Students with autism and emotional disorders exiled for disorderly conduct

BRUCE MCDOUGALL The Daily Telegraph November 05, 2012

Katrece Burns with her eight-year-old son Ethen. She has lost count of the times Ethen has been suspended from school. Picture: Cameron Richardson Source: The Daily Telegraph

STUDENTS as young as five are receiving multiple suspensions as schools struggle to contain extreme violence by children with autism and mental and emotional disorders.

Some students prone to dangerous outbursts are attending school for one or two hours a day, while others are regularly sent home after attacks on teachers or other children.

Schools now face a tsunami of kids with autism spectrum and mental disorders but parents claim suspension is not working and have called for teachers to be better trained to handle students with disabilities in the classroom.

At one Sutherland school, students are reported to have had concerns for the mental stability of a classmate who allegedly held scissors to another student's throat and had prepared a "die list".

Serious incident reports collated by the Department of Education and Communities also show a Year 9 youth stood over his principal and threatened to "put a bullet in his head", while a Year 6 boy, who sliced a Year 5 student across the forearm with scissors causing him to bleed, had a history of "sudden violent outbursts".

MOTHER-of-five Katrece Burns has lost count of how many times her eight-year-old son Ethen has been suspended from his government primary school.

And one of the youngest students logged in incident reports, a Year 1 boy, tried to stab children with a pocket knife on a school bus. The driver disarmed him.

The reports show highly disturbed students have threatened to burn down their school, kill staff and committed serious assaults with weapons.At an inner Sydney school, a Year 9 female grabbed the assistant principal by the hair and punched her several times in the face before kicking her on the ground. The student was arrested and suspended "with a view to expulsion".

Autism spectrum disorder is a lifelong disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people and the world around them.

Autism Advisory Support Service founder Grace Fava said Australia had not acknowledged the size of the problem or provided enough support in schools.

"We need to realise that teaching will never be the same again," she said. "Every teacher will have a melting pot of kids with different needs.

"We need to ensure every child is a priority ... we want teachers trained to handle it."

The number of children with severe autism in public schools soared by 318 per cent in five years and is expected to blow out even further by 2020. Mental health cases other than autism leapt by 248 per cent.

Experts say it is a world-wide phenomenon and boys are affected more than girls by a ratio of four to one.

A spokesman said the education department provided a "wide range of professional learning for teachers and support staff" to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

"Since 2009 this includes training in meeting the needs of students with autism spectrum disorder and more than 4000 staff have completed this training," the spokesman said.

"The department also provides training for teachers in a range of other areas that are relevant to supporting students with autism spectrum disorders including communication and behaviour problems."