Getting financial support for children with disability, ASD and other additional needs
If you have a child with additional needs like disability, developmental delay or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you and your family might have access to various types of financial support.
You have to apply for financial support – you don’t get it automatically when your child is diagnosed with disability, developmental delay, ASD or other needs. It helps to be prepared to spend time talking on the phone, filling in forms and making appointments.
For some types of financial support, you just need to supply proof of your child’s diagnosis. For other types, you’ll have to explain why you or your child needs extra help. Sometimes only a limited amount of funding is available, so you might be put on a waiting list.
There are different types of financial support. They include support that is:
- paid directly to you, either as income support or as medical or health rebates – for example, you might qualify for special Medicare rebates
- allocated to your child and managed on your behalf – this might happen if your child is eligible for the NDIS
- allocated to your child and paid directly to a service provider – examples of this include state-funded support paid to a school to support a child with disability
- paid to a service provider without being specifically allocated to you or your child – examples of this include access to speech therapy through the NDIS early intervention approach
- offered as concession rates on certain goods and services – for example, concessions are provided to Health Care Card holders for prescription medicines and certain utility bills.
Australian Government financial support: before and during diagnosis
NDIS early childhood early intervention
If your child is aged 0-6 years, he doesn’t need a diagnosis to get support from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) under its early childhood early intervention (ECEI) program. This can include indirect funding that gives children access to early interventions like occupational therapy or speech therapy.
Medicare Benefits Schedule
The Medicare Benefits Schedule is a listing of Medicare services that are subsidised by the Australian Government through Medicare rebates. This includes some assessment and diagnosis sessions.
Department of Health Medicare Safety Nets
Medicare Safety Nets help with high out-of-pocket costs for some Medicare services. Once you’ve spent a certain amount on approved services in a calendar year, you might be able to get extra Medicare payments for the rest of the year.
Better Access to Mental Health Care Plan
The Better Access to Mental Health Care Plan gives your child up to 10 sessions per year with mental health professionals (psychologists, mental health occupational therapists and some social workers) using the Medicare rebate.
You can also claim group sessions, like social skills groups, but check whether the one you’re interested in is covered by Medicare. If it is, a GP can refer your child under this plan.
State and territory government financial support: before and during diagnosis
Publicly funded disability and ASD assessment services
You won’t have to pay for these assessment services. Contact your state or territory disability or autism association or the NDIS for details of services in your area and information about the process in your state or territory.
Australian Government financial support: after diagnosis
If your child has a disability or developmental delay, she might be eligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Your child will get an NDIS plan to support her needs. The NDIS plan might include funded support for daily living, transport, modifications to your home, equipment and therapies.
The pathways to NDIS support are different for children of different ages.
Medicare Benefits Schedule
The Medicare Benefits Schedule is a listing of Medicare services that are subsidised by the Australian Government through Medicare rebates.
Chronic Disease Management – GP services
Chronic Disease Management – GP services allow your GP to refer your child to allied health professionals – like psychologists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, dietitians or podiatrists – for up to five sessions each year that you can claim at the Medicare rebate.
Carer Allowance (means-tested)
Carer Allowance is a means-tested payment for people who care for children with disability at home. The application form asks you and a medical professional to each complete a section. The payment starts from the date you put the form in, not the date your child is diagnosed, so it’s a good idea to apply as soon as possible. The Carer Allowance is a fortnightly cash payment. The Government also announces extra one-off payments from time to time.
Once your child is over 16, you can arrange to swap to Carer Allowance (adult) for people who care for an adult with disability.
Carer Payment (means-tested)
Carer Payment is a means-tested payment for people who can’t support themselves because they’re caring for a child with disability. It’s a fortnightly cash payment. The Government also announces extra one-off payments from time to time.
Once your child is over 16, you can arrange to swap to Carer Payment (adult) for people who care for an adult with disability.
Disability support pension
Once your child is over 16, he might be eligible for a Disability Support Pension. This might affect your Carer Payment.
Health Care Card
Your child gets a Health Care Card automatically when you get the Carer Allowance. It means your child pays less for prescription medicines and gets other concessions like bulk billing by some doctors and higher refunds through Medicare Safety Nets.
Department of Education Inclusion Support Program
The Inclusion Support Program provides funding to approved child care services, including out of school hours and holiday programs, to help them include all children in their programs, including children with high support needs. Your child care service will need to apply through its state or territory Inclusion Agency.
State and territory government financial support: after diagnosis
Preschool Inclusion Support
Your child’s preschool or kindergarten can apply for Inclusion Support funding for extra resources to help the preschool or kindergarten include all children in its programs. Ask your preschool or kindergarten director about planning and applying for Inclusion Support.
Your child might be able to get concessions for utility costs, public transport and taxi fares. But the types of concessions and who can get them vary a lot from state to state. Most concessions will apply only to the child who is the Health Care Card holder.
You can find more information by searching your state or territory government websites using the keywords ‘concessions’ or ‘subsidies’.
Eligible people with a lifelong disability can get a Companion Card for their companion to attend participating attractions and events for no cost.
Applying for financial support: tips from parents of children with additional needs
Applying for financial support can be a complex process, so it’s really important to get organised. Parents of children with additional needs say the following strategies help:
- Keep all your documents – including letters, reports and copies of forms – in one folder or box.
- Start a notebook with details from all your phone conversations – including notes on when you contacted each organisation, who you spoke to and what they told you.
- Keep receipts and make a note of all your expenses. This includes therapy and equipment charges, special clothing, household modifications, medical costs and program fees – anything you think is more than the usual costs of raising a young child.
These records will be a big help when it’s time to do income tax returns, lodge Medicare claims, and have planning conversations with your child’s NDIS professional. Perhaps you could use a simple budget planner or spreadsheet.
When it’s hard
Applying for financial support and getting approval isn’t always straightforward. It can be disappointing or frustrating if you’re faced with a delay or waiting list.
The key is to prepare for the process as well as you can. When faced with challenges, try to stay positive, keep asking questions and focus on what you can do next to help things along.
In some cases, you might not get the funding you applied for. If you feel the decision made about your application is unfair, you have the right to ask for an explanation or review of the decision.
Other parents in similar situations can be a great source of support and advice.