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Autism New Zealand empowers people living with ASD

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Autism New Zealand empowers people living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), their families and professionals who support them, to lead satisfying and fulfilling lives. For families and whanau, the experience of having a child diagnosed with ASD can be a time of confusion, grief and challenges. Navigating the complex and seemingly impenetrable system can compound this grief and confusion and create barriers to the early intervention that will support these children in accessing their full potential.

We have an exciting and extraordinary response to the current difficulties families and individuals face: the first Australasian Autism Resource Centre. At present, ASD assessment and diagnosis may take up to two years and may involve visits to many scattered services. This is extremely stressful for families waiting for a diagnosis, especially as research shows that early intervention gives the best opportunity for children with autism to flourish. This is equally stressful for the child or individual on the spectrum, as one of the characteristics of ASD can be a strong desire for structure, routine and familiarity.

The Autism Resource Centre (ARC) will combat this stress by providing a place for all people living with autism to access clinical diagnostic services. We will create a faster and affordable route to diagnosis, and thus to the critically important intervention therapies.

The ARC will also house practitioners of associated therapies (such as speech and language therapy), as well as our excellent education and training programmes for parents and professionals. It will be a space for support groups for people with ASD and their families, and a hub for supported employment and other autism-specific services.

The space will feature autism-friendly design, which will cater to the sensory needs of many people on the spectrum. Attention to lighting, soundproofing and accessible spaces will allow our clients to feel comfortable and supported in the centre. All of this means that children and individuals on the spectrum will have a single, calm, sympathetic destination to visit to seek support, providing the routine and predictability that many people on the spectrum require.

Creating the ARC is a move beyond equality and toward equity: practising true inclusion by giving people the tools and space they need to access the support they are entitled to.

Children and adults who have an autism spectrum disorder look the same as other people, and due to the invisible nature of their disability it can be much harder to create awareness and understanding. Thus, autism and Asperger syndrome remain relatively unknown disabilities among the general population.

Yet it is estimated that autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are approximately four times as common as cerebral palsy and 17 times as common as Down's syndrome. ASD affects approximately 1 in 66 people, approximately 65,000 New Zealanders, which is equivalent to the entire region of Otago.

At present, Autism New Zealand’s outreach coordinators work at 17 different locations nationwide, assisting families and individuals in navigating the autism journey. We see, daily, the depth of the need within the autism community, as well as the triumphs people can experience with the right support.

The autism journey can be an incredible one, but it is rarely easy. We live in a world that is not designed for neuro-divergent people, and all too often our society treats autism as a problem that needs to be fixed. We are constantly working to ensure that we instead recognise autism as a unique, valuable way of viewing the world, recognising that the greatest challenge that many people on the autism spectrum face is that neuro-typical people (those without autism) do not cope well with difference.

We want to create a community in which people are accepted for who they are and are embraced and supported in their journey towards achieving their potential. The Autism Resource Centre is an incredible step towards doing just that. We have identified the need, created the plans and own the building - now we need the support to make this incredible dream a reality.

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