“The plan needs to address the specific needs of autistic children in out-of-home care.”
- Autism Plan Advisory Group member
We will improve access to autism assessment, diagnosis and early intervention in community-based health settings. These are the actions we will undertake:
2.1.1 Diversify how we offer public autism assessments, through:
- new provision of services through Community Health program and Aboriginal community-controlled providers to improve access to community-based, culturally sensitive autism assessment and diagnosis for children and young people.
- new provision of service through the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, providing assessments for children three years and younger.
We will ensure healthcare professionals, including hospital staff, general practitioners and primary and community healthcare staff, undertake professional development to better support autistic Victorians. These are the actions we will undertake:
2.1.2 Develop a new Department of Health website resource with practical information for healthcare workers about working with autistic people, including information about autism in women and girls.
2.1.3 Develop good practice guidelines for health services about working with autistic people.
2.1.4 Implement a two-year initiative as capped grant funding for training organisations to refresh and develop training modules for healthcare workforces to assist them to better understand the needs of autistic people when providing healthcare services and supports.
We will continue to support people with disability, their support networks and disability service providers to put in place measures to reduce their risk of COVID-19 infection and address the broader social and economic disruptions the pandemic has had, recognising the specific needs and concerns of autistic Victorian. These are the actions we will undertake:
2.1.5 Engage with people with disability and their support networks and families to promote the benefits of vaccination and how to access to COVID-19 assessment, treatment, testing and vaccines, including supports available for autistic Victorians to access the health services they need.
2.1.6 Work with autistic advocates to raise community awareness about the latest advice on immunisation, antivirals and other COVID-19 services from relevant health authorities and identify opportunities to raise issues and matters of interest through consultative forums and processes.
2.1.7 Partner with disability service providers and organisations to better understand their challenges and needs relating to COVID-19, including impact on their everyday operations and workforce, and distribute critical COVID-19 supplies including RATs and masks.
Disability Liaison Officer (DLO) program
Autistic people need access to timely, culturally safe, high-quality health services to support them to manage their health.
Services should be made available in settings that actively accommodate neurodiversity to respond to people’s health and wellbeing needs.
The DLO program in key health services supports autistic people to navigate the service system and access the health care they need. Initiatives and actions, such as the development of quiet and low-sensory environments and appointment readiness (for example, using social stories), support autistic people to access the services they need.
The DLO program has assisted 23,340 people in total and supported 16,650 people with disability to access appropriate COVID-19 vaccination that meets their needs (data from December 2020 to June 2022). Approximately one-quarter of all users are autistic people and their families.
We will leverage DLOs in health services to improve access to healthcare for autistic people:
2.1.8 Support autistic people to access healthcare, including providing tailored support related to booking services, communication needs and psychosocial and sensory support.
2.1.9 Champion and support delivery of service improvements that address the needs of autistic people, aligned with Inclusive Victoria systemic reforms and health commitments.
2.2 Mental health
We will improve mental health and wellbeing outcomes for autistic people and other people with disability. These are the actions we will undertake:
2.2.1 Ensure that engagement and evidence to shape the Diverse communities mental health and wellbeing framework (the framework) considers the needs of autistic people and neurodiversity broadly. The framework is due for release in 2023. It will provide a 10-year strategy and two-year action plan for improving mental health and wellbeing outcomes for people with disability including autistic people, and other cohorts who typically experience barriers to managing their mental health.
2.2.2 Ensure the approach to implementing the framework prioritises co-design and the expertise of people with lived experience, including autistic Victorians.
We will continue to increase understanding of health and wellbeing needs, including mental health needs for autistic Victorians. These are the actions we will undertake:
2.2.3 Support child, youth and adolescent, adult and older adult mental health services to develop capacity in assessment, diagnosis and early intervention through the Mindful Centre’s autism spectrum disorder training.
2.2.4 Support the Victorian mental health workforce to better respond to the needs of people with disability, including autistic people. This will be done by implementing the Mental Health Workforce Disability Capability Uplift program.
We will improve access to appropriate and affordable housing for autistic Victorians and their families. These are the actions we will undertake:
2.3.1 Undertake a review of the Victorian Housing Register and public housing operational guidelines to ensure they align with, and adhere to, the principles of the Victorian autism plan including guidelines outlining application methods, eligibility for social housing and home modifications.
2.3.2 Ensure that housing design guidelines for new and upgraded public housing capture the needs of autistic people.
2.3.3 Undertake a review of public materials and access points on social housing to ensure they align with and adhere to the principles of the Victorian autism plan, including accessibility of information and appropriateness of assessment.
2.3.4 Increase the availability and accessibility of social housing for all people with disability, including autistic people, through the Big Housing Build initiatives. These initiatives are commitments in Inclusive Victoria.
2.4 Access to the National Disability Insurance Scheme
We will undertake broad-ranging advocacy to get the most out of the NDIS for autistic Victorians. These are the actions we will undertake:
2.4.1 Advocate for innovative models under the NDIS to support more autistic people to stay at home and develop more appropriate Specialist Disability Accommodation.
2.4.2 Continue to advocate for the diverse needs of autistic people and their families through appropriate governance and review mechanisms. This includes advocating for appropriate levels of behavioural support and for an improved experience of the scheme by participants with complex needs.
We will support service providers and autistic Victorians to connect and engage with the NDIS. These are the actions we will undertake:
2.4.3 Improve the capacity and capability of behaviour-support practitioners in partnership with the University of Melbourne to deliver training that ensures high-quality behaviour-support plans for autistic people.
We will monitor the experiences and outcomes of autistic people accessing the NDIS. These are the actions we will undertake:
2.4.4 Work with the Commonwealth, Australian Bureau of Statistics, and internal state government departments to monitor and share data about the experiences and outcomes of autistic people and their families. We acknowledge that Aboriginal data sovereignty (ADS) is a key enabler of self-determination. We are committed to implementing ADS. This work will involve analysing the data received from the NDIA through Victoria’s NDIS data sharing agreement, to better understand the experiences and outcomes for Victorian autistic people accessing the NDIS.
2.4.5 Work with the Commonwealth, including the Independent NDIS Review Panel, for greater consistency in access to the NDIS, planning of support needs and budget setting to reduce the current assessment biases for Victorians diagnosed with autism.
2.5 Children and families
We will continue to strengthen the capacity of families with children with disability, including autism and parents with disability to improve the health, safety and development of their children through targeted and coordinated whole-of-family support. These are the actions we will undertake:
2.5.1 Build the capacity of parents and families to help prevent children with disability support needs from requiring care outside of their family home through Victoria’s Family Services disability programs including Children with Complex Disability Support Needs Program and the Family Services Specialist Disability Program. The types of support may include advocacy and advice, practical support and/or material aid, counselling, parent–child interaction and community connection and social inclusion. This includes providing culturally safe support to Aboriginal families and children.
2.5.2 Help families to navigate the NDIS. We will help parents develop skills to advocate for NDIS plans that contain parenting and disability support that help maintain and improve family functioning and the sustainability of family-based care.
2.5.3 Build on the knowledge gained from the funding of 34 specialist disability practitioner roles across 17 departmental areas to support vulnerable families with disability in order to build disability inclusion and NDIS capacity across the sector in future.
2.5.4 Build on the learnings from the Steps to Confident Parenting Program pilot. This program provides flexible and tailored support to parents with disability, including autism, or cognitive impairment with a child or children at risk of requiring care. The types of support included intensive home-based and case management responses through a multidisciplinary team of dedicated family services, early parenting, and disability practitioners. This includes providing culturally safe support to Aboriginal parents with disability, including autism, or cognitive impairment.
2.5.5 Improve outcomes for children with disability, including autistic children who are involved with child protection. Disability practice advice teams in each operational division will support the capacity of child protection practitioners to engage with the NDIA and provide consultation support to ensure that children with disability receive the disability supports they need through their NDIS plans.
2.5.6 The care services system will continue to respond to the needs of children with autism with an approach that draws on partnerships with the NDIA. This includes processes for identifying children with autism coming into care and models of care that provide appropriate environments and support for children with autism in residential care. Crisis and escalation pathways with the NDIA are in place to ensure urgent responses to break down of care or critical disability supports.