A new autism-specific school is set to open its doors in Newcastle within the next few years.
Due to the growing needs of the community, Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) recently acquired Bupa Cardiff Heights to meet that demand.
With Newcastle rising on average by 1.77% per year, and more than 5,500 children on the autism spectrum residing in the Hunter-Newcastle region according to the NDIS, more support and services for youngsters and their families/carers is vital.
“Aspect has been operating schools in this area for over 40 years,” national director education Maryanne Gosling said.
“We currently have one main campus in Thornton, and seven satellite schools located within mainstream and Catholic institutions for approximately 200 children.
“With the escalating wait list, our hope is to continue to build additional partnerships with other schools as well, to help address the immediate needs of the community.”
Autism-specific education focuses on a child’s individual needs and interests, which is pleasing for parents such as Katie Cowey.
“Aspect teachers are amazing,” she said.
“They have the resources and skills to allow my son, Ryder, to communicate and express himself, which has been instrumental in his development and learning.”
As part of its strategic plan, Aspect is anticipating to invest $60 million in new and existing schools and classrooms across the state to create best-practice, autism-friendly spaces for students.
“With the growing population, the community and parents/carers have told us there is a need to provide more autism-specific schools, so we’re extremely excited to have secured the former Bupa aged care facility in Cardiff Heights,” Ms Gosling said.
“The existing three-story building, and 6,542sqm of land situated at 6 Harrisons Lane, is an ideal location given its proximity to Newcastle and local area amenities.
“When open, it is projected the school will cater for approximately 50 to 60 students.
“Much work will need to be done to convert the building into a purpose-built school.
“Our class pupil numbers are purposefully small to cater for the needs of each individual student.
“So, the aesthetics and layout are carefully considered with that in mind.
“We’re currently working with our designers, architects and builders that have experience in developing autism-friendly schools.
“We are also engaging our autism and Autistic communities and the local community for feedback during the process.
“Aspect has been blessed with strong community support in the Hunter-Newcastle region, who have sponsored everything from new building wings to employment programs.
“We hope to work with corporate and individual funders to assist in closing the gap for needed resources and ensure the longevity of our programs.”
Late last year, Aspect opened a purpose-built school in Loftus, south of Sydney, and recently completed a $3.6m expansion of its Treetop School in Adelaide, adding an additional four classrooms, indoor gymnasium, sensory-play area and commercial kitchen.
As a registered independent school, Aspect delivers the NSW curriculum while working to each student’s autism-related learning needs, individual strengths, interests and aspirations.
In total, the not-for-profit organisation provides education to 1,200 students through 67 locations.
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