Work is moving ahead on a new autism centre in Canberra, which will help and teach 40 children a year.
The first sod was turned on the centre in Garran in February and it is now taking interest in enrolments, with an expected open date on July 1, 2021.
While the build was due to begin earlier this year, COVID-19 and associated disruptions have seen some delays. Construction ultimately started late last month.
The $3.5 million purpose-built centre is being bankrolled by the not-for-profit John James Foundation, Canberra's largest medical charity, which uses funds from the $100 million sale in 2018 of the Calvary John James Hospital and other assets for philanthropic causes. The lease on the land for the centre in Garran was gifted by the ACT government.
The autism hub will be owned and operated privately by the AEIOU Foundation.
The centre will cater for children with autism aged between two and six years old, who will be supported by a specialist team comprised of speech pathologists, occupational therapists, behavioural therapists and early childhood educators, all in the one location.
It maintains that effective early intervention gives children with autism the best chance to reach their potential, fostering independence, confidence, and inclusion.
The centre will also have capacity for research and training.
Without their own local centre, Canberra families have been travelling to use AEIOU services in Queensland, often meaning one parent has to go interstate with their child, separating the family unit.
The local AEIOU centre has also enlisted the support of a great Canberra institution, Marymead, which has been caring for children, young people and their families since 1967.
In 2016, Autism Asperger ACT merged with Marymead to become the Marymead Autism Centre. It offers a raft of support to people on the autism spectrum and their families, with services including referrals, NDIS co-ordination, social groups and a reference library.
AEIOU chief executive officer Alan Smith said the centre would support families across the greater Canberra region.
"We've had a fair bit of interest from the community. Our wait list is growing, which is an encouraging sign for us," he said.
"It's very early days for us. We've only just broken ground and we've only in recent times started to promote that we're coming and what's coming.
"Certainly with the other autism provider we're linked with, Marymead, there is a fair degree of excitement about us being able to complement what they do around the capacity-building side and us being able to offer the intense early intervention.
"So, I think that partnership is going to grow and evolve and develop over time and it's just wonderful having them on board."
Mr Smith also paid tribute to the John James Foundation, which was established in 2006 with the aim of becoming the premier charitable health organisation in the ACT. It is now the biggest medical charity in Canberra in terms of its capacity to donate.
"None of this would have been possible without the wonderful partnership with John James," he said.
"Their commitment to the ACT community, to assist in bringing these essential services to Canberra ... there needs to be an acknowledgement of what they are achieving. Not just specifically for us but for the broader Canberra community."
Mr Smith said he had also been in talks with the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
"[It] is critical for them to understand our type of service and how these children are going to need to be supported. That's a journey as well," he said.
"The other big challenge will be filling all the roles in the ACT, the specialist staff, therapists and so on. We know that's going to be challenging and we're going to give ourselves enough time to find the right staff and train them appropriately.
"It's building blocks at the moment but we're getting there slowly."