Young people with disabilities fare worse than other young people in the population. This is because they’re less likely to engage in education, work, and community, leading to social, family, and economic implications. Therefore, young people with disabilities require appropriate support, to develop independent living skills and maximise their opportunities for independence.
The Meaning of Disability
The number of Australian youth with a disability or learning disorder has grown steadily in recent years. This is due to a couple of key factors, a rise in cases of autism and fetal alcohol syndrome, and an expansion of the definition of disability. Disabilities now include learning disorders, such as dyslexia, as well as life-threatening allergies and even diabetes. Additionally, children with “socio-emotional’’ problems, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or Asperger syndrome, are also now included. So too are those with speech difficulties or epilepsy. Expansion of the meaning of disability means children who might have been previously left behind will now get the assistance they need.
Rising Numbers in Mainstream Schools
Half a million school students in Australia have a disability or learning difficulty. With the closure of many “special schools’’, main stream schools have been called on to absorb high-need children. Teachers are finding themselves teaching a range of children with needs they aren’t trained to deal with. As some teachers attempt to cope with the situation, Children with Disabilities Australia are receiving reports of restraint and seclusion of children with disabilities. Children with disabilities have the right to education without discrimination, and equality of opportunity. Nevertheless, many remain excluded from equal access to education due to these mitigating factors.
What Assistance is Needed?
The needs of students with disabilities ranges. Nationally, one in 50 students requires extensive assistance in class. This means special equipment, psychologists, health therapists, or attention from a teacher every few minutes. Another 3.4% need substantial assistance, including allied health therapists or psychologists, or help to go to the toilet. A further 8.3% require supplementary assistance, such as a healthcare plan to treat allergies or asthma. Then there are the one in 20 children who only have a mild disability and just require basic assistance and/or care.
Help is on Its Way
To ease the burden on teachers, principals are designating money from general budgets to spend on children with disabilities. In fact, 84% of principals are following this course of action. This is a surprising figure and indicates the need for government funding and support.
Conversely, the federal and state governments claim they are investing adequate money and support to fix the problem. Some of their claims include: –
- Federal: Funding has grown by $100 million every year since 2014, to $1.3 billion this year and will rise to $1.4bn next year. They are working to “force” universities to train all student teachers in how to “engage and teach’’ students with a disability.
- South Australia: Spending on students with a disability has risen by 41% since 2010. They also employ one school support officer for every 2.3 teachers.
- Victoria: Spends $659m a year to support the 4% of students (about 24,000 students) with moderate to high levels of need.
- New South Wales: Set to spend $102m this year supporting more than 6,900 students with a disability in regular classes. And $454m for 21,000 students in special schools or specialist classes.
- West Australia: Direct per-student allocation and extra funding for students with fetal alcohol syndrome and dyslexia.
From the information supplied, it does look like the government is working to assist Australian youth with disabilities. And where they may be failing, school principals appear to be picking up the slack. There is still more that needs to be done. However, the issues are being dealt with and the future of youth with disabilities in Australia seems to be bright.