‘Prioritise autistic voices’: Bendigo advocates to watch closely as state updates Autism Plan

Susanna Flanagan, with her daughter Alethea, says an inquiry into autism
services heard many stories of experiences in Victoria, but feared they
would not be listened to in the end. Picture: NONI HYETT

BENDIGO autism advocates have urged the state government to listen to their real experiences as it embarks on the first update of Victoria’s Autism Plan since 2009.

They have also called for organisations which use restrictive practices such as restrain and seclusion to be either change their policies, or have no future in the delivery of services for autistic people.

An inquiry into autism services earlier this year recommended establishing centres of autism excellence in regional Victoria, new autism specialist schools, greater teacher training and expanding diagnostic services.

The Victorian government will update the state’s Autism Plan for the coming five years, and pledged $22.4 million while the plan is being developed.

It released its response to the inquiry earlier this month.

Related: Families and individuals highlight autism struggles in Bendigo

Susanna Flanagan, of the Bendigo Autism Advocacy Support Service, said autistic people in Victoria had provided their stories – now the government needed to act in their best interests.

“They need to prioritise autistic voices over all others,” she said.

“We’re very good at saying what we need, in various ways, but it now depends if anyone is actually listening.

“All of this is a good start, but it could do more harm than good unless they are genuine about listening to our concerns.”


 The inquiry into autism services in Victoria sits in Bendigo earlier this year. Picture: DARREN HOWE

One of the main concerns was the continued use of restrictive practices on people with autism by various organisations in Victoria.

Ms Flanagan said some had been earmarked for continued funding.

“If they put money into organisations that harm autistic people, then we doubt their sincerity,” she said.

BAASS did not support all 101 recommendations from the report, believing some were “misguided, biased” and reflected monetary decisions.

While the state government develops an updated Autism Plan, it will fund eight autism specialist coaching roles, provide additional professional development for teachers, give maternal and child health nurses greater training in autism diagnosis and develop a “peer support model” for regional Victoria.

Member for Bendigo West Maree Edwards, who chaired the inquiry, said updating the Autism Plan was something the sector desperately needed.

She said the government would work to use immediate funding, which would also include a advertising campaign to inform the public of the needs of autistic people.

“I’m really pleased that the inquiry has been responded to in a positive way by the government,” Ms Edwards said.

“It’s important to put something in place while the plan is being developed as well.”

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