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 most common primary disability across all sites at 31% of participants nationally. The next highest nationally is Intellectual Disability at 14% (Quarterly Report to COAG Disability Reform Council, June 2016)
  • In South Australian NDIS Launch site, 47% of participants have “Autism and related disorders” listed as their primary disability “due to the very young cohort of participants (0-6 year olds)”
  • In New South Wales (Hunter) and Victoria, the two NDIS sites established in 2013-14 and inclusive of all ages, intellectual disability and “Autism and related disorders” are the most prevalent primary disabilities (25% and 23% respectively across the two sites)
  • The prevalence of ASD is reportedly growing at a faster rate than any other disability. The 2012 Australian Bureau of Statistics Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) showed an estimated 115,400 Australians (0.5%) had autism. This was an 79% increase on the 64,400 people estimated to have the condition in 2009.
  • 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%)
  • 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.
  • 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
  • Compared to people with other disabilities, people with ASD experience poorer outcomes in relation to workforce participation. In 2012 (SDAC), the labour force participation rate for people with autism was 42%. This compares with 53% labour force participation rate for people with disabilities and 83% for people without disabilities
  • 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
  • People with ASD experience poorer outcomes in relation to education. In 2012 (SDAC), 5% of children with autism attended school and did not experience any educational restrictions. Of the 95% of children who did experience some restrictions, 6% of children were not able to attend school because of their disability and 44% needed to attend either a special class in a mainstream school, or a special school.
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).
Co-existing Conditions
  • ASD is associated with high prevalence of multiple disabilities (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2009)
  • 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

Register Your Interest to Support the Australian Autism Alliance and Enhance the Lives of Autistic People.

Get Involved