Friday 23 June 2017

Dear Senator Hanson

Senator Hanson's comments yesterday pertaining to removing children with autism (and presumably other disabilities) from mainstream classrooms really struck a nerve with me.

I read, and re-read the comments several times, during my lunch break at work yesterday and I simply could not fathom why Senator Hanson had made such comments. I was hopeful that she had been misquoted. Unfortunately I highly doubt it.

Today there have been a number of politicians who have come out with fighting words towards Senator Hanson. She really did cause quite an uproar. My belief is that Senator Hanson will not change her way of thinking and she will no doubt publicly try to justify her comments.

I also feel that Senator Hanson needs to hear stories of children and adults from the Autism community. She needs to hear that no two individuals with autism are the same. No two individuals with a disability are the same.

Dear Senator Hanson,

I have two children and both have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

O is 8 and is beyond her years smart, really beyond. She is in year 3 but she is doing year 4 extension work in class. She is also in the Talented and Gifted Students Program at her school which involves 90 minutes of being outside of her regular classroom a week. O regularly scores top marks in her weekly spelling and mathematics tests. O has received 3 awards at school so far this year and she has been invited to attend the Deputy's luncheon that is held once a term at her school. She is quietly proud of her achievements.

At the age of 3, O taught herself the three times table and composed her first short story. At the age of 4, she composed her second short story. At the age of 5 she was reading Shakespeare for fun and composing poems about words that she found interesting.

O has an exceptional memory. She regularly writes imaginative stories. She has a vast understanding of the solar system and is probably more knowledgeable than me when it comes to this topic. O regularly asks me questions that I am unsure of the answer. She is a whiz at finding said answers on the Internet.

O is known at school, Cubs, the outside school hours care facility that she attends, for her caring and thoughtful manner. O is the child who will let her friends win at games or races, so that they don't come last. O is the child who teaches other children about acceptance of others who are different. O is the child who worries about her friends feelings before she worries about herself.

O is in a mainstream school.

I spoke to one of her teachers this morning as we have only recently received her ASD assessment reports. O has been masking her ASD traits so well that not us nor her teachers were able to pick up on the severity of her traits. In fact O's teacher commented this morning that looking at O in class you would never know of her autism.

It is only when her anxiety levels reach boiling point that you can begin to see the ASD traits - the stimming, the meltdowns, the non-stop internal struggles that she faces every single day......

O knows that it is bad thing to stand out from the crowd so she masks and suppresses her traits every single day so that she successfully blends in with the crowd.

But due to her diagnosis, you would have her in a special school or special classroom so that she doesn't disrupt others learning?

L is 5 and up until the age of 3 his vocabulary consisted of a grand total of 20 words. At the age of 4 he was still not fully toilet trained, he did not understand his own or others emotions, he struggled to make friends, he struggled to join in play with his peers. L's fine motor skills were lacking. L couldn't, but not for the lack of trying, cross his mid-line. L relied on using a combination of simple sentences, sounds and key word signing to communicate his needs and wants. L could barely draw a smiley face, let alone attempt to write his own name. L could not recognise his own name.

Now, at the age of 5, he is verbal and he is toilet trained. L is beginning to understand, recognise and respond appropriately to his own and others emotions. L's fine motor skills have come along in leaps and bounds. L can now recognise and write his own name. L is now beginning to recognise other letters of the alphabet and can recognise the beginning sounds of some words. L is also wanting to attempt sounding out words, in fact he sounded out the word star this morning.

And much of this is in thanks to his amazing therapists at the early intervention centre that he has been attending once a week for the past 18 months and also his fantastic teachers and teacher aides that he has had in Kindy and now in Pre-Primary. It is also due to the friends that he has made at the mainstream school that he attends.

His friends have assisted L to understand that you do not wear pyjamas to school among other things. This year is the first year that L has had multiple birthday party invitations of his own. He had a few last year, but O's invites outnumbered his. This year however, L's invites are out numbering O's. Prior to last year, L had never been invited to a birthday party on his own merit.

Both of my children have taught their peers and friends about the acceptance of others differences.

If only you knew how much work and heartbreak and joy that we have gone through to get L to this point. In the past 18 months L has made the most astounding progress. People who have not seen him in the last 18 months have commented that he is a completely different child.

But again, due to his diagnosis, you would have L in a special school because he learns at a different rate to others his age?

I am not saying that L and O do not struggle at school, but can you please show me a child, with or without a disability, who doesn't struggle or hasn't struggled at school?

I have seen more disruptive children than my own in classrooms, but you want both of my children to be segregated from other children simply because of their diagnosis?

The statement that you made is absurd.

Autism is a spectrum. If you look closely at all disabilities you would most likely find that they can all be considered as a spectrum. Lumping all individuals together is like pounding a square peg into a round hole. It just isn't going to work.

Sure there are some individuals who would benefit from being in a special school or a specialised classroom but please let that decision be made by those who know the children the best. Their parents, their therapists and the education department.

I have an idea, instead of "getting rid of" these students and reducing the diversity in schools, how about providing schools with adequate resources so that they are better equipped to provide an education to all students. How about taking away all the hoops that parents and schools are forced to jump through just to get assistance for children with different abilities. How about encouraging acceptance and inclusion of children with different abilities instead of suggesting that they need to be segregated.

I want both of my children to become functioning members of society but segregating them from their peers in a mainstream school would be detrimental to their emotional and intellectual abilities.


A Very Concerned Mum.

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