Autism hub to provide early intervention

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Families will be able to access autism-specific early intervention in the ACT from 2021 with a purpose-built facility being constructed in Garran.

AEIOU CEO Alan Smith with a render of the AEIOU Garran Centre for Autism, which is due to open in Canberra in early 2021. Photo: Kerrie Brewer.

The AEIOU Garran Centre for Autism will be owned and operated by AEIOU Foundation and marks the Foundation’s entry into the ACT.

The centre is made possible with $3.5 million capital funding from the John James Foundation and, once complete, will deliver early intervention for up to 40 children per year and capacity for research and training.

John James Foundation CEO Joe Roff said that discussion with the AEIOU Foundation was initiated two years ago, with a goal to bring AEIOU’s expertise to Canberra for the benefit of the community.

“Canberra families have previously relocated to Queensland to access these services. Families will now be able to stay close to family and friends, with the autism-specific support they need,” Mr Roff said.

One such family was the Meilaks. Brian Meilak’s son Zachary was diagnosed with autism when he was four. Mr Meilak said when the National Disability Insurance Scheme arrived in the ACT, a lot of services were shut down or reduced, prompting them to look at other options.

It resulted in the family being separated for a year in 2015 as Mr Meilak stayed in Canberra with his daughter Lily while his wife Katy and Zachary went to Brisbane to access autism services with AEIOU.

Mr Meilak said his son “would be a different child if he didn’t go to AEIOU” as the centre provided help with toilet training, speech, behaviour and more.

“I’m very happy that we did that because as a parent if you had a decision to do something … it was one regret I didn’t want to have.”

Zachary is now in Year 3 at Bonython Primary, in a learning support unit, and is starting to go to mainstream classes.

AEIOU CEO Alan Smith said early intervention “offers hope, unlocks potential and opens up possibilities for families and their young children at a critical time of their life”.

A sod turning event was held on Wednesday 26 February marking the start of construction.

The centre will feature four therapy rooms, dedicated motor skills development space, four activity rooms, indoor and outdoor play areas, and on-site parking. It will cater for children aged between two and six years who will be supported by a specialist team comprised of Speech Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Behavioural Therapists and Early Childhood Educators.

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