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How does Tipping address the needs of people with autism?

What is the autism spectrum?The Tipping Foundation offers a variety of tailored support to people across the autism spectrum, designed to help them develop new skills, expand their social horizons, find appropriate work and education, and live more independent lives. Tipping’s support is based on the appointment of a ‘key worker’, who will act as a mentor and support worker to help each person define their own goals and live and develop to the fullest of their abilities.

Clients usually come to us with an NDIS plan after a formal planning session with NDIS personnel. Each NDIS plan includes allocated funding amounts and broad goals for the coming year. Our key worker will help to evaluate what is possible – through Tipping and with our clinical partners – to realise specific goals and aims in skills development, behaviour, and social and community participation. A more detailed support plan will then be drawn up with the client and their family, Tipping managers and clinical specialists (e.g. occupational therapists and speech pathologists) to deliver customised services that improve life skills, minimise behaviours of concern, and optimise social connections.

What support does Tipping provide to people with autism?

Tipping’s support is based on the individual NDIS plan developed for each person who is eligible for funding from the National Disability Insurance Agency. The NDIS is premised on support customised to people’s unique needs and goals, and services eligible for funding include: assistance at home, assistive technologies, social and community activities, life skills, job-seeking, transport, and supported living arrangements.

Tipping offers a rich variety of support to people with autism, provided in their homes or the community, to realise their goals in skills development, education, employment, and community participation. As well as residential accommodation in 40 homes managed by highly skilled support staff, Tipping offers the following specialised services for people with autism:

Much of our support will be provided through a ‘key worker’ who is familiar with you and your family, and provides one-on-one support designed to help you achieve specific goals or milestones – be it shopping independently, crossing a road, or learning a new skill. Our key workers will also take you to medical appointments and clinical specialists, and provide respite at home when your usual caregivers are out. Key workers can also take you to school classes, community groups, job placements, or even on short holidays – depending on your specific goals and NDIS plans.

Are Tipping’s services available to young children with autism?

The benefits of intervening early and carefully in the treatment of children with autism are widely documented. Specialist providers such as Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) provide a range of tailored early intervention programs for children up to 8 years of age, which combine structured play and social learning with speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavioural support and other services. The adaptability (‘plasticity’) of a younger child’s brain makes it vital to deliver these therapies early on, when neural pathways can be ‘rerouted’ and poor behaviours ‘retrained’.

After 40 years of working with people with autism, Tipping has strong and mutually supportive relationships with Aspect and a number of Melbourne-based clinical specialists who provide early childhood intervention services. We regularly recommend specialist providers to families and incorporate their services into our younger clients’ support plans.

Do we offer services for adolescents with autism?

Adolescence is a stressful time for all young people, but for a teenager on the autism spectrum this transition can be particularly challenging and isolating. The need for calm support, steady routines, and tolerant, non-judgmental home environments is never greater – and supportive respite and tailored day programs can make a world of difference to the families of young people with autism.

Tipping also works with a number of schools that welcome high-functioning adolescents, or young people who have previously dropped out of school, to join their classes. We will help organise the logistics and support required to start studying or to return to school to complete your education. We can also provide support to young adults who want to develop job-ready skills, seek specialist employment support, or revisit their resumés or interview skills in order to find a permanent job.

In 2013 Tipping opened a new respite facility in northern Melbourne designed specially to support young people aged between 12 and 24 who have autism or display complex behaviours of concern. Our acclaimed Epping House was built by the Victorian Government and has five beds and extensive respite facilities, as well as an activities room, an outdoor recreation area, and a barbecue and veggie patch. Please call our Northwest Office on (03) 9487 8100 to find out more.

Autism: Your Questions Answered

Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder that is usually characterised by difficulties in communication and social interaction, and restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviour. Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects people in very different ways, and no two people on the autism spectrum are ever the same.

Increasing awareness and testing for autism have led to a rapid rise in the number of people being diagnosed with ASD. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates there were 164,000 Australians with autism in 2015 – a figure that had risen 42% since 2012. Among Australians with ASD, 64% reported having a profound or severe ‘core activity limitation’ that made them require assistance with communication, self-care or mobility – although 56% of these people said they did not receive some or all of the help they needed.

The autism spectrum can be a confusing term, as it suggests that people with autism can be ‘graded’ according to a linear scale. Like many clinical conditions, however, people with autism are affected in very different ways – and cannot simply be classified as ‘a little’ or ‘severely’ affected. While some people may be able to live relatively independent lives, others may require almost continuous support.

In 2013, five neurodevelopmental disorders previously recognised as distinct conditions – autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, Rett Syndrome and Asperger’s Syndrome – were merged under a single umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. The switch to a spectrum is designed to recognise the wide variety of symptoms a person might have. The spectrum starts with ‘classic’ or ‘low-functioning’ autism, with people showing disability in many of their interactions, and rises to ‘high-functioning’ autism – characterised by the high IQs and rich vocabularies typical of Asperger’s Syndrome.

The range and severity of symptoms can vary dramatically between people with autism. Common symptoms include challenges in speaking and making yourself understood, obsessive interests and repetitive behaviours. Other symptoms include anxiety, inattentiveness, difficulty reading social situations, hypersensitivity to noise and light, hand-flapping and other impulsive behaviour, limited facial expressions, flat or unemotional speaking, and limited vocabularies.

People with autism often describe being bombarded or overwhelmed by sensory perceptions, and can be unsettled by loud noises, bright lights or crowds. These symptoms can make them feel awkward, and they can take longer to answer questions or make ‘normal conversation’. As a result, they can feel socially inadequate, isolated, defective and depressed.

But research in recent years has confirmed what many parents have long claimed: that children with autism can also have unique gifts, and make up for their lack of social skills with great talents in art, music, mathematics and memory. They often also display remarkable fairness, honesty, loyalty and open-mindedness. It is clear that people with autism are not ‘defective’ so much as different; and if they are valued and respected, their differences can make them shine.

On average, autism affects four times more boys than girls. There are several theories as to why this is so, including the thinner brain cortex (outer layer) among males, and the possibility that the X chromosome girls inherit from their fathers may confer some genetic ‘protection’ from ASD (boys inherit only one X chromosome, from their mothers).

Again, however, much may just be down to diagnosis. Boys with autism often display more disruptive behaviours than girls, which may lead to more frequent diagnoses, and some physicians believe that girls have broader social skills and a greater natural ability to ‘mask’ any difficulties that prevent them from fitting in with their peers.

This appears to be unlikely. Although three-quarters of all Australians diagnosed with autism are aged between five and 24, studies globally suggest the prevalence of autism among adults is similar to that among children – approximately one in 100 – and that this rate is fairly constant across all adult age groups. Again, the greater prevalence among children appears to be largely due to the increase in diagnoses among younger children – due to greater awareness, broader clinical criteria, and improved processes for positively identifying symptoms at an earlier age.

While people with intellectual disability tend to have trouble learning and with ‘adaptive functioning’ (living an independent life), people with autism face more specific challenges in communicating and relating to other people. While the two conditions are different, studies show that more than one-third of children with ASD also have some form of intellectual disability. Although the clinical jury is still out on causal connections, people with autism and those with intellectual disability often share the same struggles – particularly with regard to social and communication skills.

Although far more research has gone into treatments for children, as the population of adults with ASD rises, more studies are beginning to focus on the best ways to help adolescents and adults on the spectrum. When thinking about treatment, it is important to remember that each individual is completely unique, and to bring to your therapist as detailed a list as possible of your symptoms, strengths and challenges.

Joining a group with other people with autism can also be extremely beneficial – allowing you to share observations and experiences, and to learn new social skills in a group. Tipping can help you find a group of people with similar interests and abilities to your own. We also run several daytime courses, which are a great way to meet other people and learn new skills in arts and crafts, music, cooking, gardening, computing, mechanics, and other practical skills.

Early diagnosis followed by tailored support can make life much richer and less challenging for a person with autism. A formal diagnosis is usually the first step in helping people gain a proper understanding of their condition, and helping them and their caregivers access the services and support they need. There is growing evidence that psychotherapy and structured behavioural interventions can have profound benefits – particularly for children with autism.

Learning vital social and communication skills (e.g. around greetings, eye contact and respect for others) can ultimately make the difference in being able to go to school or get a job. More severely affected children who may never be able to speak can learn to sign and other alternative ways of communicating that will greatly enrich their lives. Therapeutic programs can also help family members adapt their home routines and develop activities around specific interests that will help people with autism build their confidence and self-esteem. There is also growing evidence that music, art and other creative activities can have very positive long-term benefits.

Although many adults have been living undiagnosed with autism for years, a diagnosis is no less important for an adult than a child. As well as answering many questions you will have had about your own habits and challenges, a formal diagnosis will help you explain your condition to (and generate understanding and support from) family, friends, colleagues and others. And, of course, it will enable you to access treatment and services that over time will help to increase your independence and overcome personal challenges. A formal ASD diagnosis is also necessary to access NDIS funding for specific services.

If you suspect that you have some of the symptoms of autism, it is never too late to seek a diagnosis. Bring your concerns to your doctor and ask them to recommend a psychiatrist or psychologist with experience in diagnosing ASD in adults. It may help to bring a list of the symptoms, behaviours and feelings that give you greatest cause for concern.

Assessments for ASD include direct observations, checklists and questionnaires, and discussions with individuals and family members about specific personal challenges. A comprehensive assessment will highlight areas of strength as well as areas that may benefit from intervention. When you undertake your first assessment, it may be worth bringing along someone who knows and cares about you – particularly someone who may have known you in childhood. Many adults with autism have difficulty explaining their challenges, and someone who knows you well may be able to help identify the behaviours that create issues for you – and help your therapist devise better strategies to overcome them.

Many support services and therapies exist that can help adults with autism make the most of their abilities, develop new skills, find satisfying employment, develop new relationships, and enjoy a greater degree of independence. As with any challenge, it is critical to choose services and supports that address the specific needs of you and your family, focus on your strengths and abilities, and maintain a flexible approach to emerging possibilities.

Research shows that engaging in activities of personal interest can help people with autism feel more competent, autonomous and socially connected, and reduce levels of anxiety. People with autism often develop a deep interest and knowledge in a specific subject – a characteristic that, if harnessed carefully, can be of great value to a community group, a sports club or an employer.