School for Special Children – Eaton College, Towsville

The journey of Eaton College began with an interview. A family came to Calvary Christian College looking for the right school for their autistic son, however, in the end, they decided that the College was not able to meet their son’s learning needs. This had a profound and lasting impact on the Principal, Steve Downes, who believes that every family should have access to a quality education facility for their children. This meeting inspired the Principal and the College Board to develop Eaton College to cater for the educational needs of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) students.

ASD is a neurodevelopmental condition, which affects the brain’s growth and development. It is a lifelong condition, with symptoms that appear in early childhood. ASD is an all-encompassing term used to describe the following pervasive developmental disorders as recognised by the Commonwealth Government: Autistic Disorder; Retts Disorder; Childhood Disintegrative Disorder; Asperger’s Disorder; and Pervasive Development Disorder Not Otherwise Specified including Atypical Autism.

No two children will necessarily present the same autistic behaviours. Each child with ASD will present individual characteristics on the spectrum. Professor Stephen Shore states, ‘If you’ve met one person on the autism spectrum, you’ve met one person on the spectrum’. In other words, every child is different.

School is an important social environment where children learn to interact with their peers – a task people diagnosed with autism generally find difficult. An appropriate school environment can provide opportunities to develop important social and life skills; however, many children with autism need support throughout their education and beyond.

Eaton College will exist to offer autism-friendly education to children on the autism spectrum across Years 1-10 who cannot yet successfully access education in a mainstream setting. The vision for Eaton College is to develop the first specialised facilities, in Townsville, designed to meet the unique needs and learning environments for students on the Autism spectrum in a private school setting.

Stage One of the Master Plan will begin construction in March 2022 and incorporates; Two Classroom “Pods”, Administration facilities, covered outdoor learning area as well as shaded and outdoor playground spaces. The overarching design philosophy for the College was one of soft natural tones, robust materials and softening of the angular building forms with considered use of curves in ceilings, screens and roof edges.

Each classroom Pod will provide two General Learning Area (GLA) classrooms, a Library/withdrawal area, dedicated toilet facilities and covered verandas. The Pods are linked by covered walkways that connect to the administration building and the covered play and outdoor learning areas. Providing covered links between buildings is an integral part of Fulton Trotter’s design philosophy and particularly important in North Queensland where the wet season can be a bit on the warm side and quite wet, as the name suggests. The control of both artificial and natural lighting as well as suitable acoustic treatment were critical to the success of the teaching spaces as students with ASD can have difficulties with too many stimuli at once.

The Administration building will provide the backbone of the master plan, with consecutive stages to be built on the east and the west. The central location of the administration will allow equal access for both staff and students and a secure “front door” to the College which is crucial for autism-friendly education.

In working with the Landscape Architect firm, Design Instincts, the concept of Zones of Regulation (Kuypers 2011) was incorporated into the covered and outdoor play areas. The variety, type and location of play areas will provide students with opportunities to learn and foster self-regulation and emotional control. The shaded playground and outdoor learning area will provide a safe but exploratory space for the students to engage in active play and ignite their imagination. These spaces will create a zone for self-expression and freedom from the often-intense classroom environment. The inclusion of an undercover basketball half court allows students to engage in authentic sporting activities in a familiar environment where they feel safe and secure while benefiting from the inherit qualities that sport gives to a child’s learning journey – these being competition, winning with humility, losing with grace, sharing, communication and team work.

Eaton College is intended to commence in 2023 with the first cohort of 20 students. We have found the development of Eaton College a fascinating and rewarding process and look forward to seeing how the college will grow and change to provide autism-friendly education to children in Townsville.

 

 

Renders: Fulton Trotter Architects

 

Reference: Kuypers, L 2011,  The Zones of Regulation, Think Social Publishing, United States