Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Opening of the Brisbane Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centre, Griffith University Nathan Campus

Location: Griffith University Nathan Campus

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Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we are gathering on this morning and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

I want to start with a story about a little boy who I met last month at the Jellybeans Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centre Autism Centre across the country in Perth.

He was three years old and his parents told me he had never spoken a word.

Then after two weeks at Jellybeans he came home and sang all of ‘Baa baa black sheep’ to his parents.

For them it was nothing less than a miracle.

Suddenly there was hope.

It gave these parents the opportunity all of us want for our children – the chance for them to get the best possible start in life.

To have the early learning opportunities that every child needs.

The opportunities which can make the world of difference for the one in 160 Australian children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

This is why centres like this can be life-changing.

When I was here last year, this was just a block of land and a dream all of you shared.

Two months ago you opened your doors and already lives are being transformed.

I know that for another little boy here it has meant new confidence and independence.

Before starting at the centre he found it difficult to leave the security of his home or his mother’s side.

So there was little chance to play with other children his own age.

Now things have steadily changed.

When he first started here his mum waited while he stayed an hour.

Then it was two hours and then three.

Now, thanks to the patience and persistence of the wonderful staff and his mum, he can stay a whole day on his own.

He’s learning to interact with other children and mum is getting some much-needed time for herself.

He is just one of the hundreds of children benefiting from centres like this being opened across the country.

This is one of six autism specific centres being established around Australia.

Each of those centres will provide at least 20 places for children with autism spectrum disorders.

The Australian Government has invested more than $4 million over the next three years to AEIOU for Children with Autism and Griffith University to help them deliver individually tailored support to children.

It means centres like this can be built – staffed by professionals in early intervention providing critical services like speech and occupational therapy.

With these specialised staff, working alongside child care workers, children will be better prepared not only for primary school, but for life.

Some of them these hard working people are here today.

I’m sure all of you here would join with me to thank Diane, Jenny, and Barbara for the work they do.

Today’s opening could not be possible without the support of parents and children, the community, AEIOU and, of course, Griffith University.

It’s this partnership which makes a vital contribution to our understanding of Autism Spectrum disorders.

The University’s contribution goes beyond providing land for the centre through a peppercorn lease with AEIOU.

It is also using the centre to carry-out evidence-based research that will assess how learning tools and environments can be improved so children are given the skills necessary to transition to school.

This research, combined with research conducted by the five other autism-specific early learning centres, will help us provide the best early intervention services for children with an Autism Spectrum disorder.

Because we know that these services can make all the difference.

To all of you here today, congratulations on what you have already achieved.

This centre is testament to your determination, your dedication and your great belief in your children.