A Port Stephens not-for-profit charitable organisation is partnering with a wheelchair friendly tourism resort in the heart of the Bay to open up the area's first autism respite centre.
Autism Action, founded by Nelson Bay businessman Les Merrett and wife Judy who have two children on the spectrum, has joined forces with the Oasis Wellness Centre at One Mile with the aim of providing accommodation and specialist care for people with a disability and their families.
Mr Merrett said that the organisation was seeking expressions of interest from people requiring respite, locally-based disability service providers, such as therapists and counsellors, wanting to get involved in the new venture.
"For nearly 20 years we have been doing respite/short term accommodation for people with disabilities in Port Stephens that had their own carer or came with their family," Mr Merrett said.
"Our aim with the Oasis centre is to offer a fully supported respite service, using the NDIS funding, that is tailored to the needs of those with autism or a disability. This could involve a family holiday where a support worker may be required to assist for a few hours a day, or respite on an ongoing basis, whether that be weekly, fortnightly or monthly."
Mr Merrett said that the wheelchair-friendly One Mile Beach resort - nestled in more than two hectares of melaleuca rainforest and sub-tropical gardens complete with a central billabong and just minutes from the beach - was ready-made for respite care.
Purchased by Mark and Cherrie McDougall more than 10 years ago, the Oasis centre has been running health and wellbeing retreats for the past two years.
"The disability respite aspect would make an excellent addition to the existing retreats and this is another way for us to provide health support to the community," Mr McDougall said.
Oasis (formerly O'Carrolyn's resort), which includes nine self-contained cabins accommodating up to eight people in each, was developed to provide a tranquil and safe environment for visitors to refresh, recharge and reconnect with a range of holistic services.
There are more than six treatment rooms, in addition to a flotation tank and infra-red sauna.
Rhiannon Crispe, a leading Port Stephens occupational therapist (OT) who works regularly with children with autism, described the centre as "a place like no other".
"Imagine entering a tranquil environment, where bush meets beach and where nature play is encouraged," she said.
"Imagine a place where people with autism [or other disabilities] can be themselves without fear of judgement and get the support they deserve to confidently accomplish everyday living skills, no matter how big or small.
"Imagine a place where therapists come together to support the unique needs of a family. There is such a need for this and parents everywhere have been crying out for such support."
As an OT, Ms Crispe said that she looked forward to helping individuals with participating in their meaningful occupations.
"There will also be speech therapists, psychologists, pediatricians and other valued team members."
Autism and other such disabilities are not something to be feared or feel shame about. It is a neurological difference that impacts the way a person sees and interacts with the world.
The group said they hoped to be doing assisted living in addition to respite in the near future, and this would require further capital and there was an investment opportunity for investors, starting from $25,000.