Autism New Zealand’s Autism Resource Centre – an initiative supported by the IHC Foundation – is a calm space in the middle of Petone’s light industrial zone, handy to free parking, 15 minutes from Wellington city and with easy access by bus and train from the Hutt Valley, Porirua and the Kāpiti Coast.
The autism-friendly blue and green colour-coded spaces guide adults one way and children another way through the meeting spaces and play spaces. Rooms have lights that can be dimmed, walls and floors that absorb sound, and spaces designed to make people feel safe.
The multi-million-dollar project, paid for by fundraising, has been five years in the making. Autism New Zealand purchased the warehouse at the end of 2014 and started the redevelopment in April last year. The IHC Foundation contributed $113,100 to the development of the centre.
Autism New Zealand Chief Executive Dane Dougan says families want a place where clinical diagnostic and support services can be linked, instead of the fragmented support on offer.
Victoria University of Wellington already runs its Early Start Denver Model early intervention clinics from the centre – this programme is also funded by the IHC Foundation – and respite and residential services provider Spectrum Care is based there too.
Dane says the plan is that a family will get a diagnosis at the centre and then be able to access support and intervention services. “The goal here is to have the therapists working together,” he says.
Some of the therapy rooms have yet to be tenanted, and Dane says he envisages that the spaces will be used for speech/language therapy, diagnosis and post-diagnosis support, counselling, and occupational and behavioural therapy.
“The average age of diagnosis is six and that is not acceptable. Early intervention is best.”
Autism New Zealand is based at the centre, along with its Research and Advocacy Advisor Larah van der Meer. Larah is carrying out research in partnership with New Zealand and Australian-based colleagues through the Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism. Her goal is early identification and diagnosis of autism and early support.
Larah has been conducting surveys among adults with autism, and carers and health professionals involved in diagnosis across the public and private systems, looking at the age that diagnosis is occurring and evaluating diagnostic processes and satisfaction with the process as well as the support received after diagnosis.
Her research is designed to show what is working well and where the needs are. The aim is for this research to help inform not only the development of services within the Autism Resource Centre but also autism diagnostic and support systems across New Zealand.
Photo caption: Open day – (from left) Wolfgang, Eden, Nani and Destiny Fruean join the crowds at the Autism Resource Centre.
This story was published in Community Moves. The magazine is posted free to all IHC members.