Page 3284 - Week 11 - Tuesday, 17 September 2013

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These autism-specific early learning centres provide parents with much more support than they would otherwise be getting. These valuable centres, through their affiliation with universities and hospitals, also assist with research and workforce training to achieve a better understanding of ASD in our community.

For reasons unknown to us, the federal Labor government did not think the ACT was worthy of this and, along with the Northern Territory, we missed out. The Canberra Liberals disagree wholeheartedly with the idea that the ACT does not need or deserve a centre such as this. We understand the importance of providing intensive early intervention programs for children with autism in the ACT and we believe an autism-specific early learning centre is vital. In fact, the Canberra Liberals took a policy to the ACT election last year to fill the hole we have here in the ACT. It was a fully funded, fully costed policy that we took to the election to have an autism-specific early intervention centre for children aged 2½ to six years here in the ACT.

The school was to be purpose built to cater for up to 40 children in this age bracket with a high staff ratio of two to one. The autism-specific early intervention school was to be modelled on the successful AEIOU Foundation schools already operating throughout Queensland. Unfortunately, the government and the Greens last year smacked this proposal down. They did not want to engage on the merits of the policy. They did not list this as a priority, and they ensured the policy did not get any headway. Again, as recently as April this year, the Canberra Liberals brought a motion into this place encouraging the government to support this policy, because we wanted this centre to go ahead, regardless of politics, because it is not about politics. It is about priorities; it is about people’s lives and the future of our children.

Our priority here is supporting those families in the ACT that are most impacted by ASD. Research has shown that 75 per cent of those with ASD who complete a two-year program with the AEIOU early learning centres transition successfully into mainstream school. I repeat: 75 per cent. Can you imagine the pressure this takes off those families? Can you imagine the optimism these families would then feel when their child was able to attend a mainstream school and when their child, as a result of early intervention, was able to learn new skills and communicate functionally? I do not understand why this was rejected for so long.

The AEIOU annual report has the following quote from a mother with an autistic son, which I would like to share with you:

AEIOU has changed our lives. We moved from Canberra so that our little boy could take up the place he was offered and we’ve never looked back. The professional and loving staff we’ve met through our time as part of Park Ridge have moved us and we’ve often been in awe of their skill, dedication and patience.

This family should not have had to leave the ACT to get the support they needed. We need to be doing more here. We need to apply early intervention best practice and really enable those children with ASD to achieve their full potential.

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