It is with a great sense of urgency that I speak to the motion “That this Multiple District Convention adopts the Preschool Autism Spectrum Disorders Education and Therapy Project as a category “B” Project for a term expiring on the 30th June 2012”.

Autism Spectrum Disorders are lifelong development disabilities characterised by marked difficulties in social interaction, impaired communication, restricted and repetitive interests and behaviours and sensory sensitivities. These development delays are usually identified before the age of three years.

The rate of autism spectrum disorders in children in Australia has increased to 1 in 119 births each year. One in 70 boys being born today is autistic. There are 12,000 children up to the age of six with autism spectrum disorders. In Australia 53,500 [ABS 2009] people of all ages live with autism spectrum disorders.

Early intervention preschool education and therapy can significantly improve the future life outcomes of children with autism spectrum disorders.

Approximately one in three children who attends a special autism spectrum disorders preschool, graduates to main stream school. But this costs $10,000 each year and that is only for two days a week!

About half of the children with autism spectrum disorders who receive 20 hours of Applied Behavioural Analysis Therapy in their own home at a cost of approximately $54,000 per year end up in main stream classes. Often more hours of therapy are recommended to help the child with autism spectrum disorders. The cost of 35 hours of ABA Therapy is $84,000 per year.

Most children with autism spectrum disorders are diagnosed as intellectually impaired and significant numbers cannot speak at the age of four. Unfortunately the cost of speech therapy and occupational therapy is about $135 per hour.

In addition children who are autistically disabled tend to grind their tooth which generates another significant expense. Dental treatment sedation, often necessary, is another cost.

Lions as you heard the costs to a working family, usually of one income because one parent must be a carer, of providing autism spectrum disorders preschool therapy is the equivalent of being hit by a financial GFC or a financial tsunami.

In short ordinary working families with children who are autistically disabled face horrendously crippling expenses. How do they meet these bills?

    Some working families sell their homes and move in with their parents: if they have parents who have a home.
    Some take out first and second mortgages on their homes.
    Some take out expensive high interest loans.
    Some take on extra second and third jobs: leaving the other partner alone with their child who is disabled.

Poor families are unable to afford therapy. Their children may sit in front of the television set day in and day out. They are not prepared for school. They face limited life outcomes. They are left on the outside looking in. But they always have a TV set to keep them company.

The Federal, state and local governments do provide varying levels of funding support. The Federal Government, for example provides $12,000 over two years up to the age of six years. However, you can see how inadequate this sum is compared with the monies needed.

What are we asking Lions to do?

We are asking Lions to write to, e-mail, speak to and liaise with all levels of government in Australia to increase support for autism spectrum disorders preschool education and therapy.

We are asking Lions to ask the Federal Government to increase funding to preschool children with autism spectrum disorders to a minimum of $30,000 each year, claimable through Medicare.

Final remarks

Lions with passion, great passion, I ask you to support this motion.

You all recognise that the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders in a child forever alters the lives of a family. Hopes are dashed. Fear for the future is ever present. Financial strain compounds the stress of coping with the child who is disabled and finding ways to improve his or her life.

We know there is a narrow window of opportunity in preschool years for aiding the development of a child with autism spectrum disorders. But, for some that window cannot be opened because the treatments are too expensive. What heart-break for parents desperately seeking to give their child with autism spectrum disorders a chance at a more fulfilling life.

Lions, through our actions we can help throw the window open and beginning with autism spectrum disorders, create a new vision of hope and possibility for those caring for the disabled and their charges.

Lion David Flynn B.Com M.Ed

Lions Club of Lugarno Inc.

Lions District 201N5