The Hunter's first high school tailored for children with autism is being built

Meg Francis

The Hunter’s first high school tailored for children with autism is anticipated to open its doors early next year.

For prominent developer Hilton Grugeon, the new facility will fill the gap for older students with autism in the Hunter region.

Mr Grugeon was one of the driving forces in establishing the Thornton-based Hunter Aspect School (primary) in 2011 – donating land, labour and building materials. 

“It became obvious that there were a number of pupils who won’t be able to transition, and we just can’t leave them out there in limbo,” he said. 

“We had hoped we would be able to transition most of them so we now need the high school facility.”

The Hunter school caters for more than 140 students from across the Hunter, Central Coast and Far North Coast regions of NSW. 

The school also conducts a range of satellite classes located in Cardiff, Belmont, Waratah West, Tarro, Abermain and Port Macquarie. 

“This is the only specialist autistic school in the region,” Mr Grugeon said.  

“And this is the biggest Aspect school in the country when you take into account all the satellite classes.”

The new high school will open in term one next year with two classrooms and 12 students, and plans to open an additional four classrooms by 2020. “It means students who are not engaged at their fullest potential will have an opportunity to have a really tailored program where they can learn at their best,” principal Lara Cheney said. 

“We will be delivering the NSW curriculum … but we do look at incorporating our students’ strengths and interest into the program, and what skills they need to have the most successful and meaningful life after school.”

Ms Cheney added the school also hoped to build a horticultural centre, industrial kitchen, technology centre, outdoor gym and cafe.  

Ms Cheney said the school would welcome donations of funding, equipment, materials or even trades to “build a more inclusive future for our many students”. 

“These type of facilities provide students with the skills necessary to move more confidently into adult life,” she said.

“It’s not just about high school. We want to work with young people on the autism spectrum to give them the best opportunity to live a positive and meaningful adult life post school.

“We have been extremely lucky to have the support of some local businesses to build stage of our new high school, but now we are seeking further funding support to complete our vision.”

The school enrols children aged from three years and 10 months and from across the areas of Hunter Valley, Newcastle and Lake Macquarie. 

“We are moving our middle school aged students over to the new facility which will provide more opportunities to enrol students in the primary school,” Ms Cheney said.

Contact the Hunter Aspect School on 49225900.