SA Minister for Autism has a “complex problem to solve”

Posted 1 year ago by Alex Jacobs
Minister Emily Bourke (right) has a “complex problem to solve” according to Autism Awareness Australia. [Source: Twitter]
Minister Emily Bourke (right) has a “complex problem to solve” according to Autism Awareness Australia. [Source: Twitter]

South Australia’s decision to appoint a dedicated Assistant Minister for Autism has been applauded by Autism Awareness Australia, although the organisation insists there is plenty of hard work to be done under this new role.

Emily Bourke, who is also Assistant Minister to the South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskus, is the first Government Minister for Autism at any level in Australian politics.

Minister Bourke will oversee a range of initiatives, including the introduction of an autism inclusion teacher to every SA primary school.

An advisory board has also been formed, ensuring that multiple voices from the Autism community are always present in the decision making process.

Founding Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Director of Autism Awareness Australia (AAA), Nicole Rogerson, is a member of the newly formed Autism Education Advisory Group, a group providing multiple voices in the decision making process.

Ms Rogerson says Ms Bourke’s appointment is welcomed but warns there will be challenges ahead.

“It’s a really positive move,” explains Ms Rogerson.

“I think it’s a welcome acknowledgment from the South Australian Government that more needs to be done and that we have been underserving kids with autism in schools across Australia.

“Autism Awareness Australia welcomes the new role and welcomes the new Minister – she has a great attitude – and I think it’s going to be great.

“Does the appointment of a Minister mean it’s all going to be easily solved? No, not at all, it’s quite a complex problem that she has to solve.”

A national approach is something Ms Rogerson hopes is adopted for supporting students with autism as she believes the SA State Government’s approach can spur on others to act.

“I have encouraged Minister Bourke to attempt at the national level to work with all the state education ministers,” says Ms Rogerson.

“There’s no reason that South Australia should solve this themselves – the problem is all around the country – and there should be national guidelines as to how we best manage children with autism in schools.

“There are some disability standards sitting on the shelf that no one reads but there really needs to be a national approach to how we educate what is a significant portion of children in schools.

“We’re not doing it well.”

One of the main concerns for AAA sits around the availability of autism inclusion teachers, particularly around how SA will find the workforce to fill this role.

The SA State Government has set aside $28.8 million to ensure an autism inclusion teacher is in every primary school from the start of the 2023 school year.

While supportive of the initiative, Ms Rogerson says there are not enough specialist teachers on hand and appropriate training will take longer than a few months.

“There isn’t an autism expert ready to go in every school, those people just don’t exist and they don’t exist in South Australia,” she says.

“This is going to be a process over time of training people to be in those roles.

“We think it’s important that these teachers have solid training because it’s very different on how to adequately support students with autism.

“It’s going to be an additional expertise people are required to have and not necessarily for more money compared to the average teacher, so there might be some challenges there.”

Many schools are already fighting against the challenges of a teacher shortage in SA, as well as nationally, with regional schools most impacted.

The Federal Government aims to fix teacher shortages with a range of policies, including attracting more high achieving graduates and financial incentives.