In an Australasian first, Autism NZ opens support centre in Wellington

Autism New Zealand has officially opened a centre designed for supporting autistic people in Petone – the first of its kind in Australasia.

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It’s the first centre of its kind in Australasia. Source: 1 NEWS

The revamped building is the culmination of five years effort to design, fundraise and get consents for the renovation.

“Over a five-year period there's a couple of times where you think, ‘Nah, this is just getting too difficult,’ but the end goal of making a positive difference for the community was always there and that was what always kept us going,’ Autism New Zealand chief executive Dane Dougan said.

The aim is for the centre to be a one-stop shop for people with autism, he said.

Urgent support is on offer from Autism New Zealand and it’s hoped rooms will be rented out by specialists or related services.

Autism New Zealand is also planning to have diagnosis specialists on-site eventually.

Victoria University of Wellington’s Autism Clinic is based on-site, helping children learn through play in the space.

A mother of two autistic girls says it's making a big difference for her children's play activities. 

“In the past Mackenzie, in particular, was very resistant… it took months and I had to be in the room and now she’s in there right now without me and I didn’t even tell her I was wandering off,” Tabitha Harlow told 1 NEWS.

Ms Harlow said four-year-old Mackenzie particularly enjoys the 'expression room', which features sound-proofing, natural light, the ability to dim lights depending on the child’s sensory needs and a softer, textured surface on the walls and floor for play.

“When the kids are in there with a therapist they are not distracted by a bookcase on the wall that was put there for some other thing.

“They are not distracted by furniture that doesn't belong, they are able to really focus on the therapist and the therapist is the fun thing in the room and the therapist is able to control what stuff the child's interacting with,” she said.

Patron Eric Murray’s backing the project after his own experiences getting support for his autistic son.

“You’re having to go to different places or the needs aren’t there that need to be met so to be able to bring them all here and ultimately the idea is that this needs to be bigger in a year or two,” he said.

The average wait for a young child showing signs of needing extra help to access early intervention support from the Government is 101.88 days, according to the Ministry of Education’s deputy secretary sector enablement and support Katrina Casey.

The average wait time for the Wellington region’s been reduced to 117.84 days from 178 days last year.

“We can start helping people earlier and a lot of what parents want in particular and even adults is just want to connect with someone else that's been through the process,” Autism New Zealand chief executive Dane Dougan said.

Ms Casey said the area with the longest average wait time for support from the Early Intervention Service in Taranaki/Whanganui/Manawatu is an average of 153 days. 

"We know there is still more work to do on waiting times to better meet the needs of children, parents and teachers. We are pleased, however, that we are beginning to see the impact of recent investment and changes to how we deliver our services," Ms Casey said in a statement.

Autism New Zealand plans to open more centres in other parts of the country in the future, once a review of the facility’s effectiveness has been completed.