Autism funds needed

Autism funds needed

GUY and Dawn Formica know what it's like to make sacrifices for a loved one.

Ever since their daughter Felicity was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) when she was two, their top priority has been making sure she was equipped with the relevant skills to start school.

She has seen speech and occupational therapists, undergone costly applied behaviour intervention (ABI), attended preschool at Narwee, and special schools at Punchbowl and Arncliffe, all before she turned 6 last November.

But when it came to finding a full-time school for Felicity, their preferred option was an Aspect School — an autism-specific school run by non-profit organisation Autism Spectrum Australia.

The schools help children aged four to 16 gain independence. There are eight schools across NSW that cater to 850 students.

Felicity had been on a waiting list for the Kirrawee and Peakhurst campuses since May 2011, following a recommendation from a specialist.

So Guy, 40, an electrical engineer, and Dawn, 38, a full-time mum and carer, decided to move from Hurstville and take up a spot at a south coast Aspect School in February.

"We had to find a place to live, pay for moving costs and we now pay rent," Mrs Formica said.

"We haven't found tenants for our place at Hurstville yet and Guy is rarely home now because he has to commute to Sydney for work. After a month we've noticed that Felicity is crying less and the school has shown us what plans have been set for the next couple of terms that make us feel promising.

"[But] all our family and friends live in the St George region and Felicity has less contact now with her only friends, her two cousins." Felicity is still on a waiting list for the Peakhurst and Kirrawee campuses.

Aspect South East Sydney School supports 132 students from Vaucluse to East Hills and down to Sutherland Shire.

"Students who are eligible but for whom a place is not available, are placed on a wait list," Aspect South East Sydney School principal Rowena Perritt said.

"The numbers of students waiting for an Aspect school placement varies from school to school and even over time within a school from term to term."

Aspect Schools are funded in part by the NSW Department of Education and Communities but rely on sponsors to run the educational services.

The Formicas approached Oatley MP Mark Coure before their move to ask for help to build more Autism-specific schools to benefit families on the long waiting lists.

"Even if the government has little resources, they could provide more funding to Aspect so they can set up such schools in a small section of a mainstream school," Mrs Formica said.

Mr Coure has been campaigning to secure more funding for schools across the state and recently partnered with Lugarno Lions Club, who have taken up the fund-raising challenge.

"I've been fighting for more funding and have taken it up with the Minister for Disability Services, Andrew Constance," Mr Coure said.

"This is a major issue across Australia and I'd like to see in my term, more assistance given to families who have members with autism."