New program to benefit Peel students with autism

Dozens of Peel school students with autism who are “having a rough time” in mainstream education will be supported by a specialised learning program in 2019. 

North Mandurah Primary School will be the only school in the Peel region to pilot the Education Department program, which launched in six WA public schools last year.

Up to 25 students from Kindergarten to Year 6 will be accepted into the three classes.

Program coordinator Debbie Hawthorn said the aim was to support students with autism, who had no intellectual disability.

Read More:

“It’s for students who are having a rough time in mainstream education,” she said.

“Students who are struggling to meet curriculum outcomes and struggling behaviourally or emotionally.

“The intent is to support them in their curriculum, but also their emotional and social learning.”

Ms Hawthorn said an individual program would be made for each student with an aim to integrate them back into mainstream schooling. 

It sounds like it would definitely be beneficial to the child.

Michelle Murphy

“It’s about these students having a mainstream experience with high levels of support and teaching that caters to their needs,” she said. 

Ms Hawthorn agreed there would be high-demand, with one in every 100 students on average diagnosed with autism.

“We need to keep in mind this is a pilot project, and start with a cohort of students who we can make a difference to,” she said. 

Mandurah mother Michelle Murphy said her daughter Kiana, who has autism, would have benefited from this program at a young age.

The model provides specialist and intensive support to students with autism who have the intellectual capacity to learn the mainstream curriculum, but who have specific social and emotional development needs.

Martin Clery

“It sounds like it would definitely be beneficial to the child,” she said.

“It will help to educate parents, teachers and the community on autism, so it can be diagnosed early on. 

“They did not know Kiana was autistic until she was ten because autism is on a spectrum and a lot of children present differently.”

Ms Murphy said all schools should have a specialised program for students with autism.

However, Ms Hawthorn said the Education Department did not have any plans to implement the program into every school.

Mandurah MP David Templeman said he was excited for the program to be introduced to the area.

“North Mandurah Primary School has a strong reputation of delivering excellent teaching and pastoral care programs,” he said. 

Mr Templeman said other schools with the program have reported improved student attendance rates, reduced anxiety and increased verbal communication.

Autism WA spokeswoman Tasha Alach said the program would provide a positive learning experience for students with autism including smaller class sizes, less distractions, break areas, visual supports and routine.

Ms Alach said the 22 to 25 students who could access the program was “a great starting point”.

“Overtime, once the program becomes more established this will create opportunities for more student placements,” she said. 

Ms Alach said the placements were not static, and a large number of students would be supported in the program each year, because students would be transitioning back into mainstream schooling.

Education Department spokesman Martin Clery said 10 more state schools were set to start the program by 2020.

“The model provides specialist and intensive support to students with autism who have the intellectual capacity to learn the mainstream curriculum, but who have specific social and emotional development needs,” he said.

Expressions of interest are being taken for the program.

For more information contact Debbie Hawthorn on Debbie.Hawthorn@education.wa.edu.au or 9535 5800.