Are you an autistic adult, living in Australia? Struggling to get a job? Regularly feel overwhelmed, anxious, or unable to manage? Wish you had a bit of extra financial support?
Well, Centrelink is actually here to help.
Centrelink offers the DSP: Disability Support Pension, a stable and guaranteed fortnightly support payment… and it’s available to autistics!
Eligibility for the DSP
To be eligible for the DSP, you must be an Australian resident and:
- Not be rich (yep, if you have thousands of dollars in your bank or own three cars and a boat, you probably will not be eligible).
- Be at least 16 years old, and not older than 66.
- You have a medical (diagnosed) condition that is long-term (2+ years) or a lifelong condition (like autism!).
- Your condition “stops you from working” (i.e. you cannot manage working weekly full-time hours because of associated challenges that come with your condition).
How to apply for the DSP
To apply for the DSP, I strongly recommend you FIRST talk to your counsellor/ psychologist/ psychiatrist about the process. You will need the support of your primary therapist to get yourself better situated to be assessed as “acceptable” for the DSP. If you do not have a current primary therapist, get one (or track down your previous therapist).
After you’ve spoken to your therapist about implications of getting the DSP (or not getting it!), speak to your Job Network provider (or Centrelink case worker) about the difficulties you are having with finding work, and that you’re thinking about applying for the DSP. They will probably make a “job assessment interview” for you. This is a discussion with a Centrelink psychologist, so the next steps are REALLY IMPORTANT to do as soon as you can!
- Go to your local doctor and get them to fill out THIS FORM (clicking this will download the PDF). The form asks your doctor to verify your conditions, what they are, how long you have had them (P.S. autism is lifelong), and what treatment you are undertaking. Tell the doctor that you are wanting to claim the disability support pension, and ask your doctor to also please add a letter addressed “to Centrelink assessors” that includes your medical history, medications, and their official opinion of your conditions.
- Ask your therapist if you can give Centrelink their telephone number and email, so a Centrelink psychologist can call them about the DSP. Ask them also to write a letter detailing your condition because this will support your application.
- Get official reports about your condition(s), so that Centrelink has all the information they need to process your application. Get a copy of your diagnosis report (those of you diagnosed with autism will remember this is the additional charge after receiving diagnosis: your diagnosing psychologist needs to be paid to write you a report). If you have ever been to psychiatric hospital, try to obtain a report from them too. Include any other medical information that might help (MRIs, shock-therapy results, group therapy reports, etc), and get letters from your employer, teacher, parent, caregiver (if relevant) detailing your difficulties at work/ in relationships, etc.
Right. Got all that info? Now, and only now, apply, using THIS FORM (clicking this will download a PDF). This form is the official application for the disability support pension. Make sure to fill in everything carefully. It’s a long long long form, so if you need help, ask your caregiver, partner, or therapist to assist. ALSO, in question 174 (How does this treatment affect your ability to work or study?), it means ‘How does [your condition] make things hard for you?’ — so you may like to include the difficulties you face daily with your autism.
Once you have filled in the whole form, go into your local Centrelink office and hand in your form (printed out), and include ALL the medical details you obtained earlier. That means, bring in your diagnosis reports, medical and psych hospital reports (if relevant), medical form from doctor, letter from doctor, letter from therapist, letters from caregivers (if relevant) AND the application form. Also bring in your forms of identification as a Centrelink officer may want to check that on the day.
Managing the DSP interview(s)
You will no doubt need to go through two separate interviews to be assessed for the DSP. The first interview will be held at your local Centrelink office. The second interview will be held at a psychologist’s office in your local area. Centrelink staff will organize both these interviews with you, and you will also be sent out a letter to confirm.
Bring a support person along to the interviews IF YOU WANT. But I caution you, only bring a support person if you feel they will improve your chances of getting the DSP. See below—
The interviews are about assessing your autism (and other conditions, if you have them). Because you are being assessed, it is vital that you are JUST YOU. So that means no nice outfits, no coping mechanisms, no softeners, no ‘wearing a mask’ at the interview– you are being assessed for your condition… not your ability to pretend you are normal!
It is essential that you present to interview as your true self. I know, it will be hard and anxiety-ridden and you may need a few days to recover, but the Centrelink assessors need to see the real you: the autistic you.
Going out into the world (for many autistics) involves “suiting up”, wearing our headphones, dark glasses, dressing up, slapping on makeup and a smile…. Being superbly polite, monitoring ourselves, not speaking up, behaving ‘the right way’… But that’s not your autism, is it? That’s you, camouflaging… That’s you HIDING your autism.
Bottom line is: a hidden-you will not get the DSP.
After the DSP interview
After each DSP interview, you will feel horrible. Just sayin’. Yep, if you have been showing them your authentic self, it is likely you will feel shaky, vulnerable, meltdowny, sad, embarrassed, and maybe even horrified. You may not be able to walk right, you may not be able to think straight.
As such, make sure you have a support person that you can call or be with immediately after your interview! This is very very important. Take time to calm down after the interview, do something nice for yourself and recharge.
After all interviews, you need to wait for the verdict.
If you are approved, the DSP payments will be paid as soon as possible.
If you are rejected, you can still appeal (and I highly recommend this). In such a case, ask what the grounds of rejection were, and then get more medical data to prove your condition.
Why bother with the DSP?
Going for the DSP is a process, but it is worth it. If you are diagnosed with autism, you ought to be supported — you DESERVE support, because I know — things are hard living with autism! Getting some government financial aid is helpful, and it will help you.
The DSP is a flat-rate of payment, and then you receive energy supplements and rent assistance on top of the payment. It provides you with a stable payment that does not go away or get removed suddenly. It gives you peace of mind. Yes, you can work a few hours a week under the DSP without losing it, and the extra money gives you enough to comfortably pay for your therapy, medications and still be able to live independently.
I think DSP should be mandatory for autistics because we want to work, but somehow we just struggle and it gets so depressing… The DSP gives us peace, and if we ever do feel able to let go of the pension and move into full-time work, we can then do so with ease (not anxiety and depression), because the government has given us this avenue to feel better supported in our autism.
So, if you follow these steps above, I think you will have a better chance to be approved, and I really hope you do get on DSP.
- About the Disability Support Pension: https://www.humanservices.gov.au/individuals/services/centrelink/disability-support-pension
- Rates of payment for the DSP: http://guides.dss.gov.au/guide-social-security-law/5/1/5/10
- Working and still qualifying for the Pension: http://guides.dss.gov.au/guide-social-security-law/3/6/1/12
- Studying and still qualifying for the Pension: http://guides.dss.gov.au/guide-social-security-law/3/6/1/40
- Legislation pertaining to the Tables you will be assessed under (Table 5 includes depression and anxiety; Table 7 includes autism): https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2011L02716