from The Age
- Carol Nader and Farrah Tomazin
- April 22, 2009
Meredith Ward with her son Grant. Photo: Angela Wylie
GRANT can tell that he is different from the other kids he goes to school with. The 13-year-old has moderate autism, interfering with his ability to learn.
His language and communication skills are severely impaired and he finds it hard to make friends. But, says his mother, Meredith Ward, "he would like to be like everyone else".
This year, Grant started high school at Templestowe College, a school with an inclusive policy on children with disabilities. "The gap is widening between him and the other kids because the autism does impact on his ability to learn," Ms Ward says.
Despite the challenges, she chose to place Grant in a mainstream school because, she says, "he has to live in the world around us".
She says a small school such as Templestowe can be a good environment for children with disabilities, if supported.
In Victoria, thousands of children attend about 80 special schools. Although there is a push to integrate children with disabilities into the mainstream, there are many barriers.
National Disability Services state manager Kerry Presser says teachers often lack experience, and some schools have old rooms without appropriate facilities. "Social isolation is very real for children with disabilities and challenging behaviours," she says.
Human Rights and Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes is among those who want all but the most severely disabled children to attend mainstream schools. Mr Innes, who attended a primary school for blind children in Sydney, says it would help remove the stigma attached to disability.
"Having kids educated in the ordinary school environment will not only help those kids, but it will also help community attitudes towards people with disabilities," he says.
Education Minister Bronwyn Pike favours more mainstreaming, but not for everyone. "There will always be a need for some specialist settings for some groups of children who are extremely disabled or through no fault of their own with their disability have extreme behaviour issues," she says.
The State Government is considering setting up "satellite centres" within mainstream schools, where a room on site could be used for children with disabilities to spend some time out of the main classroom.
Minister for Children Maxine Morand says a satellite centre could be useful for children with a certain disability such as autism, or one centre could cater to all children with disabilities.
"We think it's a good direction to go," Ms Morand said. "We're trying to reduce the amount of travel time that some students have to spend getting to special schools. If you have satellite centres then you have a greater number of access points for families."
see also Satellite setting