ACT Liberals pledge to build autism-specific school

The ACT Liberals were the first political party in the 2012 ACT election campaign to provide any specific ASD-related policy commitment. Their press release can be downloaded using the link above.

They managed to get their announcement on the front page of the Canberra Times (see ACT Liberals pledge to build autism-specific school). It says:

The Canberra Liberals will officially launch their election campaign today with a promise to build Canberra's first autism-specific school.

The policy will be part of the Liberals' campaign launch at the National Convention Centre.

The 40-place early intervention centre would provide full-time intensive programs for children aged between 2½ and six years who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

The school model is based on independent schools operating in Queensland which the Liberals say have achieved a 75 per cent success rate in getting autistic children into mainstream education.

''If elected, a Canberra Liberals government will build a school for up to 40 children with ASD aged between two-and-a-half and six years,'' Mr Seselja told The Canberra Times.

''It would have a full-time intensive learning program with a very high staff-to-child ratio of one-to-two and would have a dedicated team of speech pathologists, occupational therapists, child psychologists and early childhood teachers.''

The Queensland schools were established with seed capital from a wealthy parent and are recurrently funded through a mix of fees paid by parents, fund-raising and government funding.

Mr Seselja's policy calls for a $1.5 million capital investment to build the Canberra school, and $1 million annual recurrent funding, with fees and fund-raising to provide the rest of the school's income.

The most likely location of the school was the Woden Valley .

Gay von Ess of Autism Asperger ACT said the Liberals' policy would be a big improvement on the current programs available to autistic children in the ACT.

''Although the ACT government does provide some programs, they are fragmented, so if you're two-and-a-half you're in one program, if you're three you move into another and at school entry you move into another program,'' Ms von Ess said.

''The Liberal Party are planning something that provides continuity, in addition they're offering full time which you cannot get yet in the ACT, depending which program you go into, the maximum you can get is eight-and-half hours every week.''

Maree O'Neale, Bernardo's mother of the year, whose daughter has autism, also gave her support to the policy.

''When you've got a child with special needs, you're always running around trying to co-ordinate appointments and things so if it was all in one place, it would be fantastic,'' Ms O'Neale said.

''And as with all of these things, early intervention is the key to the best outcomes.''

The Liberals provided their media release (see below) about this pledge.