News | 22 June 2017

Just. Wow.

Only one week ago a delegation of Every Australia Counts supporters sat with Senator Pauline Hanson to talk about the NDIS and why we need an inclusive Australia for people with disability. This just makes her comments yesterday even more disappointing.

In case you missed it here’s what Ms Hanson said in Parliament:

“These kids have a right to an education, by all means, but, if there are a number of them, these children should go into a special classroom and be looked after and given that special attention,” she said.

“Most of the time the teacher spends so much time on them they forget about the child who is straining at the bit and wants to go ahead in leaps and bounds in their education.

“That child is held back by those others, because the teachers spend time with them. I am not denying them. If it were one of my children I would love all the time given to them to give them those opportunities. But it is about the loss for our other kids.

“I think that we have more autistic children, yet we are not providing the special classrooms or the schools for these autistic children.

“It is no good saying that we have to allow these kids to feel good about themselves and that we do not want to upset them and make them feel hurt.

“I understand that, but we have to be realistic at times and consider the impact this is having on other children in the classroom.”

Not surprisingly the backlash has been huge.

Labor MP Emma Husar demanded Senator Hanson apologise to her son and the estimated 164,000 Australians with autism.

“Kids like my son Mitch, who’s 10 and autistic. And he’s been in a mainstream [school] for a few years now, but that wasn’t always the case,” she said.

“He was diagnosed when he was 18 months, and I was told that he’d never speak; that I should never expect that Mitch could play in a sports team with his age-matched peers, or that he could be included in a mainstream class. But he is – and he does very, very well…

“I’ve got one thing to say to every single child on the autism spectrum who is going into a classroom today — whether that’s a mainstream class, whether that’s a support unit, or whether that’s a school with a specific purpose — that you matter. That you can be included. And you ought to be included.”

Senator Jacquie Lambie said she didn’t want to see the divide in Australia any greater than it already is.

“I want them (children with disabilities) in normal classrooms if they are able to.

“Not only is it great for them but it is also great for those students who don’t have disabilities they learn more compassion, they learn how to deal with these matters it gives them coping mechanisms for the rest of their lives.

“Everybody wins out of this.”

Social Services Minister Christian Porter described the comments as “archaic” and “very unhelpful”.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten called Senator Hanson’s speech “heartbreaking and upsetting”. He read out a letter to fellow Member of Parliament from one parent:

“When you are a parent with a child with a disability you have your heart broken on a regular basis,” he read.

“Not because of their disability but because of the way they are treated by other people. Today isn’t any different.

“To hear one of our parliamentarians argue that kids with a disability don’t belong in mainstream classes doesn’t shock me but it does break my heart all over again.”

And thousands of parents and community members around Australia flooded social media in dismay.

Senator Hanson defended her comments, saying on her Facebook page the comments were taken out of context and was simply arguing for more funding for specialist education.

However today’s debate shows how important it is that people with disability have the same opportunities in life as every Australian – and a right to choose where their children go to school or the supports they need to reach their goals in life.

Which is exactly why the NDIS is so important.

Join the conversation

  • Natalie Bird

    One Mum’s Life With Autism: With all the recent media coverage about Autism I thought it timely to speak about our own family experience, so that other people can understand why it is creating such heated debate around the country. Firstly, although there has been some ill informed, poorly worded and negative comments made in our parliament this week, it has brought this topic to the front pages and into the media spotlight which is genuinely a good thing. So thanks for that Pauline.So what’s all the fuss about I hear you say?
    Autism is a complex condition, often described as being a spectrum. This is because it is unique to each person diagnosed with it. Some people find that it adds to their creative and intellectual abilities giving them opportunities to pursue fascinating careers and adventures. Others find socialising can be difficult but they are still able to find meaningful employment and live fully independent lives. Some with autism are intellectually impaired and will require around the clock assistance for their entire lives. Some are so imprisoned by the anxiety and sensory difficulties that can come with autism they struggle to leave the house. It is a condition of the brain unique to each person, and like the millions of bright stars in the night sky, each person with autism twinkles in a slightly different way than the next star.
    We know through research that the more assistance people with autism receive the brighter their futures become – as do the lives of their families and carers. Effective educations are important for all children and I doubt that anyone argues with that, but the way in which we offer support for those with learning difficulties in this country at the moment resembles a cookie cutter approach. Children are only supported if they fit into a box on a form and there isn’t any flexibility in how they can be supported.
    For our son, who has struggled since diagnosis at age 3, it has resulted in more time without schooling than in it. He has suffered through poorly trained educators, the use of physical restraint, emotional abuse, a lack of specialised aides, inadequate resources, the list goes on…
    He has been mainstreamed with no support, left to be babysat in school units and denied the chance to enrol in an autism specific school or special school because they either don’t exist outside capital cities, he is too old for intervention or doesn’t meet narrow and restrictive enrolment rules.
    What effect has this had? A now extremely anxious teenager too scared to leave the house, afraid of failure without a single friend in the world outside of his family. A mother on anxiety medication who has been unable to work regularly for over ten years, who has had to become a teacher, therapist, carer, advocate and protector; a father stressed at being the sole income earner to support his family and a sibling who has missed out on so much because of the never-ending battle his parents have to fight for equality, understanding, compassion and justice for their elder son. Frankly, it has been a decade of paperwork, begging, crying, anger, disappointment and resolve.
    Resolve to keep letting people know that this is still a familiar story for many families with autism. Resolve to keep demanding a variety of schooling options for all children – not just those with autism – ADHD, dyslexia, and the like who currently struggle to get the help they need. Mainstream schooling is wonderful for those children able to access the staff support and resources they need to be successful but the truth of the matter is many are not. These are the children that are now described as distractions, poorly behaved and who should be removed from the classroom. Don’t fall for this untruth, autism isn’t to blame, disability isn’t too blame – it’s our elected officials and governments who have failed to listen to children like my son and his family that are to blame. They are the ones who have taken funding from schools until now ‘real inclusion’ is a pipe dream. They are the ones who fail to offer a variety of schooling options for families with high supports needs through no fault of their own. The result of their short-sightedness? Over-stretched teachers with few resources and all children forced to cope without the assistance they deserve and which we as Australian citizens should demand. Don’t look upon those labelled disabled as a burden, to be removed from the classroom so everyone else can get on with learning…demand more from our elected officials and tell them you expect ALL children regardless of their abilities to receive the support they need to have an education. Whether this is in a mainstream classroom or a specialised setting should be a decision best left up to the ones who know best but are mostly forgotten in this story, the families. Families like mine that are doing the best they can.