4 Nov 2015

Tearful submissions at special needs inquiry

7:32 am on 4 November 2015

A parliamentary inquiry into special needs such as autism has opened with emphatic and often emotional submissions from parents and teachers.

The Education and Science Select Committee is investigating how schools identify and help children with dyslexia, dyspraxia, and autism spectrum disorders.

At its first hearing of submissions, parents told of the difficulty of getting help for their children, while teachers described a system that needs better resourcing.

Hutt Valley mother Luana Aulalo told the committee her son was doing well since being diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, ADHD and anxiety disorder.

But she had to struggle for four years to convince health professionals to take her son's problems seriously, she said.

Ms Aulalo said families needed more support, especially if they could not afford to pay for private help for their children.

"Without these appropriate support services and resources, many New Zealand families, Pacific Island families, and Maoris, and also our European families with financial strain will struggle.

"I have experienced and endured this in the last three years where I have blown my budget because I care so much about my son."

Rachel Mackay cried as she described her daughter's dyspraxia. As the chairperson of a school board of trustees she could see that there was not enough help to meet all the special education needs, she told the committee.

"It would be great if more could be done earlier, or in the mainstream to support a wider range of kids on the [disability] spectrum.

"The challenge in education... is because of the limitations - we tend to have ambulances at the bottom of the cliff, and it would be lovely if we had the wherewithall to build a fence at the top."

Autism Action founder Kim Hall told the select committee the government was failing people with autism.

"We believe the ministries of the Crown have failed in their response to autism at all levels, from detection and diagnosis, lack of early intervention, failures in primary and secondary education, through to inadequate support and care for adults and the elderly."

Teachers also appeared before the committee.

Denise MacKenzie said she had spent more than 30 years working in special education in the Wairarapa.

Schools in her area were becoming overloaded by special needs problems and there were not enough specialists to help them, she said.

"I'm totally committed to inclusive education as a philosophy, but I think what we've done over a number of years is that we have actually under-resourced the people who are working with these children."

James Barber is a new teacher working as a reliever. In the past, he has worked as a teacher aide and as a support worker for people with disabilities.

He told the committee schools did not get enough funding to help children with special needs, and teacher aides needed more pay and better training.

"There are programmes teacher aides can be sent on. I myself, when I was a teacher aide, was sent on a programme. It was a day seminar and full of really cuddly stories about autism which did not reflect the reality.

"No matter how many YouTube videos you watch, it doesn't necessarily help you when you're suddenly confronted with a boy who is assaulting another student.

The committee continues hearing submissions today.