Autism is making the news a lot at the moment, and most schools have kids with autism in their classrooms.
While public understanding of the condition is growing, health and education services for children and adults with autism are sadly lacking.
For kids with autism, time matters. There is currently no clinically proven "cure" or "treatment" for autism; but we know that the younger a child is diagnosed and support put in place, the better the outcome for that child, their family and their community.
New Zealand needs to work on a comprehensive health and education plan for people with autism, building on what we already have.
The earlier we start, the easier it will be to keep kids with autism in school. For example, the excellent Well Child check system, which already touches many New Zealand families, could incorporate early screening for autism.
While this would be a great step, we also need more funding for diagnosis. There is currently often a giant lag from the time a concern is raised by a parent, educator or health professional, to a formal diagnosis being made. This can be up to 18 months in some regions.
All this waiting time is crucial and precious, and an opportunity to help children and families is wasted.
The formal diagnosis process is important, as it can open the doors to some support and carer funding, but securing any funding is certainly not automatic.
For kids with autism at school, the most important funding is ORS (Ongoing Resourcing Scheme) funding. This pays for teacher aides and other support staff.
An autism diagnosis does not on its own secure ORS funding because the funding criteria does not necessary reflect the challenges faced by someone with autism.
Challenges, such as social behaviour, classroom expectations, communication or the stress of sensory overload in the school environment are difficult to quantify in an assessment process.
More equitable and easier access to this funding would make a huge difference to hundreds of schools and families.
Classroom teachers are vital to children's success, and many schools go out of their way to ensure teachers are well equipped to work with kids with autism. As the number of children diagnosed continues to rise, we believe that all teachers should be taught autism classroom strategies as part of their degree training.