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July 2011



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SOME parents and doctors are colluding to deliberately misdiagnose school children as autistic so they can get help for other problems, a medical professional claims.


Parents are seeking the autism “label” because funding for the condition has increased and more assistance is available for autism than for other conditions.


The practice may partly explain a huge rise in the number of public school students with autism – up by 165 per cent over the past eight years.


Rates of other mental health diagnoses have increased by 75 per cent since 2003, according to the state government’s submission to a federal review of funding for schooling.


Clinical psychologist and manager of diagnostic assessment services at Autism Spectrum Australia Vicki Gibbs said there were various reasons for the surge in the number of children diagnosed with autism.


“The most obvious is that people are more aware of it than before and people are also more aware of the more subtle forms of autism. Another reason is autism now attracts more funding, especially in the early intervention years.”


Ms Gibbs said there was a small group of people happy to have their children diagnosed with autism because giving them a label was the only way they could get help.


“Some diagnosticians will give the child that label even when they don’t meet all the criteria,” she said.


“It’s the only way they can get help with their problems.”


About 6000 children in NSW public schools have been diagnosed with autism, creating the biggest challenge for educators in decades. The avalanche of children with special needs is being felt most acutely in mainstream classes, where there is too little funding to provide individual support.


“In the government school sector in NSW the number of students with a disability has increased 20 per cent in the five years from 2005,” the government’s submission said.


“The type and severity of disability is also growing, with many children also experiencing multiple disabilities.”


“Catholic and independent schools have also shown a rapid increase in the number of students with a disability.”


Expenditure on the problem in government schools has increased by just 9 per cent per year – $1.1 billion.


Latest figures from the Productivity Commission show public schools have 42,940 children with at least one disability.


The school funding review is due to report to the Federal Government by the end of the year.




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