World-first report into autism in First Nations communities to launch tomorrow

by Freya Lucas

February 16, 2020

The Hon. Linda Burney MP will launch the world’s first report into autism in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities at the State Library of NSW tomorrow, Tuesday 18 February. 


Conducted by internationally-recognised researchers at Macquarie University, the report reveals that although autism is just likely to be as common in Aboriginal as non-Aboriginal communities, there remain fewer autism services and supports available to families in First Nations communities, especially services and supports which recognise the distinctive culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


The findings of the report will be of interest to all those who work with First Nation children and families in early childhood education and care contexts, particularly given the abundance of research supporting improved outcomes for children with autism spectrum disorders through early intervention. 


The report, We Look After Our Own Mob was funded by Positive Partnerships, a national project funded by the Commonwealth government, and written by Macquarie University academics, Dr Rozanna Lilley, Mikala Sedgwick and Prof. Liz Pellicano.


The researchers interviewed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families living in areas from inner-city suburbs to remote and regional communities across Australia, noting the “remarkable resilience of many of the families interviewed in situations where informal family and community ties are often the only major resource available to support those in need”.


Professor Pellicano used the report to highlight the current injustice facing autistic people among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, saying all autistic people deserve the same sorts of chances in life: to be able to enjoy trusting and nurturing relationships with family and friends, to feel safe, secure and valued at school, at workplaces and in communities, and to develop their skills and talents to the maximum possible extent.


“This research shows that this just isn’t happening for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families now and we have to put that right,” she added. 


Mikala Sedgwick, Aboriginal researcher and mother of an autistic child said the research was of profound importance because “often Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aren’t given an opportunity to talk about autism or they aren’t given a voice to say what might work for them or what are the barriers for them.”


To access the report, please see here