Jewel TopsfieldOctober 27, 2010
Angela Hickey, with her seven-year-old son Dante Hickey-Sorbello, is worried about the school system for children with autism. Photo: Joe Armao
DANTE Hickey-Sorbello, who has autism, talks non-stop about facts. At kindergarten he would talk about trains, and the fact they had six carriages, until the other children ran away.
”He ended up staying in the book corner a lot,” says his mother Angela Hickey. ”It was a horrible year for him and us – the teachers really didn’t know what to do.”
For the past two years Dante, 7, has attended the Western Autistic School, where he is happier. However the school only goes to year 3, and Ms Hickey is distressed about what will happen to him.
While Melbourne’s eastern suburbs have two prep-to-year-12 autism schools, and the Northern Autistic School has campuses in Preston and Jacana, parents say there is nowhere for autistic children in the west after age nine.
”Inclusion into mainstream school does not work for all children,” says Chris Saunders, of Autism Schools Action. ”This is a human rights issue.”
Yesterday about 20 parents from the group confronted state Education Minister Bronwyn Pike at the launch of the new Laverton campus of the Western Autistic School, to demand the same options in the west as in other parts of Melbourne.
Ms Pike said she had commissioned a review into autism education in the west, and denied the region had been neglected. She said the government had been guided by the view of the Western Autistic School that it was in the best interest of children with autism to be supported at mainstream schools. ”People have divided views in the education community about this issue, ” Ms Pike said.
She said the Western Autistic School delivered outreach services to support schools working with autistic children and specialist training for teachers in mainstream schools.
Western Autistic School principal Val Gill said a prep to year 12 autism school would primarily suit students who had autism and an intellectual disability.
”You wouldn’t put children with high functioning autism or Asperger’s in a prep to 12 school because it would give them no opportunity to blossom in the real world or have the chance to form friendships,” Ms Gill said.