Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Speech on Children with Disability and ASD as addressed to principals on the Sunshine Coast 26/3/14

Hello, my name is Elissa Mizell.  None of my kids have an ASD diagnosis, however, ASD is the closest thing to the layering of learning challenges that they each experience.  My experience in advocacy over the past five years as parent of intellectually intellectually gifted children with multiple learning disabilities influenced me to switch careers from being an architect to being an all-abilities advocate for children and advocacy coach for parents.  All of my children are in the state school system, and my husband and I have a vigorous and positive relationship with their teachers and schools.   Thank you for having us as your guests today.  Thank you for being educators and for caring about children.  The work you do is important, and it has far-reaching effects for children and their families.    


[Picture of my child and her teacher]

I want to open with a post that I wrote on my advocacy site last week about my child’s wonderful teacher at Buderim Mountain State School.  This is what I wrote--“Today I scheduled a short chat [10 minutes] with my child's teacher. One of the things the teacher said was-- " I noticed while we were in the computer lab, [the child] was feeling overwhelmed with trying to compose sentences and type. [Child]'s anxiety was rising, so I asked her if she would like to get a drink to calm down. Then we talked about doing the assignment another way." This teacher then worked out a plan for me to assist my child with typing while she dictated. I could have hugged him for being so sensitive and kind to my child, and for being solutions-oriented. He didn't say what he could not do. He didn't complain about infrastructure or resources. He worked in partnership with me so the child could reduce her anxiety and show her knowledge. I am wondering if I could somehow get this guy to move up each year to teach my kid again! He should be cloned.”  That is the end of the post.  If any of you accept bribes, please let me know, as I would pay money to get this wonderful teacher to move up with my child to high school.  (I’m kidding. [laughter]  I wish I was kidding. [more laughter.])

We were so encouraged when Greg Peach informed us that you participated in  professional development through  the More Support for Students with Disability initiative.  We have also been working on educating ourselves and our families on the laws that protect children with disabilities and their families.  We have included, in your folder, a list of practices that are common among schools on the Sunshine Coast, along with the federal and state laws that they believe they break.  We hope it is a helpful list for you and for your staff.  I am not going to read through point by point as I know that you are getting more and more familiar with the law through your own PD.  I am going to talk about some of the big issues facing children with disability and ASD right now in schools.  The solutions to these problems, are found, not only in obeying laws, but in changing mindsets-- from what cannot be done to thinking creatively about what CAN be done--just as my child’s teacher is already demonstrating in his classroom as we speak.  

I am starting with a topic that is near to my heart. 

Victimisation.  The legal definition, from the standards is--action taken in relation to the person’s disability that is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to humiliate, offend, intimidate or distress the person or their associate (the parent).

63% of 1,167 children with ASD, ages 6 to 15, had been bullied at some point in their lives. 
Children with ASD are also often intentionally “triggered” into meltdowns or aggressive outbursts by ill-intentioned peers.
National survey by the Interactive Autism Network.  
When we leave our children at the classroom door, we charge you with a sacred trust.  We know that you take that very seriously.  Please remember that children with an ASD have a reduced capacity to understand social cues, and it puts them at risk for bullying.  They need protection, especially during unstructured time at breaks.  Some of the children in our group have sustained intense physical violence from other children and have ended up in the hospital.   It is your responsibility, under both state and federal law to protect these children from bullying by other children so that they are not damaged either physically or emotionally.  
Victimisation--action taken in relation to the person’s disability that is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to humiliate, offend, intimidate or distress the person or their associate” (in this case the parent).

From the Disability Standards for Education 2005

It is also vital that you work to protect these children and their parents from victimisation by teachers, who hold an immense amount of power over children by virtue of their job.  I will never understand why, but sometimes teachers humiliate a child for using disability adjustments or persuade the child not to use disability adjustments.  Sometimes a teacher will accuse a child of  faking a disability.  Sometimes teachers makes a diagnosis known to the class or to other parents, and point out the child’s weaknesses in public.  Teachers sometimes criticise parent for not doing “enough” early intervention and blame the parent for the child’s disability.  Teachers have been known to debate the diagnoses of the child, or to harass parents for using information from outside experts and refusing the help of the school’s G.O.  All of  these actions are arguably acts of victimisation.  

These examples of victimisation by teachers are not the combined experiences of our group, but only my own and my daughter’s personal experiences at state schools across Queensland over the past five years. Victimisation is more common and more painful than any of us would like to believe,  and, like many parents of children with disability, every time I meet with an administrator or a teacher, I have to work very hard to keep my past experiences from colouring my present interactions.


“ A detailed assessment, which might include an independent expert assessment, may be required in order to determine what adjustments are necessary for a student.” 
3.4.2(e) guidance note

Diagnoses and disability adjustments.  The guidance notes for the Standards say that disability adjustments should be determined by a detailed assessment.  They also state that an independent expert’s opinion may be required to determine  disability adjustments.   Often, you will have a parent walk in with a report from their child’s paediatrician or occupational therapist or speech pathologist.  These assessments are done by independent experts who detail the child’s diagnosis and behaviours related to their disability, and then make recommendations.  

Let us be clear, Recommendations from Independent Experts = Recommendations for Disability adjustments.  

Recommendations from Independent Experts = Recommendations for Disability adjustments. 

A principal, a guidance officer, or a teacher is not qualified to question the validity of the recommendations made by specialists in their respective fields, and when a school denies professional recommendations made by an independent expert, it is arguably breaking the law.  I want to take it even one step further--when a school denies disability adjustments, thereby setting the child up for failure, and then disciplines the child for behaviour related to the disability, arguably, the school breaks the law not once but twice.  

Many of our families have spoken with the human rights commission and with the anti-discrimination commission of Queensland, with solicitors and with the ombudsman’s office, as they see independent dispute resolutions services and courts as their only option to get disability adjustments for their child, so that their child can access education on the same basis as a child without disability. Just last week, I went to a talk by a senior conciliator at the Anti-discrimination Commission of Queensland.  In her words, often, the solution is very simple, but the communication and trust have broken down so that the commission has become involved.  

Parent Engagement + 2 way Listening + Flexibility + Creative Solutions = 

Trust, Fewer Conflicts, Less Stress for All Parties. 

We are here to advocate finding flexible and creative solutions for disability adjustments before the communication and trust break down.  Engaging the parent to participate in the process and being flexible and open to trying new solutions can be unfamiliar and uncomfortable, but it is infinitely easier than than working with the human rights commission and your superiors and the department’s lawyers, and the parent’s advocate, and the media, and THEN making the adjustments later. We have  included a list of conciliated outcomes from complaints made at the Human Rights Commission.  We hope you will see, as we can, that often the solution was very simple, and that the conflict and loss of trust could have been mitigated if both parties had flexibly worked together earlier for the good of the child.

The DDA protects people with a disability against discrimination in education in Admission and Access.

Refusing enrollment or offering enrollment on different terms to students with disability.  We have had several families in our group who have been refused enrollment because of the disability of their child.  If a school refuses enrollment because of the disability adjustments a child needs, the school is arguably breaking the law.  Many of the children in our group have been offered reduced hours at school.  This practice is discriminatory on its face and breaks both federal and state law.  The law prohibits any practice that offers a child with disability different terms of enrollment from a student without disability.  That means, that if you deny a child with ASD a place on a field trip because of the support that he requires, if you deny an intellectually gifted child with ASD a place in your gifted program or if you deny disability adjustments on the field trip or within the gifted program, you are arguably breaking the law.  Children with ASD are entitled to participate at school on the same basis as a child without disability and they are entitled to all the benefits of being at school.  

The Disability Discrimination Act makes it unlawful for people with disability or their associates to be victimised for claiming rights under the DDA, learning about the DDA, filing a complaint with the Human Rights Committee or alleging that another person has committed an act that is unlawful under the DDA.  

Penalty= 6 months imprisonment

Disability Discrimination Act 1992, Part 2, Division 4, Section 42.1

Before I close, we want to remind you of the dire consequences of victimising any children or their parents represented by their committee today.  We want you to know how serious the disability discrimination act is.  In Section 42, the disability discrimination act warns that any person who victimises another person for asserting rights under the DDA, or complaining to the human rights commission, or attending learning conferences about the disability discrimination act, the person who victimises can be penalised by imprisonment for six months.  The disability discrimination act is a very serious document, and it should be treated as such.   

After surviving the first draft of this speech, Greg Peach [regional director for the sunshine coast] worried that you might think that I am picking a fight with you, but I don’t think it is picking a fight  to remind you about the laws and to talk about how not following these laws impacts parents and children with an ASD.  We are not here to fight, but to convince you to work with us for the good of children with ASD.  We are asking that you educate and instruct your staff about implementing laws that are 20 years old.  Most of all, we are here to talk about shifting mindsets from what has always been done, to what CAN be done as you facilitate an environment that engages parents and is flexible about thinking of creative ways to implement disability adjustments.   We look forward to working together in partnership with your schools to ensure that children with an ASD can access education on the same basis as children without disability. Thank you very much for your time.  

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