HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [9.57 pm]: I rise to acknowledge that today is World Autism Awareness Day. The aim of the day, as the name would suggest, is to increase awareness of the millions of autistic children across the world, and by doing so decrease discrimination and increase investment into research.

The developmental, communication and social problems caused by autism can often lead to discrimination and the need for special parental care and medical intervention. It is estimated that about one in 160 individuals has some form of autism spectrum diagnosis, and that equates to around 125 000 people with autism in Australia and 500 000 families that have been directly affected. There are lots of perpetuated common myths around autism, such as the idea that all people with autism have an outstanding savant skill or that they do not experience the full range of emotions or even that they all have the same sorts of skills and difficulties. Unfortunately, these myths make it hard for people who live with autism to have their condition recognised or to access the supports that they need. That is why awareness days like today are really important, because better understanding will make a very big difference to the lives of very many people.

We have, however, come a long way in at least understanding that neurological differences like autism are the result of a normal and a natural variation in the human genome, and that autism has been present in society for as far back as we can measure, and it is not caused by vaccinations. People with autism can contribute a unique perspective. As the famous academic and person with autism Temple Grandin says —

What would happen if the autism gene was eliminated from the gene pool? You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socialising and not getting anything done.

Indeed, one of my favourite people, Greta Thunberg, the young woman behind School Strike 4 Climate, said —

Today is #AutismAwarenessDay . Proud to be on the spectrum!

And no, autism (as well as ADHD, ADD, Tourette’s, OCD, ODD etc) is not a “gift”. For most it is an endless fight against schools, workplaces and bullies. But under the right circumstances, given the right adjustments it CAN be a superpower.

I’ve had my fair share of depressions, alienation, anxiety and disorders. But without my diagnosis, I would never have started school striking. Because then I would have been like everyone else.

Our societies need to change, and we need people who think outside the box and we need to start taking care of each other. And embrace our differences. #aspiepower #autism

I thought that was fantastic. This is exactly the sort of shift we are talking about that is really important, because it is of course an innate part of a person. It is not something we should seek to cure, but that we should instead seek to support and accommodate. It also reminds us to recognise and celebrate the contributions that neuro-diverse people are making to our community as a whole. That is not to say that we should not work hard to minimise the negative effects of autism, and to best do this we need to ensure that we understand more about it. We need to get better at identifying it and then we can do more to provide effective support and therapies when they are needed.

WA is at the forefront of autism research. Up until very recently there has not been a consistent national approach to the diagnosis of the disorder, which has meant a lot of uncertainty for people, but Professor Andrew Whitehouse and Dr Kiah Evans, who are both based at the Telethon Kids Institute, have developed a new national guideline for the assessment and diagnosis of autism. The guideline outlines a step-by-step best practice process supported by case studies and templates, and it is designed to help remove confusion about and promote clarity of an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. Until now, diagnosis of the condition has varied greatly, unfortunately depending on where people live and who their clinician is. The guideline is going to help families learn about the condition and the impacts it is going to have on their lives. It will hopefully help them to work out the types of support that they need. However, I note that the guideline has also served to highlight the disparity that exists between the recommended process of assessment and the levels of funding needed to achieve it. That is just the process for assessment. Adequate funding is also needed to support people.

Acknowledging again today that it is World Autism Awareness Day, there is lots to celebrate about the neuro-diversity within our community. Hopefully, we can get better at ensuring that people are getting the right sort of support that they need.


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