It's a common story. A parent has a gut feeling that their child is different from their peers. Well-meaning people say "they'll be fine, they're just a late bloomer".
Teachers wait to see if the child will catch up in class, but they fall further behind. The child might be acting up, have trouble making friends or feel anxious about reading aloud in class.
A trip to the doctor leads to a long wait to see the few psychologist or paediatricians in Canberra. This can be sped up if a family can afford to see a private specialist, which might involve a trip to Sydney. Meanwhile, low-income families languish on the long public wait list assessment.
All of this might come to a diagnosis of a neurodivergent condition. These include autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or a specific learning disability such as dyslexia.
At the moment, it takes far too long and costs far too much for Canberrans to get the diagnosis and the adjustments they need.
A year or two is a very long time in a child's life to wait to find out what kinds of assistance they need to do their best in school and in life. Some people, especially women, get to adulthood before discovering they have a neurodivergent condition.
There is a persistent view that a diagnosis is needed before schools can step in to support neurodivergent students. This is incorrect.
The Disability Education Standards say that schools need to provide for students' needs, regardless of whether they have the piece of paper to show what their condition is. But this isn't always happening right now.
Under the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on Students with Disability, about 20 per cent of ACT students have some form of disability. And yet only about 6 per cent of ACT public school students qualify under the Education Directorate's strict criteria on what types and severity of disabilities receive funding.
If your child had autism at a level that meets the threshold, they qualify for funding.
If your child has ADHD or dyslexia, they do not get funding, even though under national standards they do require extra support in the classroom. This funding model is under review, but many more children will go without before changes occur.
Schools have a high degree of autonomy when it comes to managing students with neurodivergent conditions. There should be more consistency when it comes to how students are supported in school and what kinds of instruction and techniques are prioritised in the classroom so that every child can work to the best of their abilities.
We should have a system that screens for students falling behind and puts measures in place early, not waiting for a formal diagnosis or for extra funding.
As the capital city of Australia and a major urban centre in NSW, Canberra should be able to have enough psychologists and paediatricians to service the needs of our region.
Our campaign will focus on the stories of neurodivergent people in and around Canberra to highlight the common issues they face and propose some concrete solutions that our local representatives could take forward to the next ACT election.
Let's stop our neurodivergent friends and family members from falling through the cracks.
If you have a story to share, get in touch with us: