Up to half of Australian children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder are expected to have higher needs warranting support from the National Disability Insurance Scheme, according to a leading academic.
Andrew Whitehouse, a research program director at the Co-operative Research Centre for Living with Autism Spectrum Disorders, yesterday said changes to diagnostic procedures in 2013 came with a new criteria for functionality that could be used by the NDIS.
Under DSM-5, the American diagnostic manual, higher functioning Asperger’s syndrome, mid-range ‘’pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified’’, and the more severe autistic disorder were amalgamated into ASD. That category was given three levels of functionality, with level three the lowest, requiring the most support in daily life, and level one the highest.
“With regards to the NDIS, what they’ve done is determined that level two and three will essentially be allocated funding — where there is a diagnosis — but level one will need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis depending on need,” Professor Whitehouse said.
The Australian this week revealed the number of children with ASD had caught planners by surprise — making up half of all participants in a South Australian trial — and raised questions of how the $22 billion disability scheme will manage costs and demand.
Rising autism rates are a worldwide trend, due to new diagnostic procedures, greater awareness, and medical factors such as increased survival rates for premature births and more older parents. About 2 per cent of school-aged children in Australia are thought to have ASD, though diagnosis rates vary among the states, as does the age of diagnosis
The NDIS derived its initial autism estimates from Productivity Commission figures based on an Australian Bureau of Statistics survey that even the ABS admits has underestimated the number of people with the condition.
There were 115,400 people with autism in 2012, according to the ABS data, up from 64,400 in 2009.
An updated survey is being conducted this year.
Professor Whitehouse said it was still not known how many Australians had ASD.
“What we do know is that 40-50 per cent of people who have an autism spectrum disorder have an intellectual disability as well and that would put them in level two and three,” Professor Whitehouse said, cautioning that the figure was the best available estimate.
A spokeswoman for the National Disability Insurance Agency yesterday reiterated there was no evidence of an overrun in costs or numbers of participants.
She said the NDIS trials were being used to determine the best way to deliver services, which for autism meant a dedicated project to gather the latest research and best practice around early intervention. “The NDIS takes an insurance-based approach to early intervention and focuses on the needs of individuals,” the spokeswoman said.
“This approach means that many children who are accessing the NDIS for early intervention services may not require ongoing assistance from the scheme.
“Children with slight learning needs are not expected to be eligible for the NDIS as this will remain a responsibility of other systems.”
This article first appeared on ‘The Australian’ on 29 July 2015.