A BATHURST mother of a child with autism says inclusion is the key for students with disabilities in the education system.
Vanessa Comiskey was reacting to Senator Pauline Hanson’s comments this week that students with autism needed special classrooms or schools.
Senator Hanson later said students with disabilities who need special care and attention were not getting it in a “normal classroom”, but her comments have been interpreted by some as a call for segregation.
Ms Comiskey, who addressed a NSW parliamentary inquiry earlier this year into the education of students with a disability or special needs, said “full inclusion is the key and is the only way”.
“Children to be supported, made to feel genuinely accepted and allowed to participate equally,” she said.
She said children with disabilities and without disabilities did better both academically and socially when they were in the same classroom.
“You lose that chance of acceptance [if children with disabilities are separated],” she said.
“We need to change the attitudes of people from the very beginning.”
Ms Comiskey said Senator Hanson was speaking from ignorance.
“They [children with autism] are not a difficulty. They are unique, they are special, they are smart, they are wonderful, wonderful children.
“They just need to be given the right opportunities and support to thrive.”
Greg Auhl, who taught in NSW classrooms for 25 years and now lectures in inclusive education at Charles Sturt University Bathurst, said the evidence did not support the idea that children with disabilities in the classroom had a negative impact on their classmates.
“When there are children with any particular learning need in a class, not just children with autism, teaching styles change in ways that are associated with better outcomes for all children,” he said.
“Aspects such as literacy and numeracy improve, and there is often additional support in classrooms, although the adequacy of this is another debate.
“For society as a whole, too, we cannot simply ignore the social outcomes of education.”
Mr Auhl’s current research is looking at the capacity of teacher education courses to produce graduates who have the ability to teach successfully in diverse classrooms.
He has an adult daughter with a disability who was in the mainstream education system from pre-school through to year 12.
Mr Auhl said children with autism and other disabilities had been represented within classrooms for many years.
“Identification techniques, and knowledge about ASD, have improved significantly in recent times,” he said.
“This has allowed schools and teachers to better develop programs aimed at their educational needs.
“As with any disability, however, those needs vary on an individual level.”
In terms of the social aspects of education, he said “teachers and schools have created programs, supports and strategies to meet the needs of the students in their care - for example, buddy systems”.
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