Why early intervention?

Early intervention refers to doing things as early as possible to work on your child’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) characteristics. Early intervention for children with ASD is made up of therapies and services.

  • Therapies (also called interventions) are the programs or sessions aimed at helping your child’s development.
  • Services are the places and organisations that offer these therapies. A service might offer one therapy or several types.
  • Starting intervention as young as possible is most effective in helping the development of children with ASD. You can even get things started before your child has a formal diagnosis.

For example, problems with communication are a big cause of tantrums and other difficult behaviour for children with ASD. If children can’t communicate their needs or understand others, they express themselves or get attention with difficult behaviour. But if they learn to communicate effectively as early as possible, they won’t need to behave like this quite so much. Another reason for starting early is that it can help children with early brain development – which has been linked to possible causes of ASD. [1]

Research [2] shows that support during the early years of childhood improves outcomes for children with ASD including living independently, securing employment and developing meaningful relationships. The early childhood years lay the foundation for all future development. These early years are also critical for the whole family. This is when families start learning how to support and nurture their child, how to meet their child’s needs, and how to adapt positively to having a child with a disability or a developmental delay.

The Australian Government offers early intervention services to children through two key programmes:

  • Helping Children with Autism (HCWA)
  • Better Start for Children with Disability (Better Start).


The Australian Government provides early intervention funding through two programmes:

  • Helping Children with Autism (HCWA)
  • Better Start for Children with Disability (Better Start)

Under these programs, children under the age of six with an eligible diagnosis can access early intervention funding of up to $12,000 (a maximum of $6,000 per financial year). The funding is for services and therapies from a panel of registered service providers.

Up to 35 per cent of this funding ($4,200, or $2,100 per financial year) can be used to buy resources recommended for your child by a registered service provider. This could include visual aids, communication boards, sound field systems or other equipment. Funding must be spent by the child’s seventh birthday. If your child is over seven, visit ‘Children over seven years of age’ for information about other services you may be able to access.

HCWA and Better Start Medicare Items

Child age: 0 – 15

Target group: Children with an eligible diagnosis for HCWA or Better Start

Children under the age of thirteen can access HCWA and Better Start Medicare items available for assessment, diagnosis and the creation of a treatment and management plan. Once a treatment and management plan is in place, items are available for sessions with a range of allied health professionals including psychologists, speech pathologists, and occupational therapists.

The services include:

  • Up to four diagnostic / assessment services to assist the referring practitioner with diagnosis or to contribute to a child’s treatment and management plan (for a child under thirteen years of age).
  • Up to twenty treatment sessions (for a child under fifteen years of age, providing they have a treatment and management plan in place by thirteen).

You do not need to be registered with HCWA or Better Start to use these Medicare items.

Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centres (ASELCCs)

Child Age: 0 – 6 years

Target group: Children with an ASD and children with ASD-like symptoms

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

Please note that there is not currently an ASELCC service operating within the NT..

Some of your questions about ASELCCs can be found on the Frequently Asked Questions page or you can learn more about ASELCCs here.

Early Days Workshops

Child Age: 0 – 6

Target group: Parents of children with ASD or another disability

Early Days Workshops provide flexible and tailored support for parents and carers of children with disability including those from diverse cultural and Indigenous backgrounds, and those living in rural and remote areas. The workshops help parents and carers to:

  • better support their children
  • learn new coping skills
  • more effectively manage the pressures they face in raising their children
  • create links within their local community.

For more information about HCWA Workshops, contact the Autism Association in your state or territory.

For more information about Better Start Workshops, contact Carers Australia on 1800 242 636 or Ability First Australia via the Better Start Early Days website.

PlayConnect Playgroups

Child Age: 0 – 5

Target group: Families with children with ASD or ASD-like symptoms

The PlayConnect Playgroups target children up to the age of five with ASD or ASD like symptoms. They usually meet weekly for two hours during school terms. During playgroup sessions, parents, carers and children participate in a variety of play activities and experiences specifically suited to the needs of children with ASD.

For more information contact Playgroup Australia by calling 1800 171 882 or
emailing info@playgroupaustralia.com.au (link sends e-mail)

Playgroup Community Events (Better Start)

Child Age: 0 – 6

Target group: Families with children with disability

The Better Start Playgroup Community Events give families information on the developmental benefits of participation in playgroups for their children, and encourage social and support networks for parents.

For more information contact Playgroup Association by calling 1800 171 882 or emailing info@playgroupaustralia.com.au (link sends e-mail)

Positive Partnerships

Child age: N/A

Target group: School-aged children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder ASD

The Australian Government Department of Education offers a Positive Partnerships initiative for school-aged children with an ASD.

Positive Partnerships hold workshops and information sessions for parents and carers of school-age students with autism. These can help you to work with your child’s teachers, school leaders and other staff.

Positive Partnerships also supports the professional development for teachers, school leaders and other school staff to build their understanding, skills and expertise in working with children with ASD

The Positive Partnerships website has a range of resources including fact sheets, online learning modules and information on upcoming workshops.

Auslan Interpreting

Child Age: N/A

Target group: Users of sign language

The National Auslan Interpreter Booking and Payment Service (NABS) is a national service funded by DSS. NABS provides interpreters to anyone who uses sign language to communicate and needs an interpreter for private medical appointments.

Bookings for interpreting services can be made for people with hearing impairments, including situations where there is an adult with a hearing impairment and a child with normal hearing attending a private medical consultation. You can make a booking by calling NABS on 1800 246 945.

Medical services covered by NABS include appointments with GPs, Aboriginal health workers, psychologists, mental health workers, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, and paediatricians.

Find more information on the NABS website.

Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS)

Child Age: N/A

Target group: Speakers of languages other than English

The TIS provides interpreting services for people who do not speak English and for organisations that need to communicate with their non-English speaking clients.

Members of the Early Intervention Service Provider Panel are able to access TIS services for use with HCWA and Better Start clients at no cost. Details about this arrangement are available from the Early Intervention Helpdesk by calling 1800 778 581 or emailing Early.Intervention@dss.gov.au. (link sends e-mail).

For more information on TIS, please visit the Translating and Interpreting Service webpage or call 131 450.


Access to services within the NT


Autism Advisors provide advice and information about early intervention services that can help families address their child’s specific needs. They can advise you onall aspects of the Helping Children with Autism package including assisting families to access the Early Intervention Funding package and the Early Intervention Service Provider Panel. This program is currently delivered in the NT by Autism SA.

An Autism Advisor can assist you with accessing (but is not limited to):

  • Helping Children with Autism (HCWA) funding
  • Parent support groups
  • Parent and carer workshops, including Early Days workshops 
  • Playgroups
  • Medicare options for therapy, diagnosis and assessment
  • Resources and other support options
  • Planning for transition to NDIS (for the Barkley area)

Who is eligible for the Helping Children with Autism Funding?

The Autism Advisor Program NT provides support to families who have a child aged between 0-7 years with a suspected or formal diagnosis under DSM-IV or DSM-5 criteria including;

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Autism
  • Asperger syndrome
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)
  • Rhett’s Disorder
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

For more information:

  1. Early Intervention Helpdesk on 1800 778 581
  2. early.intervention@dss.gov.au
  3. http://www.autismsa.org.au/autism-advisor-program

Please Note: As the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is rolled out across Australia, children supported through HCWA or Better Start will transition to the NDIS.

[1] www.raisingchildren.com.au
[2] aeiou.org.au/early-intervention