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Support needed all year round

Autism Awareness Month has drawn to a close, but local advocates say discussions and education around how to look after those with the neurological condition, need to continue.

New Zealand’s third edition of the ‘Living Autism Guideline’ – the first ‘living’ guideline to exist in the world – was released last year.

Autism New Zealand spokesperson Larah van der Meer said the most recent updates have mainly involved terminology to reflect autistic preferences and understanding from a Te Ao Maori perspective.

“In terms of content, there were small changes to recommendations and a new good point added in about ethical practice in supporting autistic people.”

While the guideline serves as an effective tool used in supporting individuals and their families, a lack of resources often makes it difficult to carry out recommendations.

Van der Meer said even with an up-to-date guideline on how to best support autistic people, there’s difficulty in translating guideline recommendations to real-life services.

“On a general level across New Zealand, it can be hard to access services,” she said.

“It’s been a bit of an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff situation rather than proactive support.”

In order to properly implement the guideline recommendations, van der Meer said there needs to be more funding and upskilling of the workforce.

Sue Partridge – a teacher from Whare Awhina, Wairarapa College’s Special Learning Centre – said while a guideline is a good starting point, every situation involving a child on the autism spectrum is different.

“Guidelines are brilliant but generalised,” she noted.

“You need to look at children’s needs on an individual basis – their needs and their family’s needs.”

Partridge confirmed that limited funding and resources influence the level of care that can be provided, and sometimes it is a case of doing the best they could with what they had.

“As the years have gone by, the funding has gotten better. But it always comes down to money, and it’s not realistic to have unlimited funds.”

Wairarapa College qualifies for funding from the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme [ORS], which goes towards students who need specialist support.

Partridge said the criteria changed last year, and the bar for qualifying for funding has been raised.

“Things won’t change for the kids already here with funding,” she said.

“But it means for kids coming in and receiving new diagnoses will find it more difficult to get adequate help.”

Last year, Stuff reported more than a third of students who applied for ORS funding each year were rejected.

Currently, Whare Awhina has 22 students, the majority of whom have some form of autism.

The students receive learning support from two full-time teachers, one part-time teacher, and 10 teacher aides who work various hours.

Partridge said the students from Whare Awhina also have massive support from the outside Wairarapa community.

“In a community like this, even if they don’t have some of the resources that are available in bigger cities, our kids have the benefit of the community knowing them,” she said.

“Everyone knows our kids in town. When you take them out, there’s always somebody out there who knows them and talks to them – it’s that kind of support.”

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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