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  • Writer's pictureThe Autistic Realm Australia Inc.

THE CHILD WHO COULD AND NOW CAN'T

EXTRACT FROM The Autistic Realm Australia submission to the Senate Hearing on The national trend of school refusal and related matters.

 

Youngest Child – AKA #2 Commenced Kindergarten Public school NSW 2014

To sum up, child #2 school can’t destroyed him.


 Daycare did not raise any red flags that school would be a major issue for my youngest. Things that were challenging for him were discussed with the Director and solutions were quickly found. Drop-off was a nightmare until we realised that it wasn’t Daycare that was the issue it was being dropped off when there were already a lot of kids there. Too noisy and too overwhelming. I developed a beautiful relationship with the teachers (with whom I still keep in contact today) because we communicated and worked as a team to ensure that my child felt safe and happy when away from me.


My son is a force of nature. He is charismatic, charming, and hilariously funny. Today at 14 he is depressed, anxious, hypervigilant, and desperately lonely. Every day I am terrified he is the child I will lose. Lately, it feels like I already have.


He absconded on day two of kindergarten. The school’s solution after ongoing lockdowns due to him trying to escape to go home was to ban me from the school. I had to drop him off at the gate and was only allowed to come in after the bell went to get him. Unlike the other parents who forged connections and found friendships, I was a sole figure isolated and alone.


Whilst my eldest had the dream teacher for kindy my youngest had the yeller. A fact I had mentioned in numerous meetings with the school would trigger him. By mid-year, my 6-year-old was suspended.


Academically my kids are on par but my youngest was never given the opportunity for enrichment or extension until the librarian saw past his behaviour and placed him in her passion project where he thrived.


He wasn’t suspended again. Their solution was exclusion and isolation with either myself not being allowed to attend school events or him having to sit outside the principal’s office at a desk so every child, parent, and teacher who passed by got to see the ‘naughty boy’.


We moved to a regional area for year 3 (year 5 for my eldest) as we felt acreage with plenty of room to run around and a smaller private school would suit our children better. On the 2 hour drive to the interview for the new school my child who could speak under wet cement had not uttered a word and had bitten holes through his t-shirt. We were so nervous. This was the school we had researched thoroughly and was chosen as it was a small religious school that promoted acceptance and community, exactly what we were looking for.


After spending an hour on a school tour the Principal asked my youngest if he liked the school and if so why? His response was there are no noisy bells, it’s quiet here. No-one knew that the bells were a trigger because no educator had ever asked him. The year passed peacefully with a few hiccups but nothing disastrous. I could finally let out that breath I had been holding in, I volunteered at a couple of things and I began to feel that our family would be part of the school community.


Then the Principal changed and year 4 saw #2 placed in a class with another yeller of a teacher who believed children should be seen and not heard. They advised me they were a special education teacher and therefore did not need to read the “All about me” documents I had carefully compiled over the years.


Exclusion and suspensions followed for the next couple of years. But still my child begged to go to school. He loved school so much that when it closed for covid he begged to attend. Smaller, quieter classes with less route learning saw him thrive.


Crisis home-based schooling through online classrooms had been a non-event. I had thought it would be a teacher teaching like they did in the classroom just on Zoom. But in reality, it was print this, tick this, and a teacher supervising chat on Google Classroom.


Finally, the time had come to go High School but limited opportunities were provided for my child to transition even though I had multiple meetings before #2 started. I was reassured that they had the training and the staff to support my child. High School is a major change for any child but for an Autistic child with co-occurring conditions exacerbated by anxiety it was traumatising.


Unlike his peers, he was only permitted partial enrolment. I disagreed with this decision as I had multiple meetings with the school informing them that he needed to feel connected with the school and that again he would be an ‘outsider’ in those first days when connections are made. He also couldn’t understand why he wasn’t allowed to attend full-time like the other kids.


However, we were not given a choice. He didn’t understand the rules, the jokes, body language, and the constant change of classes and teachers increased his anxiety. Then the bullying began and the inevitable segregation and suspensions. Without regular school attendance, his social and emotional skills were stunted. Intellectually he was 18, physically 16, developmentally 6-7. By constantly removing him he was unable to develop these skills and develop friendships with peers and relationships with teachers.


After serving multiple suspensions instead of returning him to school full time, they permitted him to attend for 90 minutes a day where he was to learn in the library supervised by a Teacher’s Aide. This not only confused and further isolated #2 it was also an unbearable hardship emotionally and financially for our family. I could no longer work full-time. I would work when I could (often through the night) and whilst waiting outside the school for the 90 minutes he was allowed to learn.


This went on for seven weeks with no plan forthcoming as to when he would return to the classroom. His mental health deteriorated and I informed the school he would not be returning until they had formulated a plan to support, protect, and educate him. The school’s reply was to send him to a Tutorial Centre for 6-12 months. A place that does not receive individual funding and resembles a jail. A place that might be suitable for transit students is not a place that offers long-term support for children with a disability or children suffering trauma who need and would benefit from a trauma-informed alternative education model.


In submission 345 February 2017 Inquiry into Students with a Disability or Special Needs in NSW, the Teachers Federation called for equitable access to resources for students with a disability or special needs in regional and metropolitan areas. And stated


“The timely release of additional funds is critical to the educational success of students in classrooms in 2017, in particular those engaging in short-term intensive programs such as those offered at the STC. Staffing levels need to reflect the significant additional learning needs of our students, who typically present with a history of long periods of non-attendance and disengagement in mainstream education, resulting in gaps in their learning continuum and the need for high-level support in areas of well-being and social capacity. It is the lived experience of teachers in this setting that, with smaller class settings, individualised learning, and social support, students are able to develop the self-confidence and self-efficacy to be successful learners when they return to their home school”

Shortly after the suspensions began again for minor and confusing transactions that were not equitable and did not allow for his disability or follow procedural fairness.


Then COVID lockdowns began again and the STC closed down completely unlike #1 school there was no provision for #2 to attend school as per the NSW Government and Department provisions for school attendance guidelines. My business was classified as essential, and I am an authorized worker. The feeder school allowed other children to attend but #2 was told no. Again, he felt rejected.


When covid restrictions were lifted #2 returned to school. There was no warning that his aide had retired, and as she was the person who gave out the medication not only was #2 not medicated but neither was anyone else. He came home very distraught and dysregulated He was suspended the next day and then placed on partial enrolment for the rest of the year.


Weeks later the school informed me that #2 had been set up by a particular child and had been targeted and was provoked to get a response. The Head teacher apologised and told me that they couldn’t keep my son safe at school and he could just come to a couple of fun ends of year events.


Due to exclusions, suspension, segregation, and covid, my child attended maybe 2 months of high school in the important foundation year 7.


He was waitlisted for a support class in a mainstream high school however his placement was still not confirmed prior to the Christmas school holidays, and a highly anxious child had no idea of where he would be going to school in year 8. I investigated every option I could find e.g. home schooling, distance Education. However, despite feeling that no one wanted him, despite receiving a limited to basic education he still WANTED to go to school.


He commenced year 8 in a support unit in a large mainstream high school. Again, they placed him on partial enrolment. Again, I objected. His first nondirected attendance and then suspension was in March. Over the course of the year, he was kept away from school for 51%.


Due to start year 9 #2 is a very disengaged, depressed child who has school can’t. He has been bounced from pillar to post; he has been humiliated. He now feels there is no place for him. The place that he was so desperate to go to destroyed him.


At 14 this bouncy happy child with a thirst for learning, a deep desire to connect with his peers has given up. He has given up on his dream to join the Navy, has given up on trying to find friends. He has given up on himself.


What he needed was access to an equitable education in a system that not only supported but protected him. He needed an opportunity to belong and contribute to a school community and all the advantages that provides such as connection, friendship, and access to a variety of subjects that are offered to all children under Australian and International Law.


Instead, he has ended up with mental health conditions and a basic education. He was the child who could and now he can’t.  

note: (The parent child relationship is severely damaged through school trauma)


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