How to access the right NDIS support when your child has special needs

Kinderling News & Features

If you have a child with additional needs, chances are you've dealt with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). At first it can seem overwhelming and confusing, but it also offers huge and lasting benefits for your child and you as a parent.

To help clarify the process, Kinderling Conversation spoke to Jo-Anne Hewitt, Executive Director of Disability at The Benevolent Society, the largest, most experienced provider of specialist disability services in NSW, ACT and on the Gold Coast.

While it can feel intimidating, Jo-Anne assures us it's worth the trouble, and is a huge improvement on the previous system, which the Productivity Commission deemed as unfair and underfunded.

“The NDIS is probably the biggest reform we've had in Australia since Medicare,” Jo-Anne says. “Of course, in any big reform there's going to be teething problems in setting things up… There's been some changes in how they work out eligibility and that's really unfortunately caused a lot of stress for some people. Having said that, there are many people who have had a seamless transition into the NDIS.”

So how do you know if your child is eligible for NDIS support? “To join the scheme and be a lifelong participant, you must demonstrate that you have significant lifelong disability that requires substantial support,” she explains. “The rules though are different for children zero to six, and that's to make sure that kids do get the early intervention that they require. It's not reliant upon them demonstrating that they're going to need it for the rest of their lives.”

To get you started, we asked Jo-Anne to explain the necessary steps to join the NDIS scheme and start getting the appropriate support they need as soon as possible. 

Step 1: See your GP

“The first thing you need to get in place is good early intervention services,” Jo-Anne says. Make time with your GP who will refer you to a specialist that can diagnose additional needs.

Step 2: Visit a therapist

A paediatrician, an occupational therapist, a psychologist or a speech pathologist will diagnose a condition or developmental delay of some sort, Jo-Anne explained. These therapists can then demonstrate that your child is eligible for the NDIS.

Step 3: Find an early intervention partner

From here, you need to find an early childhood intervention partner. These can be best recommended by the therapist, paediatrician or GP who diagnosed your child. You can also find a list of these partners (which are different in each region) at NDIS.gov.au. They’re specialists funded by the government to do that early exploration into whether the child is eligible for the NDIS, what services they might need, and if the child isn't eligible, what services can be put in place to support them.

Step 4: Provide evidence of need

You then need to start gathering the evidence for eligibility from people who know your child. “Evidence includes things like reports from your doctor, reports from your paediatrician, reports from your pre-school that actually talk about the support that child needs,” Jo-Anne explains. “It's really just the people who know your child best or who have undertaken those clinical diagnoses.”

The next part of this step is to think about the support your child requires. Jo-Anne said this is based on what your child is achieving, compared to their peers in the same developmental stage, and what they need in order to catch up to live a decent life. “There might be particular therapies that actually assist the child to come close to meeting their milestones,” Jo-Anne says. “The early childhood partner is really skilled in being able to work through with you what that's going to look like in a plan.”

Listen to Jo-Anne on Kinderling Conversation:

As a funding scheme, a critical part of the NDIS is knowing how much you’re going to be provided so you can get your plan into place. But part of this process is also pinpointing informal supports that your family has. This could be helpful extended family, neighbours you can turn to, a playgroup or a supportive preschool.

These aren’t included on the financial side of things, but Jo-Anne says they “colour the whole picture of what your plan looks like and the NDIS funding only kicks in for the things that you have to pay for.”

Step 5: Seek extra support

The Benevolent Society helps people navigate the system. If you are eligible and have a plan, they provide a whole range of services to people at all ages and can point people in the right direction of what they might need. They have a team of specialist service providers, therapist case managers, behaviour support practitioners and particularly for little kids with autism.