The Australian Government commits around $70 million annually to deliver the Helping Children with Autism (HCWA) package.
The Helping Children with Autism package provides assistance to families to access services and support for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families. The package delivered by the Department of Social Services (DSS) provides:
- increased access to early intervention services for children aged 0-7 years
- education and support for families and carers of children with ASD.
There is also support for families, carers and children from indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and those from rural and remote areas.
On this page, you can find information about the following components of the HCWA package:
Early intervention funding
Under the early intervention component of the package, all eligible children up to the age of seven years will have access to early intervention funding of up to $12 000 (up to $6000 per financial year). Eligibility is determined by an autism advisor on a case-by-case basis using nationally consistent criteria. Eligible children need to have been diagnosed and registered with an autism advisor before their sixth birthday to receive funding.
Families of eligible children can choose how they spread their funding as long as they spend no more than $6000 in any financial year. Access to funding expires on their child’s seventh birthday.
Early Intervention Service Provider Panel
Families can choose the early intervention service that best suits their child from the DSS Early Intervention Service Provider Panel. DSS reimburses service providers on behalf of families for services delivered. The Panel is made up of providers delivering evidence-based multidisciplinary interventions.
A national program of 32 full-time equivalent autism advisors is available across Australia. The autism advisor program is provided by the Autism Associations in every state.
Advisors assist families and carers of children who are diagnosed with an ASD by providing advice and information about the most appropriate early intervention services. The advisors provide a link between the clinical diagnosis and access to early intervention programs and support services. They also assist eligible families to access the Australian Government funding for early intervention services and grants to support families from rural and remote areas.
Early intervention funding eligibility access criteria
To access the early intervention funding in the package, families must have an acceptable diagnosis. An acceptable diagnosis is one of the following based on criteria in either the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV) or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5), which was introduced in May 2013.
The diagnosis of ASD must have been made under the Medicare diagnosis items or by a state or territory government assessment service or by a private paediatrician or psychiatrist. The diagnosis can be made before parents contact the autism advisors.
Rett’s disorder was previously eligible under HCWA. As of 1 February 2014 it instead became an eligible diagnosis for funding and support under the Better Start for Children with Disability initiative. Children with Rett’s disorder who are already accessing support through HCWA will continue to do so, and will also be able to access physiotherapy.
Funding for families in regional and remote areas
Families living in rural and remote areas or experiencing exceptional circumstances might also be able to get an additional $2000 payment. This payment is made through the autism advisor and is in addition to the $12 000 funding package. The additional funding gives families options for accessing early intervention services as well as training, respite, accommodation, and travel to and from support.
Other DSS components of HCWA package
Early Days workshops
The Early Days program provides workshops for parents of children aged six years and under who are on the autism spectrum or who are undergoing assessment. The workshops provide information about ASD, practical ideas and hands-on strategies for dealing with issues such as behaviour, development and more. Online workshops are also available.
You can find out more about the Early Days program and face-to-face workshops from your state autism association.
PlayConnect playgroups offer play-based learning for children aged 0-6 years with ASD or ASD-like symptoms, as well as social support networks for families. Playgroup facilitators can also help families connect to resources in their local area. Your child doesn’t need a formal ASD diagnosis to attend.
A computer-based resource called Nurturing Children with Autism is available for families with a young child with ASD who are geographically isolated or unable to attend a PlayConnect playgroup. The resource features more than 70 play activities, animations, instructional video clips, and incorporates links to key ASD and community support services available throughout Australia. It also includes a wall planner that can be customised and reused, and downloadable information sheets for all subject areas within the resource.
Interested families and organisations can email email@example.com for more information.
Raising Children Network
As part of the package, DSS has supported Raising Children Network to develop Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This part of the Raising Children website provides information, online resources and interactive tools to support parents, carers and professionals.
Other HCWA initiatives
The Australian Government Department of Education delivers two initiatives in addition to the HCWA package.
This program helps improve the educational outcomes for school-aged children with ASD through:
- professional development for teachers and other school staff to support school students with ASD to achieve better educational outcomes
- workshops and information sessions for parents and carers of school students with ASD, including online access.
For more information, visit Positive Partnerships and register to use the online learning portal for parents and teachers.
Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centres
The Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centres provide early learning programs and specific support for children with ASD. The centres are accredited long day care centres and provide services based on best practice principles for working with children with ASD. Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centres are currently available in the following locations: South Western Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, North West Tasmania, Melbourne and Perth.
Medicare items are available through the Helping Children with Autism program:
- paediatricians and psychiatrists to diagnose and develop a treatment and management plan for a child aged under 13 years on referral from a general practitioner
- audiologists, occupational therapists, optometrists, orthoptists, physiotherapists, psychologists and speech pathologists to provide up to four services in total per child per lifetime, to collaborate with the paediatrician or psychiatrist on the diagnosis, where required. These services must be provided before the child’s 13th birthday
- audiologists, occupational therapists, optometrists, orthoptists, physiotherapists, psychologists and speech pathologists to provide up to 20 early intervention treatment services in total per child per lifetime following a diagnosis of autism/PDD for the child, and consistent with the treatment and management plan prepared by the referring practitioner. These services must be provided before the child’s 15th birthday, provided an autism/PDD treatment and management plan was in place before the child’s 13th birthday.
If you would like more information about the Helping Children with Autism package, call the Helping Children with Autism Inquiry Line on 1800 778 581.
If you have a hearing or speech impairment, you can use the National Relay Service to contact any of DSS’s listed phone numbers.
Evaluation of the HCWA package
The Australian Government commissioned an external organisation – ARTD Consultants – to evaluate some components of the Helping Children with Autism package. The evaluation aimed to inform government about how certain aspects of the HCWA package have been received by families and professionals.
You can find more information about the evaluation on the HCWA webpage.