PLANS have been drawn up for a specialist centre at Buckley to teach Wrexham and Flintshire primary school children with autism.
Education chiefs describe it as an exciting development, the first of its kind in Britain, where children will receive intervention at an early stage using methods pioneered in North Wales.
Flintshire's director of Education, Children's Services and Recreation, Keith McDonogh, says the plan at Westwood CP School in Buckley represents 'a significant move in the education of very young children with autism'.
The proposed new centre should offer intensive, individualised programmes for each child which could previously be offered only in the child's home.
Flintshire County Council and Wrexham Borough Council have got together with the health authority to fund the centre, which will use a new technique pioneered by the two authorities, called ABA (Applied Behavioural Analyses).
The intensive programmes have been home-based and run for 35 hours or more per week, 48 weeks of the year, over two years. Ten children in the two counties are currently following the programme. The progression of some is said to be impressive, to the extent that those who appeared initially to be in need of a special school placement are now in a supported, mainstream setting.
Mr McDonogh says that the ABA programmes are very expensive and the LEA could not afford to offer them in their present form to all the children who would benefit. Home-based programmes also place great stress on parents. 'They do not have that respite from their children's demanding behaviour that a school placement can provide,' he said.
The new centre would mean that children could be educated with their mainstream peers and less children would have to be educated out-of-county. The centre would cater for 10 children and when open the county would cease to offer home-based ABA programmes.
The centre will cost almost £20,000 a year to run. Mr McDonogh says that the local branch of the National Autistic Society has been very supportive and it is expected that the Welsh Assembly will provide the capital costs of renovating the area required for the new centre.