Helping Children with Autism (HCWA)

Helping Children with Autism (HCWA)

Helping Children with Autism: what is it?

Helping Children with Autism (HCWA) helps you get services and support for your child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The Australian Government Department of Social Services (DSS) manages HCWA.

If your child is aged 0-6 years, HCWA gives your child access to early intervention services as well as supporting you and your family.

You and your child might be able to get extra support if you have an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander or culturally and linguistically diverse background, or if you live in a rural and remote area.

HCWA is closing to new clients as the National Disability Insurance Scheme is rolled out around Australia. Once the NDIS is operating in your area, you'll get funding for early intervention through the NDIS. Find out how to get NDIS support.

HCWA early intervention funding

If your child is eligible, HCWA gives him access to early intervention funding of up to $12 000 (up to $6000 per financial year) until he turns seven.

Your child must be diagnosed and registered with an autism advisor before her sixth birthday to get funding. Autism advisors work out whether you can get the funding by using nationally consistent rules to judge your case.

You can choose how to use your funding as long as you spend no more than $6000 in any financial year. After your child's seventh birthday, you can't get the funding anymore.

Early Intervention Service Provider Panel

You can choose the best early intervention service for your child from the DSS Early Intervention Service Provider Panel. DSS pays service providers on your behalf. The Panel is made up of providers who offer evidence-based multidisciplinary interventions.

Autism advisors

Autism advisors work across Australia. State autism associations manage the advisors.

Advisors help you by giving you unbiased advice and information about the most appropriate early intervention services for your child and family. The advisors provide a link between diagnosis services and early intervention and support services.

If you live in a rural and remote area, advisors might be able to help you get extra Australian Government funding for early intervention services.

HCWA early intervention eligibility criteria

To get HCWA early intervention funding, your child must have an acceptable diagnosis.

An acceptable diagnosis is based on criteria in the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM), either DSM-IV or DSM-5. It must be a diagnosis of one of the following:

  • autism
  • autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • autistic disorder
  • Asperger's disorder
  • childhood disintegrative disorder
  • pervasive developmental disorder - not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).

The diagnosis of ASD must have been made under the Medicare diagnosis items or by a state or territory government assessment service, a multidisciplinary assessment team, or by a private paediatrician or psychiatrist.

You should get the diagnosis before you contact an autism advisor.

Rett's disorder
Rett's disorder was previously eligible for support under HCWA. On 1 February 2014 it moved to the Better Start for Children with Disability initiative. Children with Rett's disorder who are already getting support through HCWA will continue to do so, and will also be able to get physiotherapy.

HCWA funding for families in regional and remote areas

If you live in an outer regional or remote area or you have exceptional circumstances, you might be able to get a $2000 payment in addition to your $12 000 funding package. The additional funding gives you more early intervention options as well as training, respite, accommodation and support for travel. Autism advisors manage this payment.

Other components of the HCWA package

Early Days workshops
The Early Days program provides workshops for parents of children aged 0-6 years who are on the autism spectrum or who are being assessed. The workshops give you information about autism spectrum disorder (ASD), plus practical ideas and strategies for dealing with issues like behaviour, development and more. You can also do online workshops.

You can find out more about the Early Days program and face-to-face workshops from your state autism association.

PlayConnect playgroups
PlayConnect playgroups offer play-based learning for children aged 0-6 years with ASD or ASD-like symptoms. They're also a social support network for you. Playgroup facilitators can help you connect to resources in your local area. Your child doesn't need a formal ASD diagnosis to go to PlayConnect groups.

Raising Children Network and HCWA
As part of the package, DSS has supported the Raising Children Network to develop Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This part of provides information, online resources and interactive tools to support you in raising your child with ASD.

Other HCWA initiatives

The Australian Government Department of Education runs two HCWA programs.

Positive Partnerships
This program helps improve the educational outcomes for school-age children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) through:

  • professional development for teachers and other school staff to help school students with ASD achieve better educational outcomes
  • workshops and information sessions for parents and carers of school students with ASD, including online access.

For more information, visit Positive Partnerships and register to use the online learning portal for parents and teachers.

Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centres
Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centres offer early learning programs and support for children with ASD. The centres are accredited long day care centres and provide services based on best practice principles for working with children with ASD.

Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centres are currently available in the following locations: south-west Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, north-west Tasmania, Melbourne and Perth.

Medicare items through HCWA

Medicare items are available through the Helping Children with Autism program.

Treatment plans
You can get a GP referral to a paediatrician or psychiatrist to diagnose your child aged under 13 years and develop a treatment and management plan.

Allied health collaboration on diagnosis
This item covers up to four services in total per child per lifetime from audiologists, occupational therapists, optometrists, orthoptists, physiotherapists, psychologists and speech pathologists. It's specifically for these professionals to work with paediatricians or psychiatrists on diagnosis. These services must be provided before your child's 13th birthday.

Early intervention services
This item covers up to 20 early intervention treatment services in total per child per lifetime from audiologists, occupational therapists, optometrists, orthoptists, physiotherapists, psychologists and speech pathologists.

You can claim this item after your child has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or PDD-NOS.

The services must be consistent with the treatment and management plan prepared by the referring specialist. These services must be provided before your child's 15th birthday, provided your child had an ASD or PDD-NOS treatment and management plan before turning 13.

HCWA contact information

If you want more information about Helping Children with Autism (HCWA), call the HCWA Early Intervention Helpdesk on 1800 778 581 or email [email protected]

If you have a hearing or speech impairment, you can use the National Relay Service to contact any of DSS's listed phone numbers.