Schools quicker to suspend autistic children, says report

Anna Patty, State Political Reporter

CHILDREN with autism are being inappropriately suspended from school, forcing their parents to abandon their jobs to care for them, research has found.

Karen Bevan, the director of social justice at UnitingCare, whose research found school long-term suspensions have increased by more than a third over the past six years, said children with autism are among those being suspended.

NSW Department of Education figures show the number of long-term suspensions - lasting five to 20 days - increased by 36 per cent from 12,326 in 2006 to 16,814 last year.

Ms Bevan said there was limited support in integrated classrooms for children with challenging behaviours and some were being suspended inappropriately. Teachers also lacked the assistance and resources to deal with difficult behaviour.

''Some parents feel their child is tagged as violent when their behaviour is triggered by frustration and their intent is not to harm,'' she said.

''Sometimes they are not getting the support they need to cope well in the classroom and that can escalate situations.''

Ms Bevan said some parents were forced to leave their jobs to care for their children at home after a suspension.

Jo-Anne Hewitt decided to homeschool her son Darcy Bryant, 16, after he was suspended from school six years ago.

She said Darcy still has no understanding of why a casual teacher suspended him for 40 days from Mount Annan Public School, near Camden.

''We have homeschooled him ever since,'' she said. ''My husband gave up his job and didn't work for a couple of years. But it is a decision we made to take control of the situation.''

Ms Hewitt, who works in disability services at UnitingCare, said her son was suspended for allegedly threatening a teacher with a weapon - a plumb bob he made with his father.

A casual teacher asked him to give it to her and he refused. Ms Hewitt said her son then swore at the teacher and he was suspended for 40 days.

''He didn't actually threaten the teacher with the tool, but the teacher was new and inexperienced and the school said she could have handled it better. But the suspension stood.

''Communication impairments can mean kids don't understand what is being asked for them. Darcy reacted inappropriately by standing up and swearing at her. But he is not violent and did not threaten her with a weapon.''

The UnitingCare research, presented at an education conference last week, found disadvantaged children in particular fell behind after taking as much as five weeks off school in one year because of repeated suspensions.

The president of the NSW Teachers Federation, Maurie Mulheron, said public schools accept all children but not all behaviours. ''Suspension is a generally positive intervention that engages the parents, and also can include access to counselling, learning support teams and external welfare agencies,'' he said.

A spokesman for the NSW Department of Education said schools consider the impact of a disability such as autism on behaviour when deciding whether to issue a suspension.


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