New program for autistic students

Nine WA primary schools will start an education support program for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder next year.

The program will be funded by the State Government, which has set aside $32 million for the program to be used in 16 primary schools by 2020.

WA Education Support Principals and Administrators Association president Linda Lane said the program would start at Gosnells Primary School.

“The program will be based on how it works in Gosnells, starting school-by-school and changing depending on how it works,” she said.

A child’s eligibility for the program will be guided by their diagnosis, the significance of their emotional and behavioural issues, their independence and their general eligibility for enrolment at WA public schools.

The program will be devised by a team of psychologists and education staff.

In 2012, research conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found about 115,000 Australians had autism – a 79 per cent increase from 2009.

Telethon Kids Institute of Research of Autism and Related Disorders principal investigator Andrew Whitehouse said the reason for the increase was the expansion of diagnostic boundaries.

“Twenty years ago, autism was not categorised, but now it branches into Infantile Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder, covering Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified,” he said.

The bureau’s 2012 report also found 95 per cent of children with autism attended school and experienced learning restrictions. Of those, 44 per cent needed to attend a special class or school.

Mr Collier said the new program would allow students with autism to integrate with the mainstream education system.

“We need to be very, very mindful of the fact that autism, that is the number of students with autism, is growing and we’ve got to cater for that, we’ve got to respect that,” Mr Collier said.

“It’s going to be cross boundaries, no restrictions, as flexible as we can for the parents and the students to access.”