Want to know more about NDIS Independent Assessments? Yes, so do I. So, let’s take a look at the NDIS literature and see what parents in the autism community are saying. What are their impressions and fears?
It’s with children in mind that I write, but be aware that if you are an adult applying for the NDIS or reviewing a plan, you will also need to go through this new process at some stage.
If you are advocating for a potential participant…
From early 2021, independent assessments will be part of the NDIS access process for new applicants aged seven to sixty-four. It won’t be until some time in 2021 that NDIA will look at how independent assessments apply for children seven years and under.
When you have submitted the access request form, (which you can download from here)
NDIA will review your age, residency, and visa status. If you meet this basic access criteria, an independent assessor will contact you to conduct an assessment. The evaluation can occur by video or in a place of your choosing.
Seriously? Another evaluation? Aren’t the reams of reports we’ve already accumulated enough?
The NDIA will focus on functional capacity rather than disability or diagnosis. They will tailor the assessment to different ages groups using recognised, standardised assessment tools to come to their conclusions. The tools will work for every type of disability to provide an overall picture of how an individual functions in different areas of his or her life.
Who are the assessors, and what does the process cost?
The independent assessors will be qualified healthcare professionals, not NDIA employees. An assessor from one of the following disciplines will be allocated to you.
- Occupational Therapist
- Speech Pathologists
- Rehabilitation Counsellor
- Clinical and Registered Psychologists
- Social Worker
The assessment process is free, and it will take 1-4 hours. You can have someone familiar with you if you are anxious or need support.
You can even bring a treating health professional to the assessment meeting if you want to.
That’s gratifying for parents. Just reassuring the child in yet another consultation with a stranger/clinician can take all the parent’s energy, never mind absorbing what’s being said.
“One challenge I see is that many Autistic children have very high levels of discomfort in unfamiliar settings,” said one mum I spoke to. “My child us unable to interact or communicate with unfamiliar people in any way. That includes the inability to tolerate observation by unfamiliar people.”
In this situation, the parents may wish to request their assessment conducted over several sessions.
For what it’s worth, the NDIA consulted parents and clinicians regarding how to implement the assessment. It offers families the opportunity to do the assessment in a location and at a time of the family’s choosing.
Well, that’s gratifying. I objected to an evaluation being organised directly after school once. They scheduled it for 3.30 pm because of the availability of the assessor. My six-foot 16-year-old was never going to cope with an assessment after six hours of concentrating in the neurotypical world. Relieved that the examiner directed subsequent questions to me (because my lad was answering them incorrectly) my boy promptly got up, lay down on the carpet and went to sleep.
So, what next?
The assessor will send the results back to the NDIS, who will forward the findings on to your planner or LAC. The latter will discuss the assessment outcomes with you in your planning meeting. The findings will be used to determine your overall NDIS budget and what supports the participant needs.
If these assessors are not NDIA employees, where are they from?
The NDIA invited organisations to submit expressions of interest regarding the provision of assessors.
I have concerns about this. The process, called ‘open tender’, usually involves acquiring the desired service or commodity (in this case, the assessors) at the lowest possible cost.
However, NDIA says it is aware of market pricing for clinicians and assures families that it will attract high-quality applicants. It will also train successful contenders and create a quality performance framework to ensure assessments are done consistently and correctly.
This evaluation will determine the significance of the disability and the NDIA expects the process will ensure fair and consistent decisions regarding who is eligible for funding.
I asked parents what they thought.
- “Just because these assessors are all trained and using the same diagnostic tool, doesn’t mean they’ll take the same approach. They’ll have different experiences and different frameworks that they’re used to working within,” said Marielle, mother of an autistic daughter.
The NDIA assures participants that the assessors will only be able to conduct assessments related to their profession.
Also, an Independent Assessment Framework will explain how the assessments will provide participants with consistent and reliable evidence of their functional capacity.
- “I don’t like the one size fits all approach,” says Amanda, ASD mother of three ASD children. “Disability is not one size fits all. How one person copes day today will never be exactly the same as the next person; or even from one day to the next.”
- Marielle adds, “A one size fits all functional assessment, done by a stranger, over a few hours is only going to provide a snapshot of those few hours. On its own it’s not going to magically mean someone meets criteria.”
- Shane, dad of an ASD child, said, “ASD is so much more complex than nearly every other disability. EVERY KID is different. 100,000 ASD children require 100,000 different plans, goals, and funding levels.
The assessment will look at a participants’ environments to see what factors help them to participate in, or thwart their participation in, everyday life. Different settings and times will be taken into account so that a clinician can see what good and bad days look like.
So, the assessments carried out by the physicians who know my child are no longer relevant?
You won’t need to deliver evidence from your doctors regarding functional capacity. But your physicians will continue to be important in your life, as the assessments won’t provide clinical advice. However, you can take all your specialist’s reports to your planning meeting along with the assessment findings after the review. Your medical evidence will still be relevant in your goal setting.
The NDIA assessment doesn’t replace your treating medical professionals. It is meant to provide a reliable and consistent examination of how a person functions in daily life. It will reveal where a participant requires help and highlight what he/she can do independently. It is just one piece in a collection of supporting evidence that the NDIA considers when making decisions about a person’s eligibility for the NDIS.
The assessment simply provides families and NDIS staff with an understanding of the child’s functional capacity. There is an expectation that this process will clarify how well the child functions at home and in the community and how significantly their disability affects their life.
- Shane reminds us that “The assessor is not there to diagnose the disability, but to assess the affect the disability has on the individual’s life.”
The assessor will ask questions about the participant’s life; what matters to them; how they approach everyday tasks.
- Shane said, “The assessment should be beneficial for those kids with ASD Level 1 who have found it difficult to access the NDIS due to the level assigned to the diagnosis, rather than the effect of the ASD on the child.”
What if I already have an NDIS plan?
The independent assessment process for current NDIS participants will begin in mid-2021. However, information in the NDIS literature suggests that an assessment may only be necessary at important points in an individual’s life, such as
- starting school, or preparing to enter the workforce
- your circumstances changing
- you are looking at supported independent living requirements
- you already have stable supports and would like a longer plan
- are preparing to transition out of the NDIS
- requesting a plan review for an important reason.
The LAC will schedule a plan review once the NDIA has considered the assessment. https://www.ndis.gov.au/participants/independent-...
What if you don’t meet the NDIS access criteria?
You should already have determined who your Local Area Coordinator is (or if you are enquiring on behalf of a child under seven, your Early Childhood Partner.) You can contact the LAC or ECP regarding available support in your area.
NDIS staff will advise who your LAC or ECP is, if you haven’t already contacted one.
What if you don’t agree with the assessor’s findings?
You can request an internal review of any decisions made by an assessor; however, the request must be made within three months of the assessor’s findings. The person conducting the review will not have been involved in the original decision. You can seek a review by email, regular post, at an NDIA office or by phone. You can also request a review on a form called Application for Review of a Decision. Find this form and all relevant addresses at https://www.ndis.gov.au/applying-access-ndis/how-...
Written by Rhonda Valentine Dixon