Satellite setting

from The Age, Letters

24/4/2009

FAMILIES need to be aware of the risks students with autism spectrum disorders face in schools ("Integrating kids with disabilities, The Age, 22/4). Experienced parents know mainstream high school is much more challenging than primary school for most students with autism. The British Parliament found 25 per cent of students with autism are excluded from schools at any time. Anecdotes indicate the situation may be worse in Australia. High school students are especially conscious of difference. Nor are special schools the answer since so few of them and their staff have the essential expertise.

Satellite classrooms with specialist autism staff are attractive. It makes sense to offer places for students with autism in such settings collocated with older students as the students with autism will spend their lives in largely adult company.

Of course Minister Pike prefers mainstreaming with insufficient support, as it is cheaper. Unfortunately, an incredibly high proportion of these students end up on disability support pensions so the existing options — inclusion and special schools — end up costing the community more than necessary in the long run.

Bob Buckley

BTW, the original letter posted to The Age was ...

more options for students with autism

Dear editor,

Thank you, Nader & Tomazin for "Integrating kids with disabilities" (22/4/09).

Families need to be aware of the risks students with autism spectrum disorders face in schools. Experienced parents know mainstream high school is much more challenging than primary school for most students with autism. The English Parliament found 25% of students with autism are excluded from schools at any time. Anecdotes indicate the situation may be worse in Australia. There is no evidence that inclusion is appropriate for high school age students with autism.

High school students are especially conscious of difference. Few students with autism are included with their peers in this age range ... and they will have minimal contact subsequently with the high school age population.

Nor are special schools the answer since so few of the existing special schools and their staff training and expertise essential for teaching students with autism.

Satellite centres are attractive ... with specialist autism staff. In the absence of evidence, there is some sense to offering places for students with autism in satellite settings collocated with older students as the students with autism will spend their lives in largely adult company. They might as well work on their adult skills in a more mature setting and from an earlier age.

Commissioner Innes, has no relevant experience or data for making his comments: even in relation to students with vision impairment views are divided on special settings. He is notoriously uninformed about autism. I doubt it is appropriate professionally for him to comment on students with autism.

Of course Minister Pike prefers mainstreaming with insufficient support ... as it is cheaper, especially with so many high needs students out of school so much of the time. Unfortunately, an incredibly high proportion of these students end up on Disability Support Pensions so the existing options (inclusion and special schools) end up costing the community more than necessary in the longrun. There is a lot of hard work needed in this area. A few column inches only tells a tiny part of the story.

sincerely
Bob Buckley