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Roger Law, Secretary of Action for Tasmania's Autistic Children (A.T.A.C.) said today that the Education Department's service for children with Autism is ineffective, and in many cases is actually causing these children to regress.

Mr LAW said that since 2002 there have been three major reports of research which compares the Eclectic methods favoured by the Tasmanian Education Department, with the tested and trialed system of Applied Behavioural Analysis. (A.B.A.).

All three research programmes (in Norway, Israel and the USA) found that learning rates are substantially higher in children in the A.B.A. Groups. In all areas tested children in A.B.A. groups had statistically significant higher scores than those in eclectic groups.

In all the research projects both groups were given the same number of hours of treatment, viz between twenty eight and thirty eight hours per week. Even with these hours, those children in the eclectic group were found to have suffered significant regression in critical areas.

Mr Law said, however, that though the Education Department uses the eclectic methods, there is nowhere in Tasmanian schools where children receive this amount of support for special learning. For that reason alone, we must conclude that every child with Autistic Spectrum Disorder is regressing at an even greater rate every year.

Mr Law said that the American research went even further. It not only confirms the other research findings, but also tested programmes similar to the early childhood intervention services in Tasmania. The conclusion of the American research was that 100% of the children with Autistic Spectrum Disorderss nvolved in this programme had negative gains – that is, they regressed.

The stubborn refusal of the Tasmanian Education Department to implement evidence-based programmes for children on the Autistic Spectrum, programmes which concentrate on EDUCATING what is now the largest group of disabled children in the State is now placing the Government's Inclusion Policy in jeopardy, Mr Law said.

“In the last week I have attended two conferences with Education Department officials on behalf of families who are refusing to send their autistic children to school.

One of those families has 3 children who have been diagnosed with ASD. The second child had a total breakdown after bullying and abuse at school, and the family was unable to cater for his special needs, and he was taken into care. The family consulted a world expert in Autism who extensively tested their other children, and reported her findings. She drew up specific programmes for the education of these children. These reports were submitted to the local school in the hope of support from the Education Deparment.

When conferences were arranged recently, Department of Education officials turned up without copies of the reports, and stated that had not even read them. The reports have been with the Department for almost 12 months.

The family has now made it clear to these officials that the children will not be attending school unless the programme drawn up for the children by the renowned expert in ASD is implemented.

The other family has a child who was not coping in school, and an extremely ill mother. Following intervention and representation from A.T.A.C., the EducationDepartment and Disability Services agreed to jointly fund an A.B.A. Programme for the child. With less than a year of the programme completed, these two Departments unilaterally decided to withdraw funding for the programme. When this was first mooted, the Principal Clinical Psychologist of the interstate provider of his programme advised as follows.

“I now believe that there are suggesions to place X back in school. This is a major concern.

It is my considered professional opinion that a move to a classroom setting not only will halt all further improvements but will compromise gains made to date. It is well documented that children with Autism can learn if taught with appropriate strategies, but also lose all gains if the process is stopped before the learning achieved can be generalised into their daily life and prove functional for them. It is my experience that children with better language and social skills than X currently has, have regressed in the classroom when exposed to group instruction and where the individual perceives potential failure. X can be expected to regress to where language will be reduced to single words and his negative behaviours will escalate. As he is getting older and therefore larger, this will prove to be a major health and safety issue for the school. These behaviours, largely driven by stress, will also be echoed at home with potentially dire consequences.”

This warning has been completely ignored by the Department of Education. Without one member of their Department having tested the child, they have decided to force him to return to school. When asked to sign a document accepting liability if the child broke down, both officers of the Education Department and Disability Services refused to do so”

Mr Law said that these actions, and the attempt to force the family into returning him to school, border on criminal negligence. He went on to say that as this matter has been referred to the Minister for Education, it must be assumed that he condones the actions of his bureaucrats, including the heavy-handed pressure being exerted to make the family capitulate.

He said that it is time for the Minister to cease hiding behind his storm trooper in the Education Department and behind his highly paid advisors and meet with A.T.A.C. To discuss the wreck of his policies for autistic children in his schools

Mr Law went on to say that he has just been advised of a third family in the North-West who have now withdrawn their child from school until proper services for children with ASD are agreed to.

“It is time for the Minister For Good News to get down to the hard work of fixing his disastrous policies in relation to the provision of adequate services for children with Autism or watch his government's integration policies collapse as the largest disability group affected walk away from his schools.

Email address is jerobi40@bigpond.com.

ATAC's website is located at www.atacc.biz/atac

ATAC - Action for Tasmanian Autistic Children!