Youngsters with disability transferring states to entry schooling alternatives

As the school year begins across Australia, some students are settling in a new state so they can have access to educational opportunities not available to them at home.

Important points:

  • Disability advocates say it is not uncommon for families to move interstate for educational opportunities
  • Language and Language Development Australia runs a school in Brisbane especially for children with a language disorder
  • SLDA is expanding and hoping to conduct outreach programs in other states to meet the “enormous” demand for services

Victorian mother Elizabeth Ellis has moved to Brisbane with her 9-year-old son Murray, who has language apraxia.

Ms. Ellis said Murray had communicated with Auslan for several years, and several specialists said he needed Auslan in the classroom.

She said using Auslan would teach Murray to speak and meant he felt trapped when he was with other people who signed up.

“It’s an absolute life changer for his mental wellbeing,” said Ms. Ellis.

She said Murray was unable to access enough Auslan in the classroom at his local school, and because he was not deaf or hard of hearing, he was not eligible to enroll in Victorian schools that teach with Auslan.

Ms. Ellis said when Murray heard about Toowong State School in Brisbane, which offers a bilingual foreign / English program for deaf and hearing children, he was excited.

The move means the family is separated – Ms. Ellis’ husband and their two older children will remain in Victoria – but she said it was important for Murray to get the education he needed before he fell too far behind his peers falls behind.

“I’m so excited for him. Anytime I think, ‘Oh my god, I can’t do this,’ I just look at him and I’m just so excited for what’s to come,” she said.

“He’s a dedicated, sociable little man. Imagine how much he could accomplish in the right setting.”

“Very common” for families to move states to education

Tasmanian mom Lisa Denny knows what it feels like to make such a decision.

She is also moving to Brisbane with her 11-year-old son Rory, who has a language disorder.

“In Tasmania, it has been very difficult to get the support we need,” said Dr. Denny.

Her husband and children will stay in Tasmania, as will Rory’s father.

“There are big decisions to be made, but what Brisbane offers Rory in terms of their language and language support, as well as their education, is a breeze,” said Dr. Denny.

Lisa Denny said she was “amazed” at the difficulties she faced in obtaining educational assistance for her son Rory. (Supplied: Lisa Denny)

Rory will attend Glenleighden School, run by the non-profit Speech and Language Development Australia.

Mark Yeowell, executive director of SLDA, said it was “quite common” for families to move to Brisbane for school.

“We have families who recently joined us from Canberra … and we’ve moved people from other states because we’re the only school of its kind in Australia and arguably in the southern hemisphere,” said Yeowell.

The Glenleighden School is specifically aimed at students with language, communication and related disorders. SLDA also runs an outreach program that helped about 800 Queensland students and their teachers in other schools last year.

Mr Yeowell said one in 14 Australian students has a language disorder, a disability that is often not recognized.

“It’s a diverse range of needs,” he said.

“Most often we talk about students’ ability to understand the language they are hearing – their receptive language – or their ability to express themselves – their expressive language.

“These things often come together to make it very difficult for them to get access to education in the traditional sense in school.”

Two young male students are supported by a teacher during an activity.The Glenleighden School is specifically aimed at students with language, communication and related disorders. (Supplied: The Glenleighden School)

There are approximately 120 students at Glenleighden School, but the SLDA recently announced plans to increase the capacity to approximately 300. She also hopes to expand her outreach services to other states.

“The demand is huge … we are open to opening more schools to replicate what we are doing here in Glenleighden in other states,” said Yeowell.

Parents “blocked and managed”

Dr. Denny said advocating for Rory’s rights and the rights of other children with disabilities in Tasmania has been a challenge.

“What amazed me is how hard it is to provide evidence why your child and other children should actually get the support they deserve, and most systems in place find ways not to help you,” she said said.

A spokeswoman for the Tasmanian government said the students’ learning plans were drawn up in consultation with the students, their parents or carers, teachers and professional staff.

“The Tasmanian government is committed to ensuring that every Tasmanian student can thrive in an inclusive learning environment. That is why we have introduced the new nationwide leading on-demand funding model,” she said.

Young students take a music lesson with a teacher playing the guitar.Young students take a music class at Glenleighden School. (Supplied: The Glenleighden School)

Ms. Ellis said her experiences with the Victorian Education and Training Department were similar.

“For the department to just go,” No, he’s not ticking a box, “it’s just soul-destroying,” she said.

A department spokeswoman said the Victorian government was “heavily involved in inclusive education” and invested nearly $ 1.6 billion in its package to include people with disabilities.

“All schools will benefit from the change and enable them to better support students who may not previously have been eligible for targeted assistance – such as those with autism, dyslexia or complex behavior,” she said.

“We need national leadership”

Advocacy organization Children & Young People with a Disability Australia (CYDA) said children across the country with disabilities face numerous barriers to getting the education they are entitled to.

“Often families are able to feel that they can only move or that children have to travel long distances to get access to a school where they feel they are getting the support they need” said the CYDA policy and programs manager Maeve Kennedy.

Ms. Kennedy said CYDA is aware that children and teenagers and their families are learning that their local school cannot support them “even though they have the right to go to their local school like everyone else”.

CYDA aims to develop a 10-year inclusive education plan that state and territory governments and the federal government would follow.

“We need national leadership on inclusive education,” said Kennedy.

“It is a human right for students with disabilities to have access to inclusive education and to maintain a quality standard together with their non-disabled colleagues.

“It just doesn’t happen right now.”

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