Education for people with disability
We’re all entitled to receive an education. Yet, for children on the spectrum, it seems to be a constant struggle due to the lack of understanding throughout our education system in regards to how to teach children with disability.
The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability recently spent a week reviewing barriers to accessing a safe, quality and inclusive school education.
Many of the stories that were provided as evidence to the hearing resonated with me. There were stories of schools ‘gatekeeping enrolments’, something I remember vividly when I was looking at primary schools for my son who at the time did not have a diagnosis. I remember visiting a school and all was well until I mentioned that my child was experiencing some issues with socialisation and we were currently accessing him for autism. As soon as that was mentioned, we were all but turned away from the school, with the principal telling us about zoning issues, which I knew straight away meant that he didn’t want a child like mine in his school!
Many stories heard by the Royal Commission referred to exclusion from activities and suspension and expulsion with one boy with autism being suspended from a NSW public school seven times over 13 months. I’ve never added up all of the suspensions that my son has had over the years, but I think we’d be easily on par with that figure.
Another story was about a boy with severe autism and ADHD, at one school he too exhibited violent behaviour and was suspended multiple times before being expelled.
Then there’s the story from Maria who said she had a teacher who refused to believe that autism existed, saying that she just needed to be disciplined. How many times have I heard that in my life? Far too many to count, that’s for sure.
The problem lies not with the student, it lies with the disability training that the teachers receive, or lack thereof. And not just the teachers, it’s the principals who ultimately make the call about what disciplinary action the child will receive for their behaviour.
What our education department needs to understand is that these children learn differently. You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole. You can try and force it to go that way, but at the end of the day that peg won’t fit. In trying to make the beg fit you’ve left it chipped, and out of shape and worse for wear. Had you tried a different approach to adapt to the shape of the peg, you would have ended up with a much better result for everyone involved.
We have to adapt the education system to understand and appreciate all children for their abilities. We have to provide funding and support to those who need extra help. We need to have positive behaviour plans in place to support students to achieve and celebrate their achievements rather than berate them for being ‘naughty’ when most of the time they don’t even understand what they have done wrong.
Autism is, for the most part, an invisible disability. There’s no wheelchair, white cane or prosthetic limb which makes it obvious to the observer that a disability exists. As such, from my experience teachers and principals seem to focus on the child’s behaviour without considering, what lead them to demonstrating that behaviour and why. The disciplinary rule book then says ‘violent behaviour of such a nature requires x amount of days suspension.’ And that’s it. Job done. Another suspension because that’s what the book says!
Reading the Royal Commissions accounts of how these children and their families have been treated by the education system makes me upset and disappointed in a system that has failed our children. It has demonstrated to me that my journey has been similar to so many others who are raising children on the spectrum. Now, finally, our voices are being heard, someone is actually listening. It is time for change, and through our voices we can help to create that change.
SASI Guest Parent Blogger
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