Page 1402 - Week 05 - Wednesday, 10 April 2013

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intervention and ongoing family support can make a huge difference to the quality of life of a child with autism. Many young children who participate in early intervention demonstrate gains in the areas of communication, social skills, behaviour and IQ.

In the ACT there is currently a hole in early intervention services. The ACT is only one of two jurisdictions in Australia that does not have a specific early learning centre for autistic children. The federal government, as part of their helping children with autism program, has built six autism-specific early learning and care centres around Australia. The roles of these centres are to provide early learning programs and specific support for children aged zero to six, with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, in a long day care setting, provide parents with support in the care of their children and give them the opportunity to participate more fully in the community. And through their affiliations with universities or hospitals, the centres have a research and a workforce training component which will help achieve a better understanding of ASD and increase workforce capacity.

For some reason, federal Labor did not decide or did not think that the ACT is worthy of this service. I am not sure what the full reason for that is. Maybe it is because they consider it a couple of safe seats. But the ACT and the Northern Territory were the only jurisdictions to miss out. We do not share that view that people in the ACT should miss out. We believe that all autistic children deserve the best support and opportunities to reach their full potential. We believe children living in the ACT should not be disadvantaged compared to children in New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia or Victoria. And that is why the Canberra Liberals promised at the 2012 election to build the ACT’s first intervention centre for children diagnosed with autism.

Key elements of the proposal include government funding support of $24,000 a child and a high staff ratio of one to two. Children would be supported by a dedicated team comprising skilled learning facilitators, including speech pathology, occupational therapy, child psychology and early childhood teaching—some of the concerns that obviously Mr Rattenbury did not quite understand in our policy—a strong focus on school readiness and transitioned support through an individual learning program, and provision of before and after school care designed for children with ASD.

The centre, as promised, would be operated by the AEIOU Foundation, which currently operates 10 successful centres throughout Queensland. The AEIOU model offers an intensive, personalised program for children with autism. The program employs a variety of effective teaching strategies, coupled with a supported learning environment to help encourage and nurture those children. The program also offers consistency of staffing and programming, opportunities for children to interact socially with each other, full-day and part-day structured programming and individual teaching instruction that is tailored to each child’s individual needs.

On the AEIOU website, there are stories, personal stories, related by parents of children with autism who have attended these schools in other jurisdictions, and I would recommend people do go to that website and read some of those stories. They are very moving. Josh’s story is very moving, as is Lachlan’s story and Zane’s story.

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