Kerrie Curtis with son Harry and daughter Isabelle.
Photo: Simon Schluter
Jewel Topsfield Education Editor for The Age, 24 September 2012
AS THE mother of three children on the autism spectrum, Kerrie Curtis is a veteran of battles with the Victorian education system.
Her latest fight is to get special VCE exam provisions for her oldest son Liam, who has Asperger's, an anxiety disorder and a learning difficulty. Ms Curtis' frustration is not with his school, RMIT, which she says has been absolutely superb.
However she says the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority has been ''extraordinarily inflexible''. Just weeks away from VCE exams she is still trying to apply for him to use a laptop in exams.
Meanwhile, she is fighting to get her son Harry's primary school to pay for the speech therapy and assistance with emotional regulation and social skills that medical experts say he needs.
Harry receives $20,000 a year in disability funding. However the money is put towards two aides who are shared between five children. ''Even though the school is getting huge wads of money, no one is regulating the school on how it spends the money.''
Ms Curtis is forced to pay for therapies out of her own pocket - something that is financially crippling with three children on the spectrum. ''I'm exhausted - absolutely exhausted. As parents you have to educate yourselves in order to play the system … They put guilt trips on you for asking for things you deserve. It makes you feel sick.''
Ms Curtis was one of 1800 parents, students and teachers who helped inform the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission's disturbing report into the experiences of children with disabilities in Victorian schools.
Sophie Cole was forced to move her son Eli to St Columba's School in Elwood after he did not meet the criteria for disability funding even though he has a learning disability, similar to dyslexia. She says the Catholic school has been ''amazing'', providing him with literacy and numeracy support even though it doesn't get any extra funding.
She also fought for two years for occupational therapy for her oldest son Teo, who has an intellectual disability. Ms Cole says she had to ''absolutely fight tooth and nail''.
''Before that I was paying for a professional to go into the school,'' Ms Cole says. ''As a parent I want all my children to have a great education - if they don't get an education now they will have little chance of successful employment later.''