A new autism-specific school in Newcastle will open within the next few years to meet an increasing demand for autism-specific education in the region.
With Newcastle growing on average of 1.77% per year, and over 5,500 children on the autism spectrum residing in the Hunter-Newcastle region according to the NDIS, more supports and services for children and families/carers is vital.
“Aspect has been operating schools in this community for over 40 years. We currently have one main campus in Thornton, and seven satellite schools located within mainstream and Catholic schools for approximately 200 children. With the current demand and 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,” states National Director Education for Aspect, Maryanne Gosling.
“Autism-specific education focuses on my child’s individual needs and interests. Aspect teachers are amazing and 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,” says Katie Cowey, parent at Aspect Hunter School.
As part of its strategic plan, Aspect is estimated to invest $60m 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,” adds Gosling.
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 student numbers are purposefully small to cater for the needs of each individual student, and the aesthetics and layout are carefully considered with our students in mind.
“We’re currently working with our designers, architects and builders that have experience in developing autism-friendly schools, and 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,” concludes Gosling.
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.