Mum pays autistic child $5 a day to go to school


Exclusive: Parents of children with autism are resorting to paying them to attend school as diagnoses of the condition skyrocket and support systems fail to keep pace.

Melinda Spencer told News Corp she paid her autistic son $5 a day to attend school for five years because it was the only way she could get him to attend a place he saw as full of confusion, noise and rules.

Ms Spencer said he was fanatical about Mario computer games and used the money to save up for the latest releases.

Autism diagnoses have skyrocketed by 25 per cent in the last three years and it is now the largest group within the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Despite the rise in diagnosis there has been no improvement in employment and education outcomes for those with the condition, according to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data.

Almost half the young people with autism aged 5 to 20 years (45.9 per cent) indicated they needed more support or assistance at school then they were receiving.

Autistic people were half as likely as other people with a disability to complete an educational qualification beyond school, the ABS found.

Autistic people need more support. Picture: iStock
Autistic people need more support. Picture: iStock


The labour force participation rate of autistic people was 38 per cent compared with 53.4 per cent of all working age people with disability and 84.1 per cent of people without disability.

There were 205,200 Australians with autism in 2018, up from 164,000 in 2015.

Men were 3.5 times more likely than women to have the condition.

Autism support groups are calling for better teacher training and more resources for those with the condition.

Chief Executive Officer of autism peak body Amaze Fiona Sharkie said many children with autism are being denied access to schools which pocket extra money and resources to support such children.

Many autistic kids quit school at Year 10 because they have mental health problems and can no longer stand the bullying, she said.


Major cancer breakthroughs of the decade

Why your health fund premiums are rising again

How public hospitals are ripping off patients


Catherine and Emma Smith, aged 16 (she was diagnosed with Autism in Year 7) from Melbourne. Picture: Supplied
Catherine and Emma Smith, aged 16 (she was diagnosed with Autism in Year 7) from Melbourne. Picture: Supplied


Ms Spencer, who has three autistic children, herself identifies as autistic but cannot afford the $2,000 needed to get a formal diagnosis.

Many adults go undiagnosed because you can only get a Medicare funded diagnosis if you are under the age of 13.

Ms Sharkie said the jump in diagnosis did not necessarily mean there had been a rise in the population with autism just that awareness was growing.

"We don't think there is anything in the water, it's not an autism epidemic," Ms Sharkie said.

Laura Lewis said her autistic son Clay hates it when people describe him as "suffering" from autism.

"He doesn't suffer from it he revels in it," she said.

Ms Lewis wants more resources to help autistic people set up micro businesses to overcome the employment gap.

Sixteen year old Emma Smith was diagnosed with autism in Year 7 and works well in the classroom but sometimes struggles socially.

Her mother Catherine said it would help autistic people if they were not judged for wearing headphones or using iPads to cope with stress when out in the community.