Funds call as autism students numbers triple

Schools are struggling to cope with a tripling in the numbers of students being diagnosed with autism disorders. Picture: Justin Lloyd Source: News Corp Australia

Schools are struggling with a threefold rise in the number of stud­ents with autism spectrum disorders, sparking state demands for extra federal funding.

The number of autistic children in West Australian public schools has more than trebled in eight years, to 4000 stud­ents. In NSW, the nation’s biggest public schooling system, teachers are dealing with 14,000 students diagnosed on the autism spectrum — a 160 per cent increase since 2008.

In Queensland, 12,709 state school students — or 2.5 per cent — have been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, up from 4620 a decade ago.

At least one in six students in Victorian schools has been diagnosed with a disability, mental health issue or learning disorder — including autism, Asperger disorder, dyslexia and attention defic­it hyperactivity disorder. The official data, provided toThe Australian by state and territory education departments, reveals an alarming rise in the number of students diagnosed with intellectual or learning disabilities.

It will put pressure on the ­Abbott government to use next month’s federal budget to extend the so-called Gonski schools funding model beyond next year.

In NSW alone, disabilities, mental health problems and learn­ing disorders affect 12 per cent of students in public schools — an average of three children in every class.

In South Australia, 14,848 children — or 9 per cent of public school students — have a diagnosed disability.

Three-quarters of disabled students are educated in mainstream classrooms.

The federal government has allocated $5.2 billion to help schools cater for students with disability and learning disorders between last year and 2017.

The Australian Education Union claimed yesterday that 100,000 students were missing out on funded support, especially in poor neighbourhoods.

“Schools across Australia are seeing rising numbers of students diagnosed with disabilities which require support in the classroom,’’ said AEU president Correna Haythorpe. “We know that schools are taking money from their existing budgets to meet the unfunded needs of students with disability.

“This is not a fair or sustainable situation.’’

A NSW Edu­cation Department spokesman said his state would spend more than $1.2bn this year supporting students with disabilities, either in mainstream classrooms or special schools.

He said it was important that the federal government develop a “disability loading’’ to pay the states and territories extra funding for students with disabilities or learning disorders. “The cost of educating students whose learning is impacted by disability is greater than for general education,’’ the NSW spokesman said.

“The number of students whose learning is impacted by disability is increasing, which necessitates continuing and increasing commonwealth support.’’

Queensland Education Minister Kate Jones warned that the Abbott government would cut $30bn from schools funding nation­ally over four years.

The Abbott government’s first budget last year gave a commitment to funding schools using the needs-based model proposed by businessman David Gonski until the end of next year. It is now under pressure to extend that for at least two more years.


Editorial: This is not actually news ... this growth in the numer of people/students with autism spectrum disorder was reported previously; see the Australain Bureau of Statistics report (also the 2009 version) and reports at national/regional conferences