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Australia’s first National Autism Strategy

Australia is developing its first National Autism Strategy. Alex and Matt Hammond explore what the strategy will cover and what it might mean for autistic Australians and providers.

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Updated 15 Apr 202423 Oct 2023
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It’s hard to overstate what a historic time it is for the disability community in Australia right now. The final report from the Royal Commission has just been published and the NDIS review will make its recommendations at the end of the month. Amongst all of this, members of the autistic community have been gathering across the country to provide input into Australia’s first National Autism Strategy. So, what is this strategy and what could it mean for providers?

In 2022 the Federal government committed to developing a National Autism Strategy for all autistic Australians. This strategy was a key recommendation from the Senate Select Committee on Autism. It will be informed by autistic people, their carers and families, the autism sector and research.

What will the strategy cover?

The strategy will address the needs of all autistic Australians throughout their lifetimes, not just those on the NDIS.

A recently published discussion paper identified key outcome areas to address in the strategy:

  • social inclusion
  • economic inclusion
  • diagnosis, services and supports
  • health and mental health (including the upcoming National Roadmap to Improve the Health and Mental Health of Autistic People)

The strategy will likely investigate the integration of services provided by State and Federal governments, NGOs and providers. The strategy will also include a plan for accountability and implementation, including timelines and reporting requirements to keep things on track.

The NDIS review will separately examine the effectiveness of the NDIS for autistic Australians, and we anticipate they will also be looking at intergovernmental service integration.

Why do we need a National Autism Strategy?

We need a national autism strategy because most life outcomes of autistic Australians are disproportionately poor, even compared to the disability community. For example, autistic people have a life expectancy that is at least 20 years shorter than the general population.[1]

The strategy should be autism specific, not least because it is the fastest growing primary disability type in the NDIS (over a third of the scheme’s participants are autistic), but because general disability strategies have failed to improve outcomes for autistic Australians a whole decade on from the National Disability Strategy’s inception.[2] Mainstream services and even general disability services are not designed for autistic people; often failing to accommodate unique sensory and communication requirements.[3]  As the committee said “generic disability approaches will not deliver the change needed to improve outcomes for autistic people and their families”[4]. This is an important reminder that autistic folk are a unique group with distinct challenges, enablers and strengths; we need a plan that speaks specifically to them.[5]

Autism services are currently delivered by every level of Government, NGOs, businesses and the wider community. It’s a confusing and poorly integrated approach to policy and program delivery.[6] A holistic, national strategy would provide direction and guide comprehensive reform. Evidence shows that a national strategy can result in positive change, including increased community understanding, improved access to autism assessment and diagnosis, inclusive education, tailored employment opportunities and increased autism responsiveness in criminal justice, health and social services.[7]

And if that’s not reason enough, perhaps peer pressure is. Australia is behind internationally; Amaze identified at least 10 comparable countries with national autism strategies, including England and Scotland.[8] The UK’s National Strategy was preceded by autism-specific laws and led to a significant increase in adult diagnostic services and increased Governmental accountability.[9]

What’s next?

No strategy is the panacea, but it’s progress. And there is historic work afoot! We know the strategy will be informed by the Disability Royal Commission recommendations, the NDIS review (coming soon), and the National Roadmap to Improve the Health and Mental Health of Autistic People (still in the works). There will be pressure for governments to take action on these recommendations, and to provide adequate funding for implementation. This will hopefully include new laws, intergovernmental agreements and partnerships which could affect funding sources and amounts, and the type and oversight of services that providers can offer. So stay tuned.

We know services are willing to do more and do better for neurodivergent community.[10]This strategy may also help them prioritise and decide what services to offer, and importantly, how to deliver them. That means tailoring services for all autistic folk, not just the ones with higher overt support needs or a textbook presentation. It means services that accommodate fluctuating capacity, and any co-occurring medical or mental health conditions experienced by autistic clients. (And easier communication, dammit!)

If nothing else, we know it will help keep autism in the conversation. Hopefully that will contribute to the cultural shift towards greater neurodiversity awareness, acceptance and celebration.

Want to get involved?

There’s still time. Submit a response to the ‘What we have heard’ discussion paper or attend an upcoming online forum. Consultation closes on October 30, with the strategy anticipated mid next year.

Statement on language: this article uses identity-first language to talk about autism, however, some people in the Autistic community prefer to use person-first language.


[1] https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/committees/reportsen/024412/toc_pdf/Services,supportandlifeoutcomesforautisticAustralians.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf vi

[2] Select Committee on Autism, Commonwealth of Australia, March 2022 viii

[3] Select Committee on Autism, Commonwealth of Australia, March 2022 viii

[4] Select Committee on Autism, Commonwealth of Australia, March 2022 viii

[5] Towards a National Autism Strategy International lessons for Australia, Amaze, October 2021

[6] Select Committee on Autism, Commonwealth of Australia, March 2022

[7] Assessment of Member States’ autism policies, Autism Europe, January 2018, Towards a National Autism Strategy International lessons for Australia, Amaze, October 2021

[8] Towards a National Autism Strategy International lessons for Australia, Amaze, October 2021

[9] See discussion at https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/committees/reportsen/024412/toc_pdf/Services,supportandlifeoutcomesforautisticAustralians.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf,  pg 58

[10] A Complete and Joined up Ecosystem of Support, Australian Autism Alliance, September 2023

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