Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental condition that affects the way individuals relate to their environment and how they interact with others. While the formal understanding of Autism has evolved over time, today it is conceptualized as a spectrum disorder. Broadly, those with ASD or ASD like characteristics present with symptoms in two main areas:
- social attention and communication difficulties
- the presence of sensory interests or sensitivities, and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities
Autism is considered a spectrum disorder because the range and severity of symptoms experienced by people with ASD varies considerably. While everyone ‘on the spectrum’ faces challenges with social skills, communication, and behaviour, no two people present in exactly the sameway.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, ASD affects 146,000 Australians. Of particular relevance, this includes just over 48,000 Australian children aged 0-9 years. While this number is extremely high, it is important to note that the condition is most probably significantly under reported.
ASD usually presents in early childhood; however, for a variety of reasons, an ASD diagnosis may take some time to be formulated. Development is a variable and individual process and atypical behaviours may not initially be considered problematic. Further, ASD symptoms may be attributed to other causes, such as a broader developmental delay, personality, other emotional or behavioural issues, or intellectual disability.
Parents are not experts in normative development, and may initially struggle to engage the help of health professionals. Once formal investigation begins, a full diagnostic assessment can take up to 3 years to complete. As a result, there is often a significant lag between the identification of symptoms and formal diagnosis, with the average age at diagnosis in Australia between 4 and 5 years.
- Affects 1% of Australian children, with around 48,000 children between 0-9 yrs with a confirmed ASD diagnosis
- People with ASD make up the largest disability group in the NDIS
- Average age for an ASD diagnosis in children is ~ 4years
- 80% of ASD cases in children are in males
- 50% of children diagnosed also suffer from another disability
- Most research suggests a shared genetic mechanism
- There is no cure for ASD
The delay in diagnosis often means a parallel delayinearlyinterventionandimplementation of supports critical to improving the long term developmental outcomes for those with ASD or ASD like characteristics, and their families.
This is increasingly the case with the national rollout of the NDIS as early intervention programs and NDIS funding are often tied to diagnosis.
The PlayConnect program targets children with ASD or ASD-like characteristics from infancy to school-age, as well as their families. The program provides a safe and supported space for children with ASD or ASD like characteristics to engage in developmentally appropriate play. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, PlayConnect provides families, who may otherwise be socially isolated, with support, information and social participation. Effectively, this program bridges a gap in existing services for young children with ASD or ASD-like characteristics and their families. Furthermore, it also supports the goals of the NDIS to foster independence and build appropriate community supports.