A sharp rise in the number of Illawarra students with autism and behavioural disorders has led to the creation of a dedicated education centre at Oak Flats High School.
Opened yesterday, the Jamberoo Centre already houses three classes for students with autism and one for students with emotional disturbances.
According to head teacher Jo Opie, it will easily fill another autism class next year.
"The number of students with autism is still growing and we don't know why, but there are more and more children with autism now in society, so this centre has been created in response to a growing need," Ms Opie said.
Last year, Department of Education figures showed there were more than 8400 students with autism in NSW public schools, four times higher than in 2003.
In the same period the number of children with mental health disorders, including serious behavioural disorders, almost doubled to 8000 students.
Oak Flats High's autism and emotional disturbance classes are funded according to need by the NSW Department of Education, but the decision to combine them to create a dedicated centre was made by students and teachers at the school.
The Wadi Wadi word for stars - jamberoo - was chosen for the name of the centre because it represents a guiding light and a sense of achievement.
"We wanted to celebrate these students and make them a major part of our school - almost like a faculty of their own - because students of all learning abilities are so important to our school culture," principal Keiran Spillane said.
Ms Opie said combining the classes into one centre allowed specialist teachers to combine their resources and better cater to their students' complex needs.
"Having these students and teachers together in the one centre means we can share the resources and have individual programs for each of the students at the same time," she said.
"We also have access to a mainstream school and that's really important for the kids in the Jamberoo Centre because it allows for integration."