Education and Autism

Everything we do at Irabina, we do in the best interests of the amazing children and families that come through our door. A big part of what we do is to advocate for families, to give them an active, collective voice in the fight for the supports that they so desperately need.

We’ve been delivering autism therapies for 50 years. Through our experience we feel we are uniquely positioned to speak on matters related to autism in an informed way. We speak up in support of our families. We speak to provide information do the general public, to government, to educational institutions and the wider sector.

An issue we see day in and day out is in relation to access to education for children and young people with autism. Whilst we have come a long way, there is still a lot to be done. There’s a general lack of understanding and structural frameworks around autism, both in the main stream education and the special school systems. Autism presents in so many different ways, every child with autism is completely unique. The complexities around presentations are compounded when a child is experiencing the more severe forms of autism. The presentation of severe behaviours related to autism puts an enormous amount of pressure on the child, parents, siblings and the larger family. We see families pushed to breaking point on a daily basis, and we feel it’s our duty as a specialist in the field to do as much as we possibly can to support these families in dire need.

We, as a society, can’t lose sight of the fact that every child with autism, severe or not, has the same fundamental human rights as anyone else. At Irabina, we fight for those rights. This extends to the right to be educated and it’s in the educational sector we continue to see a need for a full review of the structural frameworks that are in place to assist children and young people who present with the more severe forms of autism. Whilst it is acknowledged that the education system has achieved a lot over the years in the area of autism, Irabina continues to see a lack of structural frameworks that are not only essential to assist in the education of the child, but also to provide a safe environment for the child, their teachers, and other students. The result of not having proper frameworks in place can be the ultimate expulsion of a child that a school deems as too problematic. This is obviously a last resort, but one we at Irabina think can be avoided if there’s a better understanding of severe behaviours with accompanying strategies and structures.

In order to increase awareness around issues related to severe behaviours, we have created the Australian Council of Behaviours of Concern (ACBC). This brings specialists, advocates and researchers together in their commitment to improve the health and quality of life of those individuals presenting with the most severe forms of autism, in particular those exhibiting severe behaviours of concern.

A model based on behaviour analysis and behaviour therapy delivered by specialist behaviour analysts, psychologists and clinicians is an evidenced-based approach that has a marked influence on both the prevalence and severity of problem behaviours. We see a dramatic improvement in children and young people presenting with severe behaviours if this model is followed. The model doesn’t stop with therapy. It’s a lifestyle change for families that can assist in the domestic environment and a model that we believe can be adapted to the educational system, where children and young people that are presenting with severe behaviours can be assisted through their day to day interactions at school with the guidance of specialists and training of teachers.

Willingness to undertake training rests with individual schools and the wider education department. As is the case with everything in our sector, it comes down to funding. We need structural reform promoted by the government with accompanying funding for serious change to be implemented. Too much is at stake to avoid this issue any longer. Children have a right to be educated, and teachers have the right to work in an environment where they are safe.

Debra Goldfinch – CEO Irabina Autism Services

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