Autism Spectrum Australia

Key people in our history


Dr Andrew and Margaret Vern Barnett

Dr Andrew Vern Barnett and his wife Margaret began The Autistic Children’s Association of NSW with five other families in 1966. Their vision and commitment became the foundation for Autism Spectrum Australia; the country’s largest national service provider for people with autism and other disabilities.

Andrew and Margaret’s daughter Susan, who had autism, inspired the couple to develop a greater understanding of autism and the interventions required to create a better life for people on the spectrum and their families.

Conventional therapies of the time treated autism in the same way as they treated schizophrenia and cerebral palsy. Andrew tirelessly lobbied politicians and government officials and used his connections in the medical fraternity to have autism acknowledged as a disability with its own characteristics. Most importantly, he was determined to have autism recognised as a disability to secure both, its eligibility for funding and the organisations financial viability.

In 1969, The Autistic Children’s Association of NSW received their first round of government funding. A short time later Margaret became the founding member of Acacia, a committee formed to raise funds and community awareness for people with autism.  Then, just one year after Acacia was formed, the Forestville school (now known as the Aspect Vern Barnett School) was opened.

Dr Barnett served as board chairman between 1966 and 1980 and again in the mid 1980’s. He presided over a period of extraordinary growth within the organisation which saw an additional seven schools open and he was integral in attracting ongoing funding for projects like residential accommodation for people with autism, an adult facilitation centre and vocational services for school leavers.

Dr Andrew Vern Barnett died on July 15, 2011, aged 88 years. In his eulogy Aspect’s CEO, Adrian Ford acknowledged Dr Barnett’s remarkable achievements in building Autism Spectrum Australia from scratch and used the following statement to describe the commitment that drove Aspect to become Australia’s leading provider of autism specific services.

"All of us are indebted to the vision and tenacity of Andrew Vern Barnett.  His legacy remains our challenge - do all that we can today so that people with autism and their families can have ever more opportunity.  That will be our gift to the future as was Andrew’s extraordinary gift of his life to us today,” Adrian Ford, Aspect CEO.

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Key people in our history