Helping families living with autism


Mr Bernie FINN (Western Metropolitan) (16:23):

I move:

That this house:

(1) recognises:

(a) the vast and disparate needs of those on the autism spectrum and their families;

(b) that autism is regarded by many on the spectrum as a gift to be celebrated, allowing creativity and intellectual prowess to blossom;

(c) that families with a child on the spectrum often face particular challenges and difficulties and need assistance from government and private agencies;

(d) that siblings of those on the spectrum often struggle under the burden of the circumstances created by their unique situation;

(2) applauds teachers, therapists, physicians, researchers and many others working to enable those on the autism spectrum to achieve a standard of life that is self-satisfying, allowing them to reach their full potential; and

(3) further urges the government to conduct a watching brief to ensure services for those on the spectrum and their families are maintained at the necessary level.


Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (17:04):

I am very pleased to be able to speak to this motion today—a motion which was a topic jointly determined by the crossbench and our new member, Mr Bernie Finn MP. It is absolutely something that many of us in this chamber are very passionate about. I will keep my contribution brief because I know we are very limited for time.

I would firstly like to acknowledge the tireless efforts of workers in the education sector, service providers and all those who work with those who live with autism and their families, and I think that Ms Bath articulated that so eloquently, but so did Mr Finn.

I have had the pleasure also a number of times of visiting the Mansfield Autism Statewide Services (MASS)— it is an extraordinary place. MASS provides assistance not only to children but to families right across Victoria. They are currently transforming a 40-hectare property into a residential complex and an onsite family camp. This camp provides an opportunity for families to spend time with their child in an environment and a setting that is so casual and so relaxed that it is so therapeutic not only for the children engaged in that education setting but for the families to be able to enjoy and see firsthand—

Those families see firsthand the smile on those children’s faces when they are engaging with the horseriding or feeding the chickens. It is an incredible farm, and I would encourage anyone to actually go and visit and see the work that they are doing. They hold a ‘rideathon’ as one of their key fundraisers, called Operation Gamechanger, and whenever I can I sign up to raise money to assist them in their endeavours to meet their target. I know the state government has contributed to the Mansfield autism school.

I have also had the great pleasure of visiting our very own Wangaratta District Specialist School. That provides educational support for children with a range of intellectual disabilities, including autism. I must say that meeting the staff, children and families in these settings really does have a profound impact on you when you go and meet and see these beautiful children. Some of them are non-verbal, and I was actually so inspired by the teachers, and how they find ways to communicate was exceptional. It is really difficult to articulate the importance of their work. I guess at the end of the day, when you have a child that is smiling and the next morning is still wanting to go back to school it says a lot for that individual school that they are attending.

I would like to say thank you to all the people who provide support to people living with autism and their families—to autistic people. As I said, it is an enormous commitment, and it is done with so much compassion and empathy and dedication. So many people I have met from the autism school in Mansfield—you could never imagine them doing any work other than the work that they do.

As this motion notes, autism has a spectrum, and so the needs of each person are different, as Mr Finn stated in his contribution. I appreciate and applaud the shift in seeing disability in conjunction with ability. We all have ability, and the difference that can make to our lives, recognising that ability, can make a significant difference to potential outcomes for each individual. For those living with disability and the challenges that this brings, recognising ability and potential should inform how support can be delivered, and I think that Ms Bath alluded to that as well. It should also contribute to bridging any divides in understanding and acceptance.

Part (3) of the motion recognises the important role of the government and private agencies in assisting families, and we have a long way to go to improve how schemes such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme really deliver what families need, not what the organisations believe they need. I realise that NDIS is a federal scheme, but ultimately people have little concern for which level of government has responsibility. They just want help. When systems like the NDIS fail, this can send a family into such a horrific crisis that they simply do not know where to turn. I know of the lived experiences of families right now who are really struggling to get the support that they need for their child. When it reaches crisis for them it results in calls to the police and often ambulance services, and no parent ever wants to have to make those calls. It is incredibly traumatic for the entire family, including siblings and the child that is suffering.

Once again I will talk about the early intervention that can help prevent a matter from leading to crisis, and we need to ensure that those supports are there at the earliest point of time. We almost need—and excuse my arrogance if it is already out there—some sort of Lifeline phone call where, when people are in that crisis mode, they can ring and they can find some sort of 24-hour access.

When you have nowhere to turn, sometimes you just need to pick up that phone and be able to remove yourself from a situation so that you can have someone help you to gather your thoughts and talk you through the process that you may know in your mind but at that particular time are just not able to gather your thoughts about, because you are so immersed in the crisis and the trauma that is happening around you and within your family.

Look, I will leave my contribution there and note that tomorrow there will be a briefing at Parliament on public policy issues impacting Victoria’s autism community. I certainly look forward to attending this briefing and welcoming the panel to Parliament. I thank the house and, as I said, Mr Finn for bringing this motion before the house, and I think it is an incredibly important topic that I hope will be continued in the very limited number of weeks that we have left before us here in this place.

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