Rockhampton principal fires back at Hanson’s autism comments

03 July 2017

In response to Senator Pauline Hanson’s comments regarding the ‘removal’ of autistic children from mainstream classrooms, Rockhampton Girls’ Grammar School Principal Christine Hills has penned a thoughtful and powerful letter. As published in Central Queensland’s CQ News. 

“Recent comments on the education of children on the Autism Spectrum have been described as everything from reprehensible to misunderstood. What they can best be described as is populist theory on the run; without a deep understanding of what the spectrum is and the many ways in which children who have ASD present in a classroom. This is not a one size fits all space.

And why is this just a conversation about ASD? Of all of the low incidence disabilities recognised by the Department of Education in its funding models, why is Autism the one that is being singled out? There are a great many challenges presented by a wide range of disabilities and other challenges children face that result in the types of behaviours that Senator Hanson wants to see removed from the “mainstream.” When it comes to Autism it sometimes feels to me that there is a lack of empathy around these children and that they should just stop misbehaving.

It’s comments like Ms Hanson’s that contribute to a culture of what I call “Caring into underperformance”. It’s where well-meaning educators and other adults, for fear of facing discomfort, overcompensate for these children so that they don’t feel bad. “They can’t” becomes the reason why they shouldn’t try and yet, let me tell you, these children very often understand why they are in the classroom behind the fence.

And what do we propose happens when they leave school? Is there going to be a ‘special’ lane for these people to drive in? Is there going to be a ‘special’ aisle at the grocery store? Is there going to be a ‘special’ series of seats at the next concert?

It’s difficult but it’s necessary. We can’t hide behind a segregation mentality.

Support teachers in the classroom. Differentiate. Engage Parents.

Let’s devote our time to researching ways we can best educate and include. The work of great educators like Anita Archer and Temple Grandin is a good starting place. In her latest work, ‘The Loving Push’ Grandin and Moore, challenge the notion that these children challenged and encouraged to meet their potential. Segregated models of education often leave these children without a range of peers to learn from, without social interactions that will replicate what they will find later in life. It can leave them very unprepared to meet the world they are growing into.

Before my children had the privilege of being at Rockhampton Girls Grammar, my youngest sat in a classroom in Year 1 at a school with a range of children with a variety of challenges. And yes, from time to time there was disruption. Things were thrown. Language was inappropriate. And it became easy to focus on the disruption rather than the great learning and social development that was occurring.

But, they were supported by an amazing teacher, teacher aides with a deep knowledge of student’s needs, the best Head of Special Education I have known and a school committed to inclusion.

One day, when even I became frustrated by the latest meltdown of her table buddy, she held my hand, looked me in the eyes and with all the wisdom of a 6-year-old said, “Mummy, it’s ok. I’ll help him and you know what? He’s better at soccer than I am so he’ll be on my team at lunch”. She’s now in year 4, can read and write with the best of them and has great footwork.

If only, sometimes, we could see the world through the eyes of our children. All children.”