Autism Early Identification

Minister’s Statement

Ms MIKAKOS (Minister for Early Childhood Education) (09:45:09) — I rise to update the house on how the Andrews Labor government is helping parents and carers give their children the best possible start in life. Late last year the Premier and I announced a $19 million suite of inclusive early childhood education initiatives, including $1.1 million for the training of all maternal and child health nurses in Victoria in the early identification of autism. I was pleased to stand with Premier Daniel Andrews yesterday to announce that the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC) at La Trobe University will be the provider of that training to the more than 1250 maternal and child health nurses that we have here in Victoria. The Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre is Australia’s pre-eminent autism research centre, and I am very pleased that we are able to partner with them.

Research has shown that the early detection of autism spectrum disorder in young children and timely intervention maximises a child’s developmental outcomes later in life. We know that early detection, early diagnosis and early intervention can be life-changing. A comparison study between children identified with autism early, at as young as 18 months, using OTARC’s surveillance training, and a group of children who were diagnosed later in life, at around ages three years to five years, demonstrated significant results. By seven to nine years of age only 8 per cent of children diagnosed early still have an intellectual disability compared to 24 per cent of children diagnosed later. Seventy-seven per cent of children diagnosed early attend mainstream school compared to 58 per cent of children diagnosed later, and 60 per cent of children diagnosed early are receiving ongoing support compared to 90 per cent of children diagnosed later. The screening tool that OTARC has developed in fact enables children to be screened between 12 and 24 months of age. We know that, sadly, currently many children are only being identified with autism at preschool or even later on, when they have started school.

I was honoured also to meet young Ayoub and his family. Ayoub is a five-year-old boy who was diagnosed with developmental delay when he was only 18 months old. It was in fact his maternal and child health nurse that assisted in the early identification of this issue. With the early intervention and support that Ayoub has received, he no longer has a diagnosis of global developmental delay and is ready to start prep next year at his local primary school. I wish Ayoub and his family well, and I certainly congratulate the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre on this important support to our world-class maternal and child health service.