The federal government’s decision to abandon the Gonski funding model was a huge blow to students with autism, many of whom already find school extremely challenging, academics speaking at a major conference in Sydney have said.
Macquarie University Special Education Centre director Mark Carter said funding was a critical and ongoing challenge for the sector, which was ''clearly looking like it’s going to be under strain with the current state and federal budget issues''.
''The original [Gonski] funding proposal would have really provided us with much more opportunity to better support children with special needs, and clearly the issues about the longevity of that funding are a major concern,'' said Dr Carter, who will address Australia’s first Autism in Education Conference, being held on Thursday and Friday.
One in 100 Australians is affected by autism spectrum disorder, which can cause social communication difficulties, narrow interests and repetitive behaviours.
Between 2003 and 2011, the number of children in NSW public schools diagnosed with autism quadrupled from 2000 to more than 8000.
The federal government will not deliver on the final two years of the Gonski agreement, when the majority of the funding was due to flow. And loadings for disadvantage meant students with a disability, such as autism, were to be one of the main beneficiaries of that money.
Kerrie Nelson, principal of Giant Steps Sydney, a school for students with autism, said uncertainty about future funding had created an ''impossible budgeting process''.
A spokesman for Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the government placed a high priority on support for students with disability and the recent budget provided $4.8 billion over the next four years.
''In addition, the government has extended the short-term initiative of More Support for Students with Disabilities, with an extra $100 million being made available in 2014,'' he said.
Attending school is difficult for 86 per cent of children with autism, according to a recent ABS survey.
Kate Sofronoff, a researcher from the University of Queensland, said classroom teachers were often not adequately prepared to meet the needs of children with autism, the majority of who attend mainstream public schools.
''We still have a way to go in the way we educate teachers,'' she said. ''Some teachers don’t know a lot about the disorder, and that’s the fault of the teacher training and what we include in that training.''
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/schools-need-more-support-for-children-with-autism-20140730-zykkb.html