Autism Learning Centre officially opens (Issue 46, 2010)


The Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, officially launched the Victorian Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centre (VASELCC) located at La Trobe University on 2 December.

This new Centre, one of only six in Australia, draws together best practice models of learning and intervention of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The VASELCC has been operating since July, and it now caters for 32 children with ASD.

Centre Manager, Miss Jenny Reynolds says staff, children and their families at the centre have shared an ‘amazing journey together.’

‘We are celebrating how far we have come in such a short time. The last four months have been a new, exciting, and intense time for staff, children and their families. Settling in doesn’t happen overnight and the journey is still unfolding,’ Miss Reynolds said.

The Margot Prior Wing at La Trobe University was developed in partnership with the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC) at La Trobe, and the Royal Children’s Hospital. The University received A$4 million over four years to develop the VASELCC, which is located on the University’s main Melbourne campus.

The Vice-Chancellor of La Trobe University, Professor Paul Johnson, welcomed the decision by the Federal Government to fund this exciting initiative. The Centre aligns with La Trobe University’s deep commitment to communities in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.

‘The University is also deeply indebted,’ Professor Johnson commented, ‘to Mrs Olga Tennison through whose major financial contribution, the Olga Tennison Research Centre, was established in 2008 to advance knowledge of Autism Spectrum Disorders, as well as to develop and study evidence-based strategies for supporting children and families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders.’

In August, Professor Sally Rogers, American autism early intervention expert, spent two weeks training the Centre’s staff on the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM). Young children with autism have a number of developmental delays in many areas by the time they reach the toddler period, and these are the targets of treatment in the ESDM Method. The staff are now implementing this model in their work with the children.

Associate Professor Dr Cheryl Dissanayake, Director of OTARC, says that parents are excited to have their children at the Centre as the facility promises not only early intensive behavioural intervention for their children but also training on the ESDM for themselves.

‘It has been most rewarding to watch our wonderful new team of staff train with Professor Rogers; seeing the resulting changes in the children assures me that we are doing the right thing,’ Dr Dissanayake said.

‘Professor Rogers has had such an impact, she instilled incredible passion and the staff have been rewarded with the children at the Centre connecting with her methods.’ 

‘The Centre will be able to support families to move back into mainstream society and help parents return to work or study knowing that their children are being cared for in an environment that has been designed specifically for their children,’ Miss Reynolds said.