The South Australian State Government has taken a large stride towards increased disability support and awareness by appointing a dedicated Assistant Minister for Autism to oversee key policies, including introducing an autism inclusion teacher to every primary school next year.
Minister Emily Bourke, who is also the Assistant Minister to the SA Premier, will be responsible for implementing the SA State Government’s autism policies in both schools and workplaces.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental issue found in one in every 100 Australians, and SA Premier Peter Malinauskas said the time was right to create the new role.
“I have heard from many South Australians that the time has come for a dedicated effort from the Government to make autism a priority,” says Premier Malinauskas.
“That is why we have created this new role.
“We have made major commitments with the aim of implementing a whole-of-Government autism inclusion strategy, starting with our schools.
“Emily will be a dedicated Assistant Minister for Autism and a strong advocate for the Autism community.”
ASD is incredibly diverse, as people with autism may experience varying difficulties with communication, social interaction, sensory issues and repetitive behaviours.
Minister Bourke told ABC News knowledge is the key to change.
“It really is about the many faces that are behind the creation of this role,” says Minister Bourke.
“The Premier [Peter Malinauskas] in the lead up to the last [State] Election held countless forums with the autistic and the autism community and they were booked out time and time again.
“It really reinforced that people were sick of talking about it and they wanted change.
“We know we can only create change by building knowledge and that’s what we’re going to do with the creation of this role and what we’re going to do in our policy settings as well.”
SA’s Labor Government will invest $28.8 million into appointing a dedicated autism inclusion teacher in every State primary school for 2023, while an additional $50 million will fund access to 100 additional specialists, including speech pathologists and psychologists.
Early intervention support will be provided through increasing the number of autism-qualified staff in preschools for early intervention support.
Although Minister Bourke will oversee the policy implementation, she is not alone in the decision making process as an Autism Education Advisory Group has also been created to boost education implementation. The youngest group member is just 17 years old, and the Advisory Group features people with autism, union experts and community members.
“There is a very broad spectrum of both adults and younger people with autism so it’s making sure we have the policies to support everyone in our community,” explains Ms Bourke.
“The Group has been arranged to support, to give voice to the autistic and autism community, but also to be a driver of this policy.
“My role has created an opportunity for their voices to be heard by giving them a vehicle and we’ll have many drivers who’ll be providing advice and direction about what this policy can look like.”
While similar education strategies are present elsewhere in Australia – the Victoria State Government has an Autism Education Strategy – no Government has previously appointed a specific Minister for Autism.
Additional support will follow in some workplaces, with an autism friendly charter set to be rolled out in Government departments.
Minister Bourke said she hopes South Australia can influence other States and Territories.
“We’re starting this [policy rollout] next year, this is a first, so I think there is an opportunity here for other places to be looking to us and thinking ‘if they can do this, why can’t other states as well’,” says Minister Bourke.