Constantly suspended autistic children being ‘denied an education’

ASHLEIGH GLEESON, The Daily Telegraph

AUTISTIC students are being forced to miss huge amounts of class time with hundreds of suspensions dished out at NSW schools every day, according to several mothers of autistic children.

The mother of an eight-year-old autistic boy in Western Sydney missed a whopping 43 days of school in the first half of this year, while another mum said her six-year-old received a 15-day suspension when he reacted to a teacher wrongly restraining him.

The mother of one autistic child said he had been suspended for 43 days in the first six months of the year.

Disability advocates say children with behavioural conditions like autism are being “denied an education by default” and teachers need better training, amid a spike in autism diagnosis in recent years.

New figures from the NSW Education Department show schools were handing out 1600 suspensions a week last year.

Continued disobedience or aggressive behaviour were the two most common reasons.

Of the 42,000 student suspended last year, nearly 10,000 came from primary schools.

The department does not currently “disaggregate” data on how many suspensions involve students with disabilities, despite an auditor general’s report this year saying there needed to be a “more comprehensive review” to determine whether they were unreasonably over-represented in the area.

Through their eyes

One mother, whose eight-year-old son attends a Western Sydney public school, told The Daily Telegraph that her autistic son missed 43 days of school in the first six months of this year.

“He gets suspended every second week — his last suspension was 20 days and that was over my son retaliating for someone throwing a rock at him,” she said.

“He had 43 days off in the first half of the year because of suspensions, he has autism and he is just thrown in the too-hard basket.”

Another mother said her six-year-old autistic son was handed a 15-day suspension when a teacher wrongly restrained him around the throat and he bit her in a NSW primary school in 2014.

Her son has since changed schools and with “proper support” is no longer having issues.

Joyce Camilleri said that her 16-year-old non-verbal autistic son was repeatedly suspended at his Western Sydney high school in 2014.

She said it was because he used an iPad to bat around objects in the classroom.

“It just went on and on with suspensions, with me appealing to the department of education,” she said.

One mother claimed that students with autism were “just thrown in the too-hard basket”.

Between 2009 and 2012 autism prevalence rose 79 per cent, an Australian Bureau of Statistics survey found.

Newcastle University education lecturer David Roy said he believed children with disability were “being denied education by default”.

He said many parents were being pushed to home school.

“They need to look at what is going on, why are children acting this way and is there more support needed for teachers and the rest of the class,” he said.

A NSW education department spokesman said that public schools had a duty of care for all students and that their disability was taken into account when they were disciplined.

“Teachers in all NSW public schools have access to training to support them in meeting the needs of students with disability,” he said.