Lyrebird College wants to raise awareness and acceptance of autism

Easton (left) and Etana enjoyed making cloud dough. Picture: DONGYUN KWON

By Dongyun Kwon

Lyrebird College had a special day to raise awareness and acceptance of autism on Friday 19 April as April is the national autism acceptance month.

Teachers wore a special t-shirt symbolising acceptance of autism and students took part in fun activities playing with colours.

Principal Julie Kugler said it’s part of Lyrebird College’s mission and ethos to continue to grow awareness of autism and to promote acceptance in the local community and wider community.

“We often call this an awareness and celebration, however, it’s really about acceptance and understanding from the community that the children we work with at Lyrebird College do have a profound level of autism and that has a lot of impact on their families and limit the children’s ability to access quality education,” she said.

“We really need to understand that it’s called a spectrum for a reason and we have to be respectful of all levels of autism.

“There’s a growing awareness but people still have a misguided belief that autism comes with a superpower or gift in a certain area. I’m sure all children have gifts in certain areas and all people do have their own personal gifts.”

Lyrebird College behaviour support specialist and teacher Sharryn Veto said the school had a whole range of activities to suit all of the kids’ interests and needs.

“It’s always a colour theme for autism awareness as different colours symbolise accepting diversity, so we have everything around colour. We have lots of sensory activities like coloured shaving cream, cloud dough, dot painting and craft activities,” she said.

“We’ve come a long way in terms of as a society how much we know about autism, the incidence of autism in the population.

“But we have a long way to go in creating acceptance and also to create the understanding that the autism, that people see and that is visible in the community, isn’t necessarily representative of the entire autistic community, so part of our work is to show the whole range on the spectrum.”

Lyrebird College is currently the only autism-specific school in the Yarra Valley.

Ms Kugler said the college needs more help from the local community.

“We always welcome help from the community. Lyrebird College was built on philanthropic donations and although we do get some fundings from the government, it requires a lot more money than we actually received,’ she said.

“We’re always actively promoting our school and looking for philanthropic partners to help us on our mission and to give the opportunity for education to a wider and larger range of students and families.

“The philanthropic funding goes largely to providing human resources within the school setting. We’ve been very successful in gaining grants through the Victorian independent school building grant authority and we’ve been able to get a lot of equipment from lots of other kind donors who have been philanthropic partners.”

Lyrebird College wants to promote the beautiful personalities that its students have and their ability to become contributing members of society.

Ms Veto said her students are “engaging, funny, warm and affectionate”.

“Part of why we’re celebrating is because families of kids with this level of disability hear bad news stories all the time, so they get a really gut-wrenching diagnosis. They’re dealing with behaviours at home, at school and in their community, and it’s really isolating,” she said.

“But this is a chance to actually acknowledge that, with all these challenges that these kids face, there are wonderful things about them and they can learn.

“We’re about to send one of our oldest students off out into the workplace later this year, which at this level of disability is so super exciting, and it shows how much worth our kids have despite their disabilities.”