South Australia Appoints Nation’s First Autism Minister, Aims to Address Inclusion in Schools

A 2015 Australian government survey found that there were 164,000 people on the spectrum living in the country. Now, some of them will have a bit more government advocacy.

A new Assistant Minister for Autism position has been created in South Australia, to which Emily Bourke has been appointed. This is a first for the country. Bourke, who has also served as Shadow Minister for the City of Adelaide and Shadow Minister for Local Government, does not have any personal experience with autism. However, she says that as a mother, she understands that parents want to see their children reach their full potential, and the government wants to act after autism advocates have been reaching out for years.

South Australia Premier Peter Malinauskas explains, “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.”

In an interview after the announcement, Bourke explained what this will entail. One of the first steps is including an autism lead teacher in each primary school in the state. The government says it will also work to increase the number of preschool staff with autism qualifications. This will be through $28.8 million in funding.

Bourke says, “Education is the greatest equalizer, and that’s where we’re going to start. We realize that there’s a lot of kids not finishing school who are autistic. They’re getting through to year 10 and often not going any further, so we need to change this because if we don’t provide this opportunity to every individual child and student to reach their potentials, we don’t have the opportunity for them to go into the workforce after, as well.”

In addition to efforts in the classroom, the state plans to offer early intervention services in children’s centers and invest another $50 million toward more speech pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists, and counselors. Bourke will also create an Autism Education Advisory Group, consisting of people with autism, parents of children on the spectrum, experts, and other community members. That group will be tasked with consulting on government policies.

Going forward, the goal is to develop an autism-inclusive strategy across the government.

Having staff members that better understand the experience of students with autism can help these students reach their potential. For other tips on creating an autism-friendly classroom, click here.

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