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(Australia) First "autism-specific high school" opens; program serves 1150 students

Oct 12, 2019, New Castle Herald: Hunter's first autism-specific high school offers hope to students and their families …Today, Barnsley-raised Cheney is executive principal of Aspect Hunter School in Thornton and the Aspect Central Coast school. The Hunter school has 168 students, including its satellite classrooms, and the Central Coast about 140. The two independent campuses are part of not-for-profit group Autism Spectrum Australia's nine schools, which have a total of about 1150 students. Notwithstanding the holiday period, Cheney is showing Weekender the campus of Aspect Hunter's new high school - the first autism-specific high school in the Hunter. Opened in January, it currently has 11 students enrolled, with more joining in 2020. Aspect Hunter School's primary school was founded in Charlestown in 1977 before moving to Shortland Public and Gateshead…. "We wanted this space to be different to the primary school - for students to share space with staff, to feel more like a high school and to learn skills to support independence," she says. Further along a path are six "learning centres", or classrooms, each equipped with everything from visual screens to sensory resources including swings and hammocks…. To be eligible for Hunter Aspect School, students require a diagnosis of autism. "They are all on the spectrum and have individual needs and sometimes have other diagnosis like ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder], anxiety disorders," Cheney says. Each student has an individual plan including four to six goals set by parents and Aspect's specialist teachers in consultation with the child's therapists. At the new high school, two classrooms remain empty…. With 74 pupils enrolled at campus, Aspect Hunter has a wait list of about 40 students under the age of eight. Each primary class has six pupils with one teacher and a teacher's aide. In high school, classes have two teachers and one aide. It costs students $5700 per year to attend Aspect Hunter. It is a registered provider under the National Disability Insurance Scheme, however parents cannot use NDIS funding toward fees…. Aspect has one of the world's largest education programs for children on the spectrum, with its own research team of eight staff in Sydney…. Cheney describes the results of Aspect's first high school year as remarkable - particularly when considering eight of the initial 14 children were being home-schooled…. In 2018, Autism Spectrum Australia revised its autism prevalence rates from 1 in 100 to an estimated 1 in 70 people in Australia on the autism spectrum. This led to an increase of 40 per cent in prevalence, with about 353,880 people nation-wide formally diagnosed on the spectrum. The organisation attributes the increase to changes in diagnostic criteria and new national and international research. Cheney says most people know someone on the spectrum, adding it is "fantastic" there are more options now for families living with autism. "When I first started with Aspect, parents were desperate to get in, but now there are local schools doing a fantastic job," she says….


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