Autism funding to help families

Mum and artist Melanie Jai with son Miller, who has autism spectrum disorder, and daughter India at the opening of her exhibition.
Mum and artist Melanie Jai with son Miller, who has autism spectrum disorder, and daughter India at the opening of her exhibition. Katrina Elliot

A CENTRE offering assistance and therapy for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder will start helping Gladstone families almost immediately thanks to new funding.

Autism Queensland program manager Valerie Preston said the centre would offer family and group-based early intervention programs for children aged under six.

“We've been given funding from Disability Services under the Helping Children with Autism program to open two new regional centres, one in Gladstone and one in Mackay,” Ms Preston said.

“We are fortunate in Gladstone that until we secure suitable premises for the centre, we can already work from our Rockhampton office with dedicated Gladstone staff.

“They are already contacting families and working on outreach programs.”

Ms Preston said she was already looking for suitable premises for a centre in Gladstone, which would ultimately host group programs not unlike a specialised kindergarten offering access to allied health services and a pathway for pre-school age children with autism to transition to school.

The number of diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder have risen markedly over the past decades, Ms Preston said. “There's a bit of a debate about why it appears that there are more diagnoses of autism appearing than ever before,” she said. “There's a number of theories about that but I think the main reason is that we have better diagnostic techniques than we did before, which enable us to help younger children sooner.”

She said the changing face of learning in schools had meant that autistic-like behaviour was identified earlier in schools.

“In the past, these children probably didn't go to school at all, or school was so rigid with lots of fixed rules and routines, which is quite a comfortable environment for many children with autism,” Ms Preston said.

“Now with child-based education and a lot of work being done in social groups it becomes clearer a lot sooner which children are not coping.

Ms Preston said Autism Queensland was excited and pleased to receive the funding for the new centres in Gladstone and Mackay.

Families affected by autism in Gladstone are encouraged to contact Autism Queensland about the new centre.

Connecting families with support

For Mareika Holmes, the opening of an Autism Queensland centre in Gladstone will be a “fabulous” development for the region.

Two of Mrs Holmes’ children, aged 15 and 13, have autism and she is the secretary of the Gladstone Area Autism Support Group.

She frequently helps families whose child is newly diagnosed.

“I’ve just had a telephone call from a family in crisis.

"I try to give them some kind of hope and direction, but I’m just an ordinary mum with an ordinary family and I can only share my experience,” she said.

Mrs Holmes said finding assistance could be a full-time job.

“I’m a 100% on the job, full-time carer for them.

"I’ve had to source funding, apply for assistance from different agencies, chase doctors from out of town.

"A centre would be great because it would connect families with the support they need,” she said.

Local artist Melanie Jai, whose son Miller, 10, has autism spectrum disorder, agrees.

“We’ve always needed to seek specialist care in the major metropolitan centres.

"Aside from being a major emotional and financial burden on the families, all that travelling is not good for a child with ASD.

"They thrive on stability and routine,” she said.

“It’s amazing news.”

Topics:  families funding gladstone

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