How Corrimal is leading the way for ASD families in the Illawarra

 Naomi Cotterill Sun 25 July 19


Whether you’re a family who experiences ASD first hand or have experience through the wider community, you’ll know the unique challenges it can present. It is estimated that one child is diagnosed with autism every four hours but the support and understanding so desperately needed is not always easy to find.

ASD can be a hugely misunderstood disorder and can leave parents/carers and those on the spectrum feeling isolated and alone. The desire to change and help manage the everyday life experiences and needs of people on the autism spectrum is at the core of the work being done to create Autism Friendly Communities or AFco’s. And for families in Illawarra there is great news with Corrimal being named the first autism friendly community in Australia!

Australia’s first Autism Friendly Community
The University of Wollongong, Corrimal Chamber of Commerce and ASPECT South Coast School have worked together to make Corrimal an accessible and supportive suburb for families and individuals on the spectrum. They’ve done this by partnering with local businesses, services and organisations to support them in becoming more inclusive through using a principle called ‘SERVICE’. The ‘SERVICE’ principle allows businesses of all sizes to assess their current environment and see where small changes could be made to provide a better space for those with ASD.

These small, low to no cost changes can mean the difference between a successful outing and a distressing one for a person on the autism spectrum. When a business has applied the SERVICE principle, they can apply for a Autism Friendly Badge. This badge can then be displayed to show that they not only welcome but specifically cater for those with ASD.

What this means for families
The Autism Friendly Communities project wants to make it easier for families with members on the spectrum to spend time in the community with minimal stress. The website allows families to see which businesses have earned an Autism Friendly Badge. This can make it easier to find services that cater best to your family. The first badges were presented to Corrimal RSL, Luna Café and Corrimal Library and Community Centre in April. Since then, another six businesses have joined the initiative.

Corrimal isn’t the only place where great things are happening for the ASD community. Businesses and other services all over the Illawarra are increasingly jumping onboard with providing services that cater to those on the spectrum.

Mountain Avenue Swim School in Woonona is now officially Autism Swim Approved and currently undertaking NDIS registration, while McKeon’s Swim School in Unanderra, Towradgi and at The University of Wollongong offers special needs lessons and is registered as an NDIS provider. The Autism Community Network provides opportunities for carers, families and individuals dealing with autism issues to connect for mutual support and meets at Illawarra Leagues Club on the first Thursday of each month during term time. Aspect Kids Playgroup, which meets in Albion Park Rail, is a playgroup specifically for children on the spectrum and their carers, while a new support group for parents and carers of children with ASD is starting in June in Shell Cove. Not-for-profit KidzWish, based in Shellharbour is also an excellent resource for families navigating ASD.

Other resources:

- Interchange Illawarra provides leadership, advocacy and valued services to our families dealing with disabilities.

- Child Development Institute - The Child Development Institute is dedicated to making a difference through empowering the lives of individuals, families and communities living with Neurodiversity.

- Autism Friendly Communities – information for families and businesses.

- Experiencing how challenging it is to manage the extra responsibilities of raising 'differently wired' children first hand was what inspired professional coach and local parent to two autistic children, Samantha Nuttall, to launched a support program for Parents and Carers of ASD children. The program of workshops or one to one support sessions will help you manage the challenges in a way that works for you. CLICK HERE for all the details.

- Illawarra wide disability and support services.

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