SA gets its first school for autistic students

Dorothy Vasilakis with her autistic son Christiaan Dramisino at Ashford Special School earlier this year. Picture: Calum Robertson Source: News Corp Australia

Treetop Autism Specific School will open for 45 students in Ashford in 2015

A SCHOOL for students with autism spectrum disorders will open in South Australia in 2015 following a campaign by parents.

Treetop Autism Specific School will cater for 45 students in years reception to nine.

It will be based in Ashford, on the current site of the Ashford special school, which is relocating to Plympton.

The Advertiser has covered the campaign by mother of two Fiora Christou and other parents with autistic children for such a school since last year.

South Australia is the only state without a specialised education facility for students with the developmental disability.

Treetop board chairman John Dagas said students with autism would not spend their entire schooling life there.

Instead, they would "opt in and out" as they needed extra support, before hopefully returning to a mainstream school, he said.

Mr Dagas said 45 places would not be enough to meet demand initially but he hoped that would grow over time.

Ms Christou - whose son Andreas, 11, has autism and attends a special school - said families of about 550 students had indicated they would like their children to attend the school.

"There's obviously a need for a specialised education service that looks at the child as an individual ... and caters for the way that they need to be taught," she said.

"Within a mainstream school they don't have the resources, the time nor the money nor the experience in teaching children with autism.

"We just want to give everybody another choice."

The State Government is providing the school site at low rent and a $100,000 grant to help establish the school.

Anglicare is also working with Treetop to establish the new school.

UniSA will partner with the school to train more special education teachers.

In the lead-up to the March 2010 election the Liberal Opposition pledged to establish an autism specific school with a capacity of about 1000 students.

Education Minister Jennifer Rankine today said that size school would be unworkable.

Opposition education spokesman David Pisoni said the government had "backflipped" on its previous position that autistic children should not be "institutionalised" in autism specific schools.

"The State Liberals have always been supportive of the establishment of a specialised autism school," he said.

"For many years, the Weatherill Labor Government has refused to respond to these needs."

Premier Jay Weatherill said today's announcement was "responding to parent demand for choice".

The Ashford Special School will relocate to the old William Light R-12 School site in Plympton, where it will be renamed Errington Special Education Centre.

The Government says construction of the $9.5 million centre is due to be completed "soon".

It will cater for 105 Reception to Year 12 students with special needs.


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