Thanks to the University of Newcastle Special Education Centre, when five-year-old Hamish McKenna starts ‘big school’ in 2009, he will do so confidently and happily. What is more, his parents will say goodbye to him knowing he is as equipped for the ups and downs of school life as any of his peers.
It has not always been an easy road for Hamish, who was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of four. Through the University of Newcastle Special Education Centre’s Early Childhood Intervention Program, he has had the support and assistance to make his transition to school as smooth as possible.
The Centre runs the program for children aged from birth to six. Designed to provide assistance to families and children who have a disability or are at risk of developmental problems, the program has access to the latest research and resources of the Special Education Centre and the University of Newcastle.
Ongoing family education and support is provided by staff including specialist teachers, speech therapists, occupational therapists and music teachers. Children attend a number of sessions a week, with support also provided through family workers, an Aboriginal liaison officer, early childhood intervention workers and outreach support staff.
Hamish’s father, Greg McKenna, said his son’s attendance at the Centre had been a life-changing experience for the whole family.
"The Centre ran a course for the families of children with a recent diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. The course taught us how Hamish thinks and how to best handle his behaviour," McKenna said.
"The Centre was fundamental to me understanding my little boy. Attending the course made me a better dad which, in turn, has made life for Hamish much easier."
McKenna said he was so grateful to the Centre for the life-changing strategies and support it had given his family, he wanted to become part of it by giving something back. As a consequence, he is now the President of Firstchance, the not-for-profit association of parents and friends of the Special Education Centre. University of Newcastle Vice-Chancellor Professor Nicholas Saunders is Patron of Firstchance.
Recognising the family unit as the most important influence on a child, Firstchance helps fund programs to assist families.
It offers family-centred programs such as early childhood intervention, school- age family support, training and skill building, occupational and speech therapy support, family counselling, case management, group programs and professional development.
Find out more about the Centre for Special Education and Disability Studies