A Snapshot of Autism in Australia

The Australian Autism Alliance will keep you informed of issues affecting the autism community in Australia

The following provides a summary of relevant data and trends pertaining to the autism spectrum community and key current policy issues and implications affecting the autism spectrum community.

Prevalence and Incidence
  • Under the NDIS, “Autism and related disorders” is the second most common primary disability across all sites (28%). Two disability groups dominate the current participant profile, with 65% of active participants having a primary disability of intellectual disability or autism (COAG Disability Reform Council Quarterly Report, March 2017). Most scheme participants at the end of 2016 were children aged 14 years and under (around 43 000 or 44% of participants). Around 45% of the children in the scheme have autism, while 34 per cent have an intellectual disability (including developmental delay)  (National Disability Insurance Scheme Costs. Productivity Commission Position Paper, June 2017).
  • Disability-specific prevalence rates at the Barwon and Hunter trial sites broadly match those assumed in the NDIA’s long-term modelling for all but the largest disability groupings. Prevalence rates were higher than the NDIA’s long-term modelling assumptions for autism, where prevalence rates were significantly higher in both trial sites.
  • In South Australian during the NDIS Launch site that focused on childre (0-6 year olds), 47% of participants had “Autism and related disorders” listed as their primary disability.
  • According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC), an estimated 164,000 Australians had autism in 2015 (ABS 2016). This represented an overall prevalence rate of 0.7%, or about 1 in 150 people. The number of people with autism in Australia has increased considerably in recent years, up from an estimated 64,400 people in 2009 (ABS 2014). The prevalence of ASD is reportedly growing at a faster rate than any other disability.
  • The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW, 2015) reported that autism was the most common primary disability for children aged 0–14 (29%) for services delivered under the National Disability Agreement (NDA) in 2013-14
  • The AIHW (2015) reported that the primary disability in the 15-24 age group was Intellectual (37%), followed by Autism (18%)
Neurodiversity
  • A shift to recognising and respecting neurological differences as a “social category” (eg, like gender, ethnicity), promoting the acceptance and celebration of difference and diversity.
Diagnosis
  • There is currently no consistent Australian standard for diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • There is a lack of consistency in diagnostic practices across Australia and some professionals may not be practicing in a way that is consistent with international best practice guidelines for ASD diagnosis (Autism CRC, 2016)
  • A major study has been launched to develop Australia’s first national diagnostic guideline for autism led by The Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC).
Early Intervention/Developmental Supports
  • The report commissioned by the NDIS, “Autism spectrum disorder: Evidence-based/evidence-informed good practice for supports provided to preschool children, their families and carers” (Roberts and Williams, September, 2015) was published to assist with making decisions about the delivery of services to preschool children with autism, and their families and carers. The report can be accessed here
  • The “NDIS Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI) Approach” (NDIS, February 2016) has also been published to describe their approach to  early childhood intervention. The report can be accessed here
  • Children on the autism spectrum and their families benefit from early intervention and developmental supports in the early years and families often need support in making decisions about therapies, interventions and supports to improve outcomes and opportunities
Employment

Participation in the workforce is important for social inclusion and economic independence, but people with autism may encounter barriers to entering the labour market.

  • The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS, 2015) reported in 2015 that the labour force participation rate was 40.8% among the 75,200 people of working age (15-64 years) living with autism. This is compared with 53.4% of working age people with disability and 83.2% of people without disability. 

  • The unemployment rate for people with autism spectrum disorders was 31.6%, more than three times the rate for people with disability (10.0%) and almost six times the rate of people without disability (5.3%) (ABS, 2016)
  • About 3 in 10 (29%) people with autism are permanently unable to work due to their condition or disability (Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, 2015)
  • Around 3 in 4 service users under the National Disability Agreement (NDA) aged 16 and over with autism (74%) received the disability support pension as their main source of income, and a further 13% received another pension or benefit. Only 6% reported paid employment as their main source of income (National Minimum Data Set, 2014-15)
  • 50–75% of adults with ASD are unemployed (Jacob, Scott M, Falkmer M, Falkmer T 2015)
  • The number of working age adults with ASD in Australia is expected to increase over the next 10 years to 181,000 (Jacob, Scott M, Falkmer M, Falkmer T 2015).
  • Primary and Secondary Education
    • School is an important social environment where children learn to interact with their peers, a task people with autism may find difficult. An appropriate school environment can provide opportunities to develop important social and life skills. Many children on the autism spectrum struggle socially, needing additional support throughout their education.

    • In 2015, almost all children on the autism spectrum had some form of educational restriction (96.7%), including a small number who were unable to attend school because of their disability. Almost half (48.0%) the children attended a special class in a mainstream school or a special school (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015).

    • Of the young people (aged 5 to 20 years) with autism who were attending school or another educational institution, 83.7% reported experiencing difficulty at their place of learning. Of those experiencing difficulties, the main problems encountered were fitting in socially (63.0%), learning difficulties (60.2%) and communication difficulties (51.1%) (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015).

    Tertiary Education
    • Evidence from Australia and overseas indicates that there are increasing numbers of students on the autism spectrum undertaking higher education studies (Fleischer, 2012a; Smith, 2007; VanBergeijk & Cavanagh, 2012). However, academic outcomes are often poor, and there is growing awareness of the specific challenges faced by students with ASD (Knott & Taylor, 2014; McLeod & Harrison, 2013; Pillay & Bhat, 2012).
    • People with autism are less likely than others to complete an educational qualification beyond school and have needs for support that differ from people with other disabilities (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015).

    • People with other disability were 2.3 times more likely to have a bachelor degree or higher than people with autism, while people with no disability were 4.4 times more likely to have one. All people with disability and those with no disability were 1.6 times more likely to have an Advanced Diploma, Diploma or Certificate III or IV than people with autism (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015).

    Co-existing Conditions
    • ASD is associated with high prevalence of multiple disabilities (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2009)
    Treatments/Therapies/Interventions
    • There exists a complex array of potential interventions for ASD with variable evidence base.
    Autistic Women
    March 2017 – A comprehensive report prepared by autistic advocates, was submitted to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences, on her visit to Australia from 13 to 27 February 2017. The report, endorsed by the Australian Autism Alliance, highlights that autistic women are subject to many forms of discrimination across the lifespan. Read the report: Autistic Women

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