letter protests the hijacking of autistic student issues ...

Here is a personal letter from Bob Buckley to the Executive Officer of Children with Disability Australia (CDA) ...

Dear Ms Gotlib,

I am disappointed by the position you take in the article Inadequate system failing students with disabilities (9 Apr 2015).

While the item says:

“If we narrowed down the anecdotal reports that we’re getting there probably would be a higher prevalence of children with autism diagnosis.”

your approach diverts attention away from the behavioural and ASD-specific needs of autistic students; away from systemic failures of state/territory education systems the deliver especially poor education outcomes for autistic students (see http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/4428.0Main%20Features52012).

Autistic students do not need teachers who can “cope” (as you suggest), they need teachers who teach autistic students effectively. They need teachers who understand when they need to access professional behaviour service & support (and other specialist services), and how to teach autistic students in the most effective manner (in appropriate settings) for the individual student. Everyone needs to recognise that behaviour service & support necessary for many students with ASD in education and other settings is not available in Australia … nor is there any plan to develop it. Where is CDA's support on this fundamental issue?

It is really unfortunate that you do not recognise that the needs of autistic students are different from “what you would do for any other child”. Failure to recognise and address the different needs of autistic students contributes substantially to the abysmal outcomes we observe at present. Your own observation of “a higher prevalence of children with autism diagnosis” shows students diagnosed with ASD and students needing behavioural services have different needs from “other students” including other students with disability.

The “deplorable” incidents that provoked all this are not crimes – well not under Australian law anyway. There is no prospect whatsoever that anyone will be found guilty of a crime in an Australian court of law. This is another issue really.

There may be “a much broader range of issues” but addressing those issues has not been much help for autistic students in the past (as is shown through education and employment outcomes). There is no reason to expect that general disability approaches would improve outcomes for autistic students in future.

Your position in the article is contrary to the interests of autistic students who are a major, and quickly growing, section of the student body.

Your approach in this article demonstrates that Assistant Ministers Fifield's expectation that cross-disciplinary disability advocates represent the disability community is seriously misguided.

I am happy for there to be “a bigger conversation” but it must be in addition to, not replacing, the conversations about the shocking education experiences and outcomes of autistic students. Any conversation about the needs of autistic students should involve representative of the whole ASD community … there must be balance to voices, such as CDA, that demonise the part of the ASD community who ask for alternatives to “the disastrous legacy” (see http://a4.org.au/node/743) due to dumping autistic students inappropriately in inclusive education settings.


Bob Buckley