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Autism Learning Centre opens in Unley


January 2018

Children with Asperger Syndrome, a form of high-functioning Autism, now have an Australian-first educational facility specifically designed to meet their needs at Unley, South Australia.

It is a pathway for them to one day become the next Bill Gates, Dan Aykroyd, Bob Dylan, Albert Einstein or TVís The Good Doctor, all of whom have Aspergerís Syndrome (AS).

The centre has been established by The Gold Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation made up of volunteers and parents with children with AS who saw an urgent need for social interaction programs which help children cope and connect with the world around them.

The Gold Foundation celebrated its milestone tenth year on Sunday, December 3, with the Official Opening of the learning centre on the site of the former Kirinari School at 18 Trimmer Terrace, Unley at 2:00pm.

The expansion of the successful model for children at the high end of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) was recognised and has been made possible through a grant from the South Australian Government.

Hundreds of children have already benefited from the social skills programs designed by experts in the field and Gold Foundation Chairperson and founder Angie Pangallo says the new facility will enable more families from across the metropolitan area to be involved and receive support.

Angie was inspired to create the unique Foundation by her now 17-year-old son, Connor, who was first diagnosed with AS when he was seven.

In Australia itís estimated one in 100 people have been diagnosed with ASD and the number keeps rising, putting pressure on health and education authorities to better manage the epidemic. Autism, once considered rare. Now it accounts for 31% of NDIS participants, the largest disability group in the scheme.

"Connor was facing challenges adapting to mainstream schooling and mixing with others. He seemed lost and there was nowhere for us to go to get help because at the time, Autism and AS especially, were still misunderstood and largely overlooked by the education system," said Angie, who was named Mitchamís Citizen of The Year in 2014 for her work.

"I didnít want my son, or other children like him falling through the cracks and never having the opportunity to realise their true potential. There was nowhere to go at the time so I formed the first pilot Social Skills Program and during that year a group of us got together at a cafť and we scribbled our ideas on a paper napkin. Thatís how the innovative model for The Gold Foundation began. We still have that paper napkin; itís framed at the entrance of the new Centre at Unley.

"We sourced specialised programs and developed the holistic model ourselves because we knew instinctively what our children needed. With the help of volunteers and the community, we then leased a building and invited families to bring their children.

"Since then we have had hundreds of boys and girls participate in our programs. The results really have been life changing for many of them and their families. Children without any friends have found a place of belonging and lifelong friendships."

Connor is a shining example of the Gold Foundationís success story. From his uncertain future as a student ten years ago, Connor has just completed a stellar Year 12 at Mercedes College, winning Academic Achievement Awards in every subject.

"I have realised that every individual with Asperger Syndrome has the same level of potential as anyone without it," Connor says.

"Life is more complex than it seems for children with Aspergerís and it takes a special group of people to understand that. This is what the Gold Foundation does for us."

"We realised a dream. It has taken a lot of hard work and dedication to get here and the results we see in the faces of the children and their families makes this so worthwhile," said Angie.


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