On Wednesday afternoon, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson suggested to the senate that children with autism be removed from mainstream classrooms to stop other students being ‘held back’ (you can read Hanson’s comments here).
Mum of three Jessica Ey has written this open letter in response.
Dear Pauline Hanson,
Today I dropped my three children to school, same as any other weekday.
The first to hop out the car is my eldest. At 10 years old, he is full of energy and is beyond his years smart. He is in Year Five at school. He has a small group of friends that call themselves ‘the club’. They play together every day.
Kallan received mostly Bs on his report card, apart from an A in science. He is studying extension maths, and can spell long and difficult words, although his handwriting is somewhat atrocious. He has received a letter of commendation from his principal each semester, and has never been in any trouble at school. He has a vast understanding of our universe, how the world was made. He loves to read a range of fiction and non-fiction books and is probably more knowledgeable than me on most topics.
Kallan is also autistic. He is also at a mainstream school. Starting kindergarten at four years old, my child could barely speak and what he could say was extremely hard to understand. We pushed him. It was hard for him and hard for us but we pushed him to attend mainstream so he could have children to model from, to learn to speak from, to hopefully one day be his friend. He did not make his first proper friend until he was in Year Three at school.
If only you knew just how much work, how much heartbreak, how much joy we had gone through to get my son to a point where he is now fitting quite seamlessly into a mainstream school.
The second child to get out of the car was my nine-year-old. Campbell, like his brother, loves school and has a small group of friends he looks forward to seeing each day. Campbell loves all things transport or technology and can actually design and create games on the computer! He has also never been in any trouble at school, receiving a letter of commendation from his principal each semester. He got mostly Bs and Cs on his report card. He struggles with maths, but unlike his older brother he has beautiful handwriting and has written some talented and imaginative stories over the years for us to read.
Watch: Kathy Lette also has a beloved son with autism. She, too, wants the public to reframe our thinking around it. (Post continues.)
Like his older brother, Campbell is on the autistic spectrum. At four years old he was non-verbal and still wearing nappies. By five he was speaking and completely toilet trained - no thanks to the amazing Education Assistants and teachers at his mainstream school, and the students. These students don't know the impact they had on my son. All he has ever wanted is to be like the other kids. "The other kids don't use Picture Exchange Cards, so I'm talking and not using mine". "The other kids don't wear nappies any more so I don't want them to see mine, I'm not wearing them anymore". The list goes on.
I'm not saying Campbell doesn't struggle in mainstream, but can you tell me any child disability or not that doesn't struggle with division or multiplication at some stage in their life. If he hadn't been pushed to mainstream he wouldn't be the child he is today.
Lastly, my youngest child. He stays in the car and we travel further down the road to a special school - you know, the kind you think all my kids should be at. Patrick is six. He also has autism. He cannot speak, he cannot use sign language. He can not sit still for long periods. He needs a lot of support so it was always our logical choice to place him in ed support, the place that's best for him. His school is amazing and completely the right choice - for Patrick. Not my other two boys.
Autism is a spectrum disorder and there is more to it than lumping a group of kids together because they are squares who who won't fit in your round holes.
I want what any parents want for their children. For my children to have every opportunity available. For them to excel in life and for their talents to blossom. Lastly, for them to grow into functioning and contributing members of our society.
Please leave the decision making about these children to those who know best: their parents and the education department.
I sincerely hope you read this and re-think your comments and apologise to not only my sons, but the whole autistic community.