Some autistic people, particularly younger people, don't pick up on signs that a situation or environment may not be safe. This is often associated with their processing of sensory information and their understanding of social cues.
Autistic people can sometimes need assistance in unfamiliar environments or when encountering stressful situations. Younger autistic people can also wander or elope for a number of reasons. Wandering and elopement can put autistic people into unsafe situations and is a significant cause of concern for family and friends.
3.1 Increase personal safety for autistic Victorians
- Develop a fact sheet for all police employees about autistic people and potential contacts with police, including how to respond to people who are wandering
- Build the capability of police in person centred approaches for people with disability, including autistic people
- Through the Homes for Victorians initiative and Victoria's homelessness and rough sleeping action plan, invest in homelessness services to intervene earlier to prevent homelessness, provide stable accommodation as quickly as possible, provide support to maintain stable accommodation and build effective and responsive homelessness services
- This will strengthen services to vulnerable people, including those with autism, by:
- extending homelessness assessment and planning capacity across Victoria's prison system to prevent homelessness and intervene early
- placing Enhanced Housing Pathways workers in the three social housing and homelessness launch sites to test a more intensive approach to supporting people exiting prison into private rental or social housing.
Autistic people are more likely to be victims and witnesses of crime than offenders; however, when they come into contact with the justice system, they face significant challenges. There is a need to recognise the additional disadvantage of vulnerable autistic people in the justice system.
The inquiry and consultations highlighted the need for the corrections system to develop a clearer picture of the number of autistic people in custody in Victoria and to consider opportunities to support them better. We need to improve the training and development of our justice workforce, including Victoria Police, courts and corrections staff, and to connect autistic people early with appropriate supports to avoid repeat contact. A focus on supporting autistic people in contact with the justice system will help improve transition and reintegration into the community.
Because the first contact with the justice system is often with police, survey participants indicated that developing the ability of police to interact effectively with autistic people is a priority.
3.2 Increase access to support services for autistic people in contact with the justice system
- Support the continued ability of the Children's Court Clinic to undertake comprehensive assessments that may identify autistic children and parents and lead to referral to appropriate support services by child protection or youth justice
- Develop a Youth Justice Strategy to strengthen access, referrals and engagement with education and training, employment, housing and health and wellbeing support for young people in youth justice, including a focus on those with disability and young autistic people
- Work to maximise the opportunities offered by the NDIS to ensure continuity of services and supports for offenders in corrections and young people in youth justice
- Ensure that:
- initial assessment and planning workers in prison are able to provide appropriate housing information and advice for vulnerable people, including those with autism, transitioning from prison to release in the community
- prisoners are informed about housing and homelessness services, including through post-release supports
- Build the capability of youth justice workers and corrections staff in approaches for people with disability, including autistic people
- Establish a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal disability reference group to help develop reforms to service delivery
Autistic people with complex needs and their families can face additional barriers to participating in the community and the economy. They can also require more intensive levels of support but are often shut out by services that are reluctant to take them on. Many parents of autistic people with complex needs act as primary carers well past the age of retirement and express concerns about succession planning for when they are no longer able to provide this care.
Some but not all autistic people with complex needs can exhibit behaviours of concern, adding additional layers of need and sometimes placing the person in contact with police and corrections.
Feedback through work on this plan has indicated that people with complex needs and their families don't always benefit from actions that address the needs of autistic people more generally. For this reason, this plan establishes processes for bringing expertise on complex needs into any relevant policy work.
An area of focus will be Victorian advocacy around how the NDIS can best service people with complex needs (see NDIS section above).
A complementary focus of Victorian Government action will be to build the capacity of mainstream services to respond appropriately to autistic people with complex needs.
3.3 Increase the inclusion of autistic people with complex needs and their families
- Fund organisations that have a focus on the needs of adult autistic people to increase the sustainability and reach of their work
- Establish twice-yearly "complex needs" forums to provide advice to the Victorian Government that will allow current and future policy to take in the circumstances and needs of autistic people with complex needs
Autistic people are more likely to be trans or gender diverse than the general population. They often become aware of their sex and gender identity at a young age but may not make this known to others to avoid additional layers of exclusion, discrimination and abuse.
Both autistic people and LGBTI+ people have poorer health and mental health outcomes compared with the general population and experience greater social disadvantage. LGBTI+ autistic people should be able to draw on safe and appropriate services to meet their health, wellbeing and education needs.
Girls and women
Diagnosis rates of autism in girls and women are not indicative of the rate of incidence. This is most likely strongly influenced by poor public and professional understanding of how autism presents differently.
Girls with autism are generally identified and diagnosed later in life, often missing opportunities for early interventions. Girls who have been able to adapt their behaviour to mimic peer behaviours are sometimes first identified in the transition from primary to high school.
There is a need to improve understanding about the presentation of autism in girls and women to ensure they have access to appropriate supports and services.
Culturally diverse communities
The inquiry highlighted additional barriers to assessment, diagnosis and support in culturally diverse communities. Some of these additional barriers arise from the limited capacity of services to provide appropriate offerings to culturally diverse communities. Other barriers arise from the specific cultural expectations and beliefs of communities in which autism may be poorly understood and a source of stigma.
Rural and regional Victoria
The barriers faced by autistic people and their families are heightened in rural and regional locations. Autistic people often have to travel many hours to access the services and supports they need. There is a need to train, recruit and retain service providers in rural and regional communities.
3.4 Increase the inclusion of autistic people from diverse communities
- Support autism organisations that address the needs of key cohorts, including the LGBTI+ community and girls and women
- Partner with community organisations to provide advocacy and support for culturally diverse communities
- Establish twice-yearly autism diversity forums to provide advice to the Victorian Government that will allow current and future policy to address autism intersectionality
Little is currently known about the true rate of incidence of autism in the Victorian Aboriginal population. Barriers to accessing assessment, diagnosis, services and supports are compounded by a lack of culturally safe service options.
Self-determination is necessary for better identification and support of autistic Aboriginal people. Aboriginal families should be able to make decisions in partnership with skilled workforces drawn from their own communities.
3.5 Increase access to culturally safe services for Aboriginal Victorians with autism
- Explore improved training for health and human service providers that deliver supports for Aboriginal people with autism
- Support cultural safety in health and human services organisations that provide services to Aboriginal autistic people
- Explore options to support rural and regional Aboriginal students studying psychology, speech pathology and social work through the Aboriginal Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Cadetship and Graduate Program