed access to education
- varied experiences of re-engaging with on-site schooling after periods of remote learning
- changed opportunities to enjoy social connection and community
- reduced physical and mental wellbeing
- changes in access to employment opportunities.
At the same time, some autistic people and their families have benefited from more flexible approaches to employment, education and social connection. New Victorian Government initiatives such as the Disability Liaison Officers program have increased access to health services. This includes COVID-19 assessment, treatment, testing and vaccination.
We need to make sure we capitalise on opportunities and new ways of working as the community returns to pre-pandemic life.
While the refresh includes many of the lessons of the pandemic, it also seeks to address current and future issues. These include:
- unhelpful attitudes about autism in contexts such as NDIS usage
- upholding rights and supports in justice, corrections and policing
- greater representation of autistic voices to inform service and policy design.
The pandemic delayed the implementation of some actions in the original autism plan and the work to refresh the plan. The refreshed plan was due to end in December 2024. However, due to the delay, it is being extended by 12 months, taking its lifespan to the end of 2025.
This refresh shows how we will take steps to progress those actions.
We have used internal reporting and engagement with portfolio areas to understand progress against actions to date and opportunities for progressing work.
We have reviewed every element of the plan. Any actions that remain unchanged have been examined and reconfirmed as appropriate.
The refreshed plan aligns with key reforms occurring at a state and national level, including:
- the release of Inclusive Victoria in March 2022
- ongoing, phased implementation of the Inclusive education reforms
- the review of the NDIS
- a Commonwealth Senate Select Committee on Autism and ongoing work towards a national autism strategy
- the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (Disability Royal Commission).
The 2017 Final report of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into Services for People with Autism Spectrum Disorder remains a touchstone for autism policy. The Victorian Government accepted most recommendations from the inquiry in its initial response. We continue to consider the recommendations in the actions and proposed new directions in this refreshed plan.