The services of Flinders’ acclaimed early intervention program for autistic children will expand with the new Inclusive Directions Flinders Therapy House at St Marys.
The house, which has its official opening this week, will see South Australian children living with autism and their families gain much needed and improved access to one of the State’s few evidence-based early intervention programs.
With autism diagnoses rates climbing, families and service providers are struggling to access the best support and therapy programs.
The South Australian-based not-for-profit group Inclusive Directions has taken over the management of Flinders University’s world- leading Autism Early Intervention Program, which has previously only been made available to a limited number of children as part of the University’s ongoing research.
The program is based on pioneering research by respected researcher Associate Professor Robyn Young, who will be clinical director of the Inclusive Directions Flinders Therapy House. Inclusive Directions will be supported by further research by Flinders School of Psychology PhD Anna Moffat and Associate Professor Young. who will refine existing programs and develop new programs for the house.
Flinders University first established the Autism Early Intervention Program in 2003 and has assisted an average of 25 children a year, but Inclusive Directions aims to double this number by making it more accessible.
To achieve this aim, Inclusive Directions has relocated the program from the University into the community and secured approval for families to access the program via the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Inclusive Directions Chief Executive Officer Jocelyn Graham said the house opening marked a new era of support for South Australian children living with autism and their families.
“The Flinders University-developed early intervention program is the only Applied Behavioural Analysis program of its kind in the world,” said Ms Graham.
“Current early intervention programs available elsewhere in Adelaide are simply not accessible to most families because they’re often too expensive, with costs ranging from $40,000 to $60,000. The Inclusive Directions Flinders Early Intervention Program costs $16,000 and may be fully funded by the government under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.”
Within days of arriving at Inclusive Direction’s therapy centre and early intervention program, the family of Port Pirie toddler Jace Kirby witnessed significant improvements in his communication and behaviour.
Three-year old Jace, together with his parents Rebecca and Karl and his brothers Aiden and Leo, became the first South Australian family to use the new Inclusive Directions facility.
“It was extremely emotional for us,’’ his mother Ms Blight said. “Within a few days of attending the House we could see improvements and he was saying new words and has been responding to tasks.’’
Jace was diagnosed with autism last year. His communication skills are limited, his speech incoherent and he has limited ability to make eye contact or recognise the presence of others.
Since his diagnosis, Jace has been receiving speech and occupational therapy in his home town of Port Pirie but his parents believed their son needed more intensive support. They were recommended to the Flinders Autism Early Intervention Program by another parent whose son had undertaken the program.
The Kirby family’s two-week intensive Inclusive Directions Flinders Early Intervention Program was fully funded by the NDIS.
“We’re realistic and know it’s a long road ahead but attending the program is giving us hope that Jace will be able to better engage, socialise and communicate as he gets older and makes the transition into kindy and school.
“The benefit of Inclusive Directions Flinders Early Intervention Program is that the families are empowered by being trained as therapists to maintain the program when they return home and given ongoing support for a further 18 weeks.”
Inclusive Directions Flinders Therapy House is already receiving a strong level of interest from families as word of the accessibility and affordability of the program spreads within the community in South Australia.