Contributions to policy

OTARC takes advantage of opportunities at organisational, state, national, and international levels, to use the latest research from the Centre to inform policy and practice.

Select Committee on Autism visit OTARC
Select Committee on Autism visit OTARC in 2021 - Senator Carol Brown, Professor Cheryl Dissanayake and Senator Hollie Hughes (left to right)

Inquiry into Access to TAFE for Learners with Disability 2020

This submission was led by the SASLA team funded by the Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC). The team provided comment on (1) social and economic benefits of increasing accessibility to Victorian TAFE, (2) experiences of learners accessing and participating in TAFE programs, (3) barriers to learning, and (4) what teachers and staff require to maximise the learning experience.

OTARC's submission Final Report [PDF 5MB]


Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System 2019

The purpose of the Commission was to “provide the community with a clear and ambitious set of actions that will change Victoria’s mental health system and enable Victorians to experience their best mental health now and into the future”. 

OTARC contributed to two submissions:

  1. Professor Cheryl Dissanayake and Dr Darren Hedley participated in a roundtable with our partners AMAZE. The roundtable resulted in a submission made by AMAZE.
  2. Professor Amanda Richdale, Alex Haschek and Dr Rebecca Flower, members of SASLA team (Longitudinal Study of Australian School Leavers with Autism) on behalf of the Autism CRC, compiled data from young autistic adults (15 to 25 years of age) in Victoria to give a snapshot of the prevalence of mental health difficulties this group experiences and how this may be contributing to their employment and study participation.

AMAZE submission [PDF 2.8MB] SASLA submission [PDF 943KB] Final Report


Inquiry into Services for People with Autism Spectrum Disorder 2016

Professor Cheryl Dissanayake’s presentation to the committee outlined OTARC’s success in early autism detection and the positive outcomes possible with early intervention.

This input informed recommendations in the Victorian Autism State Plan, and the training of all Victorian Maternal and Child Health nurses on the early sings of autism.

Presentation transcript [PDF 134KB] Victorian Autism State Plan

NDIS proposed Early Childhood Early Intervention Reset (2021)

OTARC's embedded research program on intervention and supports within the Margot Prior Autism Intervention Centre (MPAI) was highly relevant to this submission. Our team offered expert opinion on all terms of reference in the reset.

NDIS consultation paper and recommendations


Feedback on the Productivity Commission Report on Mental Health (2021)

OTARC prepared a submission to the Committee after the release of the Final Report in late 2020 referencing:

  • autism not mentioned as a co-occurring condition that may impact the practical implementation of their recommendations, including prognosis, response to treatment and provision of services.
  • gaps in the training of various professionals, including tertiary education staff in providing support to enable student success
    frontline and healthcare workers in determining suicide risk for autistic people.

Select Committee on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention (2021)

OTARC prepared a submission to the Committee with community partners The Melbourne Clinic and Mindful. The submission provides evidence-based, community-driven recommendations that will benefit autistic Australians. This substantial submission made 20 recommendations about:

  • Mandatory federal reporting of all self-harm and suicide events with a specific question regarding autism status.
  • Including autism as a group of interest in any policy outcome or implementation of the Productivity Commission's Report into Mental Health.
  • Informed service provision for autistic people.
  • Accommodations and adjustments to usual practice for autistic people.
  • Specialist service availability, development, and expansion.
  • Education and training of service providers.
  • Research.

Outcome: Professor Amanda Richdale and Dr Darren Hedley from OTARC and representatives from AMAZE participated in a public hearing roundtable to discuss autism, mental health, and suicide prevention. The Final Report specifically references OTARC testimony (3.28, 3.29, 3.31). The result of our submission and testimony (as well as other stakeholders in the autism space) was the inclusion of an autism specific recommendation:

Recommendation 4 - The Committee recommends that the Australian Government ensure the principle of accessibility is at the forefront of all policy and funding programs for the mental health and suicide prevention sector, with a focus on increased funding for specialist services, such as forensic, perinatal and autism services, to innovate, expand and meet demand.

OTARC’s submission Final Report


Comment on the Draft National Preventive Health Strategy 2021-2030

OTARC prepared a response to the Draft strategy regarding sleep not being regarded as a fundamental area of interest for a preventative health strategy. Utilising OTARC's research, we pointed out that good sleep quality is scientifically linked to the draft focus areas of the strategy. These are improving access to and the consumption of a healthy diet, increasing physical activity, reducing alcohol and other drug harm, protecting mental health.


NDIS Consultation paper: Interventions for children on the autism spectrum (2021)

OTARC prepared a submission in response to the release of this consultation paper putting forward 16 recommendations covering:

  • Consultation.
  • Promotion of best practice.
  • What is "reasonable and necessary."
  • Supporting parents and carers to exercise choice and control.
  • Conflict of interest.

Read the consultation paper


Comment on the Higher Education Support Amendment (Job-Ready Graduates and Supporting Regional and Remote Students) Bill 2020

When the Education and Employment Legislation Committee opened for submission to comment on the proposed changes to higher education funding, OTARC composed a response detailing the ways the Bill would disadvantage the autistic community.

OTARC's submission


Senate Select Committee on Autism 2019

This committee “focus[ed] its attention on productive and meaningful ways to improve services and support for autistic people in the areas of education, healthcare, employment, housing, justice and rights”.

The breadth of the terms of reference offered OTARC the opportunity to make a substantial submission summarising more than 10 years of autism research.

Further consultation: Professors Dissanayake, Lane and Richdale presented at a public hearing on the 12th of February of 2021.

Outcome: The Final Report was released in March of 2022. OTARC’s submission and testimony is mentioned throughout the final report offering support form many of the recommendations.

OTARC is specifically mentioned in Recommendation 38 under the heading Diagnosis:

  • a national rollout of the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre’s training program for maternal and child health nurses to improve early identification of autism
  • promoting use of the ASDectect app by parents, health practitioners and educators.

OTARC's submission Hearing transcript Final report [PDF 3348 KB]

Recommendations from the 2021 Australasian Society for Autism Research “Health, Wellbeing and Suicide Prevention in Autism” Conference and Roundtable (2022)

An international panel, which included 50 per cent autistic representation, convened by Australasian Society of Autism Research (ASFAR) has today released its findings for eliminating suicide within the autistic community.

The panel was convened to develop international guidelines, following the revelation of a new Global Burden of Disease data finding, made at the world-first Mental Wellbeing and Suicide Prevention in Autism conference hosted by La Trobe University’s Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre last year.

Final report [PDF3.31MB] Policy brief [147KB]

Lancet Commission on the Future of Care and Clinical Research in Autism (2019 – 2020)

Professor Cheryl Dissanayake participated in this commission of international autism researchers. The group included more than twenty of the world’s leading autism researchers, clinicians and advocates. The aim was to answer the question of what can be done in the next 5 years to address the current needs of autistic individuals and their families worldwide.

Final report


Towards the DSM‐5 Criteria for Autism: Clinical, Cultural, and Research Implications 2013

Senior OTARC researchers discuss the clinical, research, and cultural implications of changes to the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorders in the DSM‐5.

DSM changes paper

Training of Victorian Maternal and Child Health Nurses

A commitment to training all Victorian Maternal and Child Health Nurses in early autism signs was included in the Final Report (2017) of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Services for People with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. In 2019 OTARC was invited to deliver this training across Victoria, and subsequently trained all (around 2000) nurses state-wide with all infants and young children between 11 – 30 months monitored for the early signs of autism as part of routine care.

Life-changing autism training launched


Parent training and resources

With funding from the Federal Government’s Helping Children with Autism (HCWA) Initiative, OTARC:

  • Co-developed the National Early Days workshops together with the Parenting Research Centre. These workshops are offered by the State autism associations, and are designed for parents, grandparents, and families of newly diagnosed children (0-6 years) with autism. The free workshops are delivered face-to-face by trained facilitators around Australia. The topics include: what is autism, managing unexpected behaviour and practical skills for encouraging young children’s social communication and developing their independence.
  • Developed autism-specific evidence-based content for the Raising Children Network (RCN) website. Prof Dissanayake sits on the Scientific Committee of the RCN and OTARC staff are frequently invited as experts to review and update relevant content.