Home' Greymouth Star : May 27th 2017 Contents Greymouth Star
8 - Saturday, May 27, 2017
arents of children who need a hand up
at school are becoming increasingly
frustrated with the lack of help available
— and in desperation some are turning
to home schooling as an alternative.
They have said their children’s special
needs are either not being recognised, or if they are,
schools are finding it difficult to access funds for
teacher aides. Teachers are becoming increasingly aware
of issues such as autism spectrum disorders, but their
cries for help are, in turn, not being heard.
The issue is reaching a crescendo in the hidden pages
of closed Facebook support groups, where the agony of
parents is heartbreaking.
The same theme keeps emerging — to access any help
for their children, they must become ‘ THAT parent ’
— the annoying, nagging, complaining mum or dad
who is constantly on the principal’s doorstep making
demands. Or, they need to know someone who knows
the system and can guide them through the maze of
forms, procedures and hoops to get help.
The Ministry of Education funds a raft of special
needs, and this area is currently being restructured
to pour more money into early childhood — but the
minister has said its budget will not be increasing,
so that is likely to come at the expense of over-eight
year olds. Demand for such services has been steadily
increasing in the last several years as psychologists get
better at diagnosing issues, particularly those on the
autism spectrum, and schools become more aware of
what they are dealing with. But many are critical of
the multi-layered bureaucracy involved to get help for
a child, and not all schools are up to speed with the
problems — or the solutions.
“They tried to make it our problem,” a Christchurch
mother ‘Sarah’ told Newsroom.
“The school’s first assumption was always that there
was something wrong with Ethan’s home life. We
came up with a learning plan eventually but they didn’t
follow it — not all the teachers knew about it. They
sent me an e-mail saying ‘We didn’t sign up for this’.”
She says she and her husband are both well educated
and able to express their views to the school — “ What
about people who have English as a second language,
or feel intimidated?”
“The education system needs to start listening to the
parents,” Kitt Slater, the mother of an ADHD son,
Her experience at a North Shore primary school was
of endless form-filling, and pitting professionals who
knew Alex needed help, against teachers who did not
want to know.
“A t fi rst the teachers said he was naughty. We paid
quite a lot of money to get him professionally assessed
but they wouldn’t use the assessment. The school said
there was no funding for him because it was decile 10
school. He had a fantastic teacher for the first two years
but she left. I just don’t think they had the knowledge
to deal with it. You don’t want to always be at the
school being a pain. It takes so much energy.”
The situation improved when Alex moved on
to Northcote Intermediate, which she said was
“wonderful”. But in the meantime her desperation to
help her child had led to her becoming a teacher aide.
“I had to — because no one else was doing anything,”
“Lots of kids are falling through — there are so many.
They struggle, and parents don’t want to put their
Helping families navigate the maze of the system
are groups such as Auckland-based Disability
Connect, which has a social worker available funded
by the group. Chairman Colleen Brown says they are
inundated with requests for help, so much so that they
are fundraising for another social worker — a position
she believes should be funded by the Ministry of
Getting help for those children on the autism
spectrum can be particularly fraught. Often they
are not ‘disabled’ enough to warrant ORS (Ongoing
Resourcing Scheme) funding for those with high
learning needs. Filling in the paper work for ORS is an
art form in itself, where parents must detail every single
thing that is ‘wrong’ with their child. Brown says many
find it too heartbreaking, and give up. Many can not
face the bureaucratic battle while they are also coping
with a difficult child.
Vasantha Naidoo has a disabled daughter and is on
the board of Disability Connect.
“There are various ways to access information and
navigate the system but not everyone knows about it,”
“It’s a whole new world for you and you don’t know
where to start. The Ministry of Education doesn’t want
to talk to you because you are a problem. You are too
needy and demanding. If your child is lucky enough to
get ORS funding then you are okay. But if they don’t,
they slip under the radar. Just filling in the forms is an
She fears the difficulties will mean the whole disabled
community is going to be left behind.
“As a mother, fighting every step of the way, it ’s hard
going. I can understand why a person would give up
and withdraw their kids. People get to the end of their
rope. They can’t cope any more.”
Naidoo says if she had not had a sister who is a
teacher coaching her in the background on what to do,
she would not have known where to turn next.
“ You have to be prepared to fight for them. You have
a voice. Use it.”
But she says a lot of people do get beaten down by
the schools, by the system, and treated like idiots.
“Some of these parents are suicidal.”
Diana is one parent whose high-functioning autistic
son Sam did not fit into the funding parameters for
He dipped in and out of various schools in between
bouts of correspondence school. The pair of them left
Upper Hutt for Whanganui when Diana heard of a
school that was sympathetic to such issues — but for
her, this turned out not to be the case.
“They were painful years,” she tells Newsroom.
“The school wouldn’t do an IEP (Individual
Education Plan) for him. In class he would sit quietly
school and asked for help, asked for an IEP — I
didn’t even get to the stage where the problem was
They returned to correspondence school. “He was
lonely. I kept trying to get him back into school. Special
Education was involved, they knew of his diagnosis.
“ Teachers’ attitudes need to change. If they had
accepted his diagnosis, if he had assistance — someone
to watch over him — do an IEP — it could have
worked out. But it feels as if you’re up against a wall all
“The whole area of resourcing children with
disabilities in school is fraught and it always has been,”
“The matter is compounded by the high numbers
of parents who have not experienced New Zealand
schooling and don’t understand the basic system let
alone the ‘special education route’.
“The big question for me is — who walks parents
through this process? If informed parents are frustrated
— then what about those with English as a second
or third language, or those who are newly arrived and
trying to find out how to access the ECE system or
She points out that as we get better at diagnosing
children, even more resources will be needed.
Brown would like to see a case worker assigned
to such children to guide them through transitions
between schools, and between teachers. She is not sure
if the new Vulnerable Children funding model, where
the money follows the child rather than being allocated
to a school, will be a good or bad development. She
fears it will mean another layer of bureaucracy foisted
on already overworked schools by Wellington.
Brown says some schools handle special needs
children better than others and there is a grapevine
where parents can try to find a sympathetic school.
“Finding a school willing to listen to you is the
She quotes one parent who echoes the feelings of
many others when she said ‘I’m sick of feeling grateful
for the crumbs I get ’.
“All parents want the best for their children but trying
to access information is a battle — one of the many you
face with a disabled child.”
Fran has given up that battle for her youngest son,
and now home-schools her nine-year-old. He and
his 11-year-old sister both have autism-related issues
and she continues to fight on behalf of her daughter.
But she struggles to get professionals interested, plans
written, and teachers listening to her.
“I’ve just been told we should move from my home
town (Rotorua) as yet another specialist said that they
have never seen schools like the ones we have here.
I am now labelled that parent — schools (seem to)
believe that I owe them for having my children each
That ’s a familiar sounding story to Colleen Brown.
“ What we used to dream of was a Prime Minister
who had a son or daughter who had special education
Brown says we are talking about huge numbers
of children — estimates are that nearly one in four
children need some sort of support. She says many
parents just do not own up to that need — “ it ’s not
necessarily the thing to do”. There are also many who
can not afford the $750 it costs to have a professional
“It ’s a worrying, perplexing issue, and it ’s not going to
“Families should not have to be fighting a battle”
Dr Jude MacArthur, a senior lecturer at Massey
University’s Institute of Education, believes things are
starting to improve. She says the start point for getting
these children help is teacher competence, but we still
have a way to go in teacher education.
“ We need good classroom teachers who have a good
level of knowledge on how to work with a diverse level
of children in the classroom,” she said.
“ We also need to know that people who provide
teacher training themselves come from diversity.”
MacArthur points out New Zealand has a policy of
‘ inclusive school systems’, and said to a degree that is
“But there are gaps in terms of teacher capability. We
want to get to a stage where teachers are coming out
of colleges (with this knowledge) — teachers have a
responsibility to teach all children. And they want to
be going into schools with good solid leadership. There
is a high amount of variation and that should not be
MacArthur agrees there is a stress point over the
children who do not make it into the ORS funding
system but still need support at school.
“The question is where do you draw the line? Are
enough children eligible under ORS? — because it
does provide good levels of support.
“Discussions are going on now over what is being
called Learning Support — there is a change as a result
of that. But the minister has made it clear there will be
no additional funding and there is a question around
equity around that. If classrooms are having to draw on
other sources of funding then there should be questions
about if there is enough funding or not.
“Schools have been trying to dip into other buckets
here, there and everywhere to make this work and
that ’s patently unfair. We should be listening to school
principals about resourcing.
“There are some fantastic schools doing some good
inclusive education. We do have to be careful when
talking about this to not just see it as a funding issue:
we need to be paying attention to good teacher
education; good levels of professional development;
and providing the support to schools.
“ We have good systems in place for that to happen:
whether we have enough people on the ground to
provide it to people who need it — we should be
asking questions around that.”
That includes teachers in this area with special
knowledge around the autism spectrum.
MacArthur believes there has been a palpable change
from more teachers who recognise the need for schools
to be inclusive, and that people who have disabilities
deserve to have good lives.
“There has definitely been a change. I see that in the
meetings I go to. The rooms are full. A good range of
school principals now saying ‘Yes, this is the way we
need to go’.
“Fundamentally you have an Education Act that
gives children the right to attend their local school; it’s
fair and just.
“Some schools do it, but what is preventing all schools
from being like that?
“Families should not have to be fighting a battle to
get their children to school.”
Parents battle for
special needs children
Parents of children who need a hand up at school
are frustrated with the lack of help available —
and in desperation some are turning to home
schooling as an alternative. ALEXIA RUSSELL,
an Auckland journalist with more than 30 years’
experience, including as Newstalk ZB’s national
news director and as a reporter at the New Zealand
Herald, reports for Newsroom.
As parents, there is a constant temptation
to shield our children from bad news. But
sometimes, and in particular with acts of
terrorism, bad news is unavoidable — it
is on television, it is on social media, and it is on our
Experts from the Royal College of Psychiatrists
have advised that parents should be honest with their
children about the Manchester terror attack.
“ We would not advise hiding your child from what
may be on the news or social media,” Dr Bernadka
Dubicka, chairwoman-elect of RCP ’s child and
adolescent psychiatry faculty, said.
“They will inevitably learn about it from their
friends, so it’s best to be honest with them about what
Yet how exactly do you go about explaining to a
young child that 22 people have been murdered at a
Gemma Allen, a senior bereavement counsellor at
Winston’s Wish, Britain’s leading charity for bereaved
children, offers the following tips for talking to
children about terrorist attacks.
For children of all ages, the most important thing
is to reassure them that they are safe. Do not get into
the political context with primary-aged children.
That may come up in conversation with older
children, but the importance at any age is offering the
reassurance that they are safe.
For pre-school children, use concrete language: don’t
say “This person went to sleep” or “ We’ve lost that
person” — because that could instil fear or anxiety in
that child about going to sleep.
And what does lost mean? They are lost at the
shops? Be accurate and mindful of the impact of your
For pre-school, think about how much exposure
they have had.
Maybe they have overheard the news, so the
conversation could be quite brief: acknowledge what
has happened, and say that lots of people have died as
a result of a really bad incident. You can say that we
don’t know why this has happened.
As the parent or teacher or carer, the most important
part is to offer reassurance: this is very unusual, there
are lots of safety checks in place to protect us.
Use age-appropriate language, and be aware of what
your child understands: do they really know what
“died” means? It is usually not until the age of five or
six that children understand that death is permanent.
With primary school, the majority will understand
what “dead” means. So it may be that you can add
details — you may be able to sit down and watch the
six o’clock news together.
You should talk about a bad action or behaviour —
not bad people. Ms Allen explains: “A lot of our work
is with families bereaved through murder.
“ With children, you must be careful about the
language: people are not bad — it is something bad
that they have done — this helps prevent anxiety in
children, and fears that ‘bad people’ are coming to get
Social media awareness
Secondary school aged children will have come
across news about the attacks already on social media.
Remind them that some of the things they have read
there may be incorrect. Have a conversation with your
child about what they think has happened.
Talk about the images they have seen — these can
be more powerful than words.
If they see an image, and have not had a
conversation with someone they trust, they will build
up these images something that is so big that it is
unmanageable for them; you do not want a child to
start fantasising that someone is going to come after
When I have spoken to my children, who are
primary and pre-school age, about previous terror
attacks, I’ve tried to shift their focus towards the
coming together people in the aftermath, and the
work people around the world to keep everyone safe.
From certain politicians’ dangerous reactions — for
example, Jeb Bush saying terrorists in Paris were
carrying out “an organised attempt to destroy Western
civilisation,” these men were granted more power than
This hysteria is exactly what the people carrying out
these acts want. And it is exactly this sort of hysteria
that we, as parents, need to protect our children from.
Instead, this is the sentiment we need to spread: that
the majority of the world wants peace.
As Fred ‘Mr’ Rogers, the American children’s
television host and one of my childhood heroes, was
fond of saying; “Whenever there is a catastrophe,
always look for the helpers — because if you look for
the helpers, then you’ ll know there’s hope.”
— New Zealand Herald
Explaining terrorism horror to children
As the parent or carer, the most important part is to offer reassurance.
Links Archive May 26th 2017 May 29th 2017 Navigation Previous Page Next Page