Disability and the Education System

I have a bee in my bonnet. I read a question on an asd facebook support page today. It was a mother asking about funding available for autism in the school system. This is not the first question I have read about this issue. It probably won't be the last. It is one of the biggest misnomers around disability and education - the funding

Now funding for disabilities varies from state to state and how much you are given and the criteria you have to meet also changes from state to state. This is one of the issues with a state run education system.

The funding doesn't really matter though, not really. It helps, but it isn't the core of the issue. The bigger issue is the matter of discrimination.

Equal access to education is a basic human right, set out by the United Nation's "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights" http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/ Specifically article 26, section 2 "(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace."

Australia's own disability act, in regards to education states "the obligations of education and training providers and seek to ensure that students with disability can access and participate in education on the same basis as other students." The full Federal Disability Standards for Education can be found here: https://www.education.gov.au/disability-standards-education.

The key take away here is "access and participate". Your child has a right to "access and participate in education on the same basis as other students". This right sands regardless of your access to funding, type of autism, co morbidities (or lack of) or what your state's funding requirements are. If you are in a state school your child's rights are more easily enforceable than they are in a private school, as you have a) a right to education (check out section 1 of article 26 of "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights" ) and b) a state school must comply with both your state's disability act and the Federal disability act. A private school can simply say "I'm sorry I don't think we can support your child's needs".

For example, 10 year old Johnny is in a mainstream state school setting. Under the new diagnostic guidelines, he is autistic, level 1 (aspergers under the old criteria). He expresses no behaviour problems, though he does have some social challenges around making and keeping friends and understanding social cues. He has expressed that he is sometimes sad and lonely.

He is intelligent, but finds communicating his understanding of the school work a little challenging.  He had sensory processing differences, so he finds bright lights and loud noise difficult to manage. If it is too bright and noisy he finds it hard to concentrate on school work and will tend to disengage. He doesn't have a speech delay but doesn't always know when he has talked too much and doesn't always listen to the people talking to him.

Johnny's parents express that he needs a lot of downtime at home or it is meltdown central. He is otherwise a "good kid". They receive carer allowance for him, but they don't get the carer payment.

He doesn't attract any funding under the state's school funding model.

Johnny is doing OK, but he is finding some aspects of life in the education system challenging and a few accommodations would help him reach his full potential.

The fact he doesn't attract funding shouldn't prevent his parents or his school from being able to provide these accommodations, it is clearly stated in the Federal Disability Standards for Education that he has a right to "access and participate in education on the same basis as other students" in his education.

It is not really a question of equal rights, it is a matter of equal access. For Johnny to access his education and participate on an equal footing as the other typical students, small accommodations should be made. It is his right. There are so many small, inexpensive things a school can do to support Johnny in this situation. It is his right to have the school support these accommodations. He will be a better, happier, more present student. This will benefit the whole school and his classroom and the students in it.

So, in the education system, what other rights does your child have?

  1. Your child has the right to personalised learning and support. This has different names in different states and schools, but it is basically an IEP (Individualised Education Plan). The IEP should acknowledge where the child is currently and include reasonable outcomes for the next 6-12 months. You have the right to agree, adjust and modify the IEP. You know your child's capacity and you know what educational outcomes you are looking for. If you think the IEP's content is a joke speak to the school or your advocate about it and change it.
  2. The ability to meet with the school principal and classroom teacher whenever you need to discuss your child's education. Open communication can only help support your child
  3. You have the right to have a Disability Advocate speak on behalf of your child. A Disability Advocate is an independent 3rd party who will work to ensure your child's rights are being protected and will work in the best interests of your child.
  4. You have the right to bring who ever you need to your support meetings with the school. This can include a best friend who can support you through to one of your child's specialists or an advocate.
  5. Your child has the right to equal assess to education. This means that your child has the right for fair and reasonable accommodations to be made to support best education outcomes for your child. For example, it would be fair and reasonable for you to expect the school to supply headphones and fidget toys and a downtime space for your child (and the other children who might need access to them), it is not reasonable to expect them to build a full multisensory environment to help your child (and only your child) regulate their sensory profile.
  6. You have more ability to enforce your child's rights in the public education system than you do in the private (regardless of funding options)

In your dealings with the education system

  • be fair and understanding of the school's situation
  • be reasonable in your expectations of outcomes
  • be open in your communication
  • Be honest about your child and their worst day. Explain how autism effects your child specifically. Discuss your parenting methods with them, triggers, supports, lay all your cards on the table.
  • Contact your child's teacher about good days, bad days, changes in routine, achievements, setbacks. This all impacts on the day your child's teacher will have. Get your teacher invested in your child. 
  • But, please, please, above all else don't let your child's rights be violated. They have a right to be there, no one is doing you a favour by letting them have equal access to education. Don't take no for an answer. Don't be made to feel ashamed about your child's differences. It could just a matter of educating the educators

You are your child's strongest advocate, by knowing your child's rights under the disability act you are adding more tools to your advocating toolbelt.