Hanson’s call to ‘hide’ children with autism misguided

Senator Pauline Hanson’s call yesterday to remove children with Autism from mainstream classrooms attempts to over-simplify a complicated issue, feeding into people’s ignorance.

That’s the perspective of Barrie Elvish, Chief Executive of are-able, a regional Victorian employment and disability services agency that has, for more than 20 years, helped people of all abilities find their place in local communities.

He said that marginalising or ‘hiding away’ children with special needs could be detrimental to their development, and also threatened to inhibit other children’s emotional understanding and tolerance of people who had different needs to theirs.

“Senator Pauline Hanson’s recent comments suggesting that autistic children should be removed from mainstream classrooms are not only unfortunate in the message they convey, but also because they are based on ignorance of the multiple conditions that comprise Autism.

“Autism comprises a broad spectrum of behavioural characteristics from low level Asperger’s to low functioning autism, the latter often associated with unrelated conditions including intellectual disability,” Mr Elvish explained.

“Education authorities across all states and political persuasions determined years ago that all children should be given equal opportunity to develop their full potential and bring their unique attributes to wider school communities.

“Marginalising or hiding away children with special needs in special schools is potentially detrimental to their social and emotional development and their general inclusion in mainstream society. It also denies the opportunity for other children to learn that a community is made up of a diverse range of personalities, characteristic and abilities,” he said.

“Given that Gonski Mark 2 has just been endorsed with the support of Senator Hanson and her One Nation colleagues in the same venue that Senator Hanson made her comments it is more than a little ironic that she is now calling for the exclusion of some students.

“In a compassionate and egalitarian society Autistic children, as with the majority of children with special needs, deserve their place in mainstream education. Any extra demands this inclusion may entail can be addressed through additional professional development and support for classroom teachers, their special needs assistants, and the schools in which they teach. As an ex teacher and having ongoing experience and interactions with autistic people I sincerely believe Australia as a society is better than this.”