The announcement that the Australian Government plans to spend $190 million in funding for parents of children with autism is welcome news.
The plans will mean that from next month, every child under six years of age diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ADS) will be able to access early intervention support to the tune of $12,000 over two years.
Autism spectrum disorders usually manifest themselves around two years of age and how children are affected can vary in symptoms and severity.
It is a lifelong disorder with no cure and those affected have difficulties communicating, forming relationships with others and making sense of the world around them.
The impact of autism varies from person to person, ranging from those with no speech and limited cognitive ability to those of high IQ and typically highly-focused interests and abilities.
Repetitive behaviours are common across the spectrum, which includes Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism in which speech development and IQ are normal, but in which social disability can be compounded by depression or other mental health problems.
Some people with autism demonstrate significantly challenging behaviours and most need specialist support and care.
A distinction is made between those who have an IQ of less than 70, who are described as low functioning and classified as learning disabled, and those who have an IQ above 70 who are often described as high functioning - boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls and the disorder affects people of all racial, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.
The Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, Bill Shorten, says about 9,000 children aged six and under would be eligible.
Mr Shorten says it is known that early intervention makes a 'quantum difference' in the quality of life of a child with autism and their families.
The new Medicare rebates will cover the cost of initial diagnosis and 20 visits to allied health professionals, for children up to the age of 12. Parents will be able to choose the best program or therapy to suit their child, including one-on-one behavioural therapies.
The package also provides funding for development courses for 450 teachers to support students with autism and the appointment of 40 autism advisers across Australia.
For families in rural and remote areas an additional $2,000 to help access services will be available and the government says the package will help 9,000 families.
A three year study commissioned by the Australian Advisory Board on Autism Spectrum Disorders into the prevalence of autism, completed last year , concluded that 1 in 160 Australian children aged between 6 and 12 years have an autism spectrum disorder which equates to over 10,000 Australian children in that age group.
The report led by Perth paediatrician Dr. John Wray, suggests that as many as 125,000 people may have some form of ASD in Australia and calls for early intervention planning and other services.