Special needs go unmet

FUNDING INADEQUATE: Emma and Adam Taylor with Miller, 7, who has learning difficulties. Picture: Grant Wells.SCHOOL overwhelms Wynyard six-year-old Indiana King with noises and sights that wouldn’t trouble other children.

Indiana, who has autism spectrum disorder, becomes anxious and can have meltdowns when classes overload her senses, leaving teachers at a loss.

Her mother, Tammy King, said her daughter wasn’t getting the support her condition needed at school.

“She comes down and has a huge meltdown as she’s so overloaded and so overstimulated,” she said.

“She doesn’t know what to do.”

Mrs King is one of many North-West parents calling for more assistance for children with special needs at mainstream schools.

A break room for children with autism spectrum disorder was unavailable at Table Cape Primary School, parents said.

Indiana’s behaviour had grown worse in her prep year with the lack of support, Mrs King said.

While her time with aides had fallen, Indiana’s needs had increased, she said.

“A lot of the time she gets really anxious. If she had an aide in the classroom all the time it makes a world of difference.”

Some days Indiana needs to spin around for 30 minutes when returning home to regulate the stress a day at school has caused.

Mrs King wants the state government to increase school funding to provide special needs teachers and aides.

Wynyard’s Emma Taylor said she was surprised how poorly resourced the school was to help children with the disorder, considering two pupils were confirmed as having special needs and three more were being assessed in prep class.

Her son Miller’s meltdowns can force teachers to evacuate classrooms.

Afterwards he could no longer learn that day, she said.

His time with aides this year has reduced to six hours a week compared to 10 in 2014.

“The aid time he’s received now is so insufficient he’s basically gone backwards,” Mrs Taylor said.

Noise, smells, bright colours and social anxiety can so overwhelm Miller he needs a break or time with an aide to calm him.

However, the school was not to blame, Mrs King and Mrs Taylor said.

“We feel like we at home have taken on so much of [Miller’s] education not because the teachers can’t teach, but because he can’t function,” Mrs Taylor said.

“The staff are doing every thing they can. They’re working so hard.

“They’re doing what we’re doing, which is use Google.”

Miller and Indiana do not for qualify for individual support funding provided by the state government as they are classed as “high functioning”.

While including students with special needs in mainstream education was “fantastic in theory”, it did not work under the current model, Mrs Taylor said.

“Senior staff don’t even have an appropriate working knowledge of what is available to them and what they are obligated to provide when it comes to following the current inclusion model in their school.

“Unfortunately, there was an insufficient amount of funding available to provide all teachers with an adequate level of education in the area of teaching special needs children.”

All children with disabilities incorporated in mainstream schools were different, and consultants were needed for every person who came in contact with them, Mrs Taylor said.

“Many class teachers have little to no training regarding day-to-day interaction with children on the autism spectrum, and most have little to no training in the different teaching styles which are essential to educate children on the spectrum.”

Parents were fighting to have their children’s needs understood, she said.

“The fact our children are ‘learning’ in a mainstream school is a complex illusion which is hiding the true severity of the problem.”

Mrs Taylor wants the state government to make schools more inclusive as it updates the Education Act so that bus drivers, cleaners, canteen volunteers and other school workers are made aware of the disorder.

This would have stopped Miller from having a meltdown on a bus at the beginning of the school year, she said.

Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff said a ministerial taskforce into education for students with disabilities would make recommendations soon.

“We have also increased funding for students with disabilities to more than $70 million, with an additional $1 million in the state budget to ensure their individual needs are met.

“We are also investing more than $6 million in new infrastructure to ensure students with a disability have the best learning environment for their needs.

“We recognise that improvements must be made and that’s why we have established a taskforce, increased funding and starting making positive changes.”

Mrs Taylor and Mrs King are part of the Wynyard Autism Spectrum Support Group, which meets on the last Friday of the month.

For more information contact Autism Tasmania on 1300 288 476.

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