Psychologist warns funding needed to avoid special needs 'mess'

Melinda McFadden and her husband Grant want more resources for teachers to help children with autism, like their son, reach their potential. Photo: Jamila Toderas

A Canberra child psychologist has warned cuts to support for special needs students could force children to leave schools. 

And the $100-million federal savings have already had some parents in tears, when early intervention pre-schools were abolished, Dr Eryn Davies said.  

"If they keep cutting funding, for the schools and mental health as a whole, it's going to be a point where it would just be a mess," she said.

"They're going to have to completely push back in funding because people in this situation just won't function," she said. 

Autism Asperger ACT chief executive Peter Brady said the federal cuts from June 30 would cost the not-for-profit organisation two staff and break the information links and capacity-building work of a current program. 

"We've been running the program for six years providing advice and advocacy – because of the nature of the model of the NDIS, that front-end [service] won't become part of it," he said. 

Woden Valley parents Melinda and Grant McFadden said extra support for teachers at their son's mainstream primary school - and for the community - would help him have more independence. 

Mrs McFadden said they wanted their son, who she described as a "bit of an explorer", to progress so he did not need to wear a high-vis vest in the playground.

The McFaddens said they had been disappointed when the school had required an adult to hold their son's hand during a cross-country oval run.

"Putting a high-vis vest on him, having an adult shadowing him, while all the others are able to run on their own, puts a gap between his peers that really shouldn't be there," she said.

The decision by a private running coach to tie the boy to his brother with a metre-long elastic wrist band - "with the best intentions", Mrs McFadden said, but against the parents' wishes - was another disappointment. 

"I would like for perspectives of all children with disabilities to be broadened and for us to see them all as capable learners," she said.

"To use restrictive practices with disabled children for their safety rather than choosing to increase funding so we can safeguard against the need for these practices instead is not ok."

Dr Davies, a co-director of the Canberra Psychology Centre for Children and Families, said society would miss out if those with autism were not made to feel safe and comfortable. 

"Certainly our world of technology and mathematics and science is very often driven by people with high-functioning Asperger's," she said.

A spokesperson for Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the Coalition provided an extra $100 million for students with disabilities last year in a one-year program extension, and the disability loading in place provided ongoing funding for students and support for teachers. 

The federal government will provide $1.1 billion for students with disabilities in 2015, one-third of all government spending in the area.

The number of children with special needs in ACT schools has increased by 25 per cent in the last four years.