1. Autism
  2. Therapies & services
  3. Services

Autism spectrum disorder services: understanding the system

0-18 years

When your child is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you’ll discover that many professionals and service organisations can help you and your child. But which ones are right for you? Your first step is learning about who does what and how ASD services work.
People living in National Disability Insurance Scheme roll out areas have different services and support options from people living in other areas. If you live in a roll out area, you can find out how to get NDIS support.

Autism spectrum disorder service providers

The term service provider is used to describe the people and organisations that provide services and programs for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families.

The people are professionals with qualifications in areas like psychologyeducationspeech pathology or occupational therapy. They’ll also be experts in child development, especially developmental delays like ASD.

The organisations that employ these professionals run many intervention, therapy and support services and programs. These organisations fall into the following categories:

  • Australian Government and state government services and programs, which are usually free
  • not-for-profit services and programs, which are mostly funded by government and might be free or partly subsidised
  • private services and programs, which might be partly funded or which you have to pay for in full.

Autism spectrum disorder service provider approaches

Different autism spectrum disorder (ASD) service providers take different approaches. But almost all services and programs fall into one or more of the following categories.

Medical
Medical approaches focus on treating symptoms associated with ASD and managing medication. In older children and teenagers, this might include medication to help with anxiety.

Behavioural
Providers with a behavioural approach use specialised, structured techniques to teach children new behaviour and skills. Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is an example.

Developmental
Providers with a developmental approach help children form positive, meaningful relationships with other people. They teach children social and communication skills. Responsive teaching is an example of this approach.

Therapy-based
Providers with a therapy-based approach usually use a specific therapy to work on specific difficulties. For example, providers might use occupational therapy to target fine motor difficulties, or speech therapy to develop children’s communication skills.

Family-based
Family-based providers believe that family involvement in therapy is central to children’s development. For example, providers might offer parent training workshops to give you skills to help your child achieve therapy goals. The More than Words® program is an example of this approach.

Alternative
This category includes a broad range of non-traditional, complementary and alternative approaches.

Combined
Combined approaches bring together parts of behavioural and developmental approaches, as well as new knowledge about ASD and development. The TEACCH approach is an example.

Other
Other approaches include interventions that sit outside the categories listed above – for example, music therapy.

Our Parent Guide to Therapies offers reliable information about a wide range of ASD interventions. Each guide gives an overview of an intervention, what research says about it and the approximate time and costs involved.

Autism spectrum disorder terminology: therapies or services?

Therapies (also called interventions) are the programs or sessions that support your child’s development. 

Services are the places and organisations that offer these therapies. A service might provide one therapy or several types.

You’ll also hear the terms ‘specialist’ and ‘generic’ being used.

Specialist means that the service or program specialises in supporting children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and employs people who are experienced with ASD.

Generic means non-specialist providers of services to all children. These services or programs might or might not have some experience with ASD. For example, they can include child care and preschool programs. A larger generic service provider might have specialist ASD teams.

A child with ASD can go to either a specialist or generic service or program. In many cases, the child can go to both. Staff in a generic service or program often liaise with ASD specialists and attend ASD training programs.

Video

Child disability services and support

6:20

In this short video, you can find out how to get information about child disability services and where to start. Child disability experts take you through funding options, how to find good service providers and different types of respite care. You’ll also hear from other parents about their experiences of respite care and counselling.

Your decisions about services and programs will depend on many things including cost, options available in your area and your child’s particular needs. You can find out more about choosing a disability service provider.

Finding autism spectrum disorder services

At first, you might feel overwhelmed by autism spectrum disorder (ASD) information and options. Parents often say that it seems like a maze, or a complicated road map.

You might need to take particular steps to use the services you’ve chosen. For example, for some services you need a referral and/or diagnosis. For others, you don’t. Some services attract funding or rebates. Others don’t.

If your child wasn’t diagnosed until later childhood or adolescence, you might feel that you’ve missed out on crucial years of getting help for your child. But it’s never too late to start getting services, and there are options for older children and teenagers and their families.

It can help to ask key professionals in your child’s life about different services and how they might help your child. The team who diagnosed your child can usually suggest useful services. Your GP or paediatrician, or your child’s teacher, might also have ideas.

State autism associations

In Australia, each state and territory has an autism association.

These associations have lots of information for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families. They’ll also be able to connect you with a range of parent support groups. Several autism associations are also service providers.

Under the Australian Government’s Helping Children with Autism (HCWA) package, the state associations are the home of the HCWA autism advisors. If your child is under seven years and diagnosed with ASD, these advisors can help you find early intervention services and government funding. 

School support for children with autism spectrum disorder

Your child might be able to get funding support for school, or the school might be able to find speech therapists, psychologists or other professionals to work with your child at school.

Your child might go to a specialist school for children with a range of disabilities, a school for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or a mainstream school. Some schools have special units or programs for children with disability or special learning needs.

Lots of families find that sharing the diagnosis with the school is a good starting point for getting extra support. Your child’s school might be asked to build specific therapy approaches into their program for your child. You might need to spend time working with your child’s school to get the best educational outcomes for your child. 

Different schools and school systems have different approaches to supporting children with ASD. You can read more about choosing primary schools for children with ASD and choosing secondary schools for children with ASD.

Getting answers, getting organised

Parents have found that two important skills they need are asking the right questions and organising all their information.

When you start exploring autism spectrum disorder (ASD) services for your child, it helps to ask as many questions as you can think of.

Information overload can easily happen, so it’s important to start organising your information as soon as possible. You’ll have information about your child, and you’ll probably collect a lot of information about ASD and service providers.

Here are some ideas for keeping it organised:

  • There’ll be important information that you need to keep handy for future reference – assessment reports, school or program reports, application forms and details of appointments. A folder of some type is the most useful way to keep this information organised.
  • You might also want to keep lists of useful terms, words and acronyms, websites and books. You can store this type of information in a notebook or computer file.
  • You can store printed information in many ways – computer files, written journals or diaries, desktop-type files, shoe boxes, bottom drawers. It doesn’t really matter, but deciding early on an approach will save you time and confusion later.
  • When it comes to deciding what information to keep, be ruthless – you don’t want to build a whole library. Try to keep only what’s relevant to you and your situation.

What other parents say about autism spectrum disorder services

Parents who have been on the journey through autism spectrum disorder (ASD) services say there are some things that really help:

  • Spend time to find what’s right for your child and family, because there’s no one way to help children with ASD. 
  • Be prepared to change things along the way, as your child grows and develops and your preferences and service options change.
  • Be resilient and persevere. Keep trying and don’t let any setbacks get you down. Talking with family and friends is a great way to stay strong.
  • Take things a year at a time. This can help you stay grounded and relaxed when making decisions about the next stage in your child’s treatment.
  • Be aware that some decisions will be just right, and others might need to be changed. This is OK. While you’re discovering more about ASD, your child is changing and learning new skills too.
  • Try ASD family support groups. They give you the chance to meet and form friendships with other people in the same situation as you.
  • Try online support forums. They’re a great way to connect and share stories, advice and support. You can visit our online forum for parents of children with ASD to share information with other families.
Looking after yourself with healthy food, regular exercise and enough rest will keep you in good shape to care for your child with ASD. If your feelings about your child’s additional needs are sometimes overwhelming, it might help to know there are positive ways to manage them. Getting support from your community can often help too.

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Last updated or reviewed
19-05-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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