Children with special needs

Children with special needs

Developmental delay and early intervention

Early intervention is critical for all developmentally delayed babies and pre-school children, whether the delay is associated with a diagnosis of disability or simply late development. Early intervention has an enormous impact on the lives of developmentally delayed babies and children as it takes advantage of the early years where maximum learning takes place. In some cases early intervention can spell the difference between a delayed child having good learning outcomes or being a “special needs” child. Early intervention helps get children with disabilities ready for school. As such;

  • The waiting lists on early intervention services must be eliminated to allow all developmentally delayed babies and young children to access these programs as soon as their developmental issues become apparent, even before a diagnosis is made, as diagnosis seldom makes any difference to the type of therapies recommended. Eliminating these waiting lists allows families to take advantage of babies’ and children’s early months and years of learning and alleviates parents’ distress about their children’s future.
  • Paediatricians need training to direct parents to appropriate services as soon as a diagnosis is sought.
  • Early intervention playgroups should be widespread, free and culturally appropriate for all familias.
  • Toy libraries with intellectually and physically stimulating toys should be free and • Indications that a child is not developing at the same rate as most other children can cause parents to feel panic, denial or grief and subject to social and competitive pressures and misunderstandings from their community. The siblings of children with special needs also miss out on attention and suffer stress. Support groups and activities for parents and siblings of children with disabilities or developmental delay are few and far between and seldom funded. These services need to be provided in all locations and adequately funded. People with direct experience in these issues need to run these services.
  • A full range of free respite services, of the extent and nature desired by families and people with disabilities themselves, should be made available to all families of people with disabilities of all ages, ranging from caring within the home, to occasional care to residential care. No young person with a disability should be forced to live, either permanently or temporarily, in nursing homes designed for the elderly. Respite should also cover performing housework tasks and funding family members’ time out from stressful caring roles. Given ongoing problems surrounding the treatment of children in state care, respite services and residential care must be controlled by residents and communities rather than the state and properly funded to ensure quality of life and individual choice for all residents. End the tragedy of families having to surrender their disabled children as wards of the state before families can gain respite.

We call for the government to pay for all modifications to private dwellings that will enable people to continue as these help with all children’s development and curb consumerism.

living comfortably in their own homes if they become disabled or have a child with a disability make all parks and recreation venues accessible to people with all forms of disability, including rides in entertainment parks. Put all-abilities play equipment in all neighbourhood parks so that friends and siblings of all abilities can play together in their own neighbourhoods.

Special programs need to be developed for babies and young children who need speech therapy in languages other than English so that their therapy is being conducted in a language the children are actually learning to speak, as well as introducing some English. This can be achieved in the long term by training people who speak languages other than English as speech therapists.

In the short term English-speaking speech therapists should have paid opportunities to communicate with ethnic communities and families about their needs and learn some key words in different languages to introduce into their programs. Australia should seek child development therapists from overseas who can help migrant families to access relevant early intervention programs.

Change the name of “speech pathologists” back to “speech therapists” as the inference that people with speech problems have“pathology” is confronting and stigmatising to people using such services and to their families.

Restore funding to neighbourhood maternal and child health centres so they can resume the role they had over fifteen years ago as spontaneous drop-in centres where parents (usually mothers) could socialise and talk things over with the (usually female) nurse at any time and get referrals for babies’ problems from someone they trust. This is crucial in picking up and acting upon early signs of babies’ developmental problems and taking advantage of the early months and years of babies’ learning to ameliorate the effects of developmental delay. The current “cost effective” system of more strictly controlled appointments to measure developmental milestones at certain age levels undermines the relationship between mothers and local nurses and discourages open and timely communication from mothers - the spontaneous voicing of nagging uncertainties that a baby might have a problem.

The medical uncertainties, bureaucracies, professional and medical terminology, waiting lists and agencies and therapists that parents of developmentally delayed children have to deal with cause extra pressure.

Criteria for obtaining Carers Allowances and Carers Payments should be relaxed and the level of payment raised to enable parents to take time off work to deal with these problems. Parents should have unlimited free access to mentors or advocates to guide them through the child disability maze.

Boost funding for playgroups where parents and grandparents can get non-threatening support and information about childhood developmental issues, including playgroups based around different languages and cultures. These also enable young children who don’t go to childcare to socialise and develop their abilities.

Community education is needed amongst parents to teach them more sensitivity towards other parents who have children with disabilities and developmental delay.

Cut the delays and red tape on the Aids and Equipment funding program and give children and adults orthotics and other aids as soon as they need them.

As socialists we discourage socially competitive “baby shows” as well as sexist “beauty pageants” as a means of raising funds for people with disabilities. These competitions devalue people with disabilities by upholding physical perfection as the major criteria by which to judge the worth of human beings. Rather than benefiting people with disabilities, “baby shows” contribute to a social climate where some mothers feel pressured to keep obviously disabled or disfigured babies and young children out of sight, indoors or under pram covers, away from other parents and children and the prying eyes of the public.

This limits the social and physical development of these children and stigmatises these families. We instead advocate forums where parents can openly talk about the difficulties of raising children with disabilities and medical issues and/or on low incomes so that the real needs of all babies, children and parents can be better understood and met.

Education for children with special needs

Special education and integration programs in mainstream schools and pre-schools have a lifelong impact, not only in terms of qualifications but equally important in terms of self confidence, independence, decision making, social skills and peer support. Ultimately both early intervention programs and support at school level will help people with disabilities into secure employment, develop their innate abilities and allow them to contribute fully to society.

Unfortunately, education for children with special needs is hit and miss — stringent guidelines deprive many children of much needed integration support in mainstream schools. In particular, guidelines discriminate between children with “intellectual disabilities” (associated with low IQ) and “learning disabilities” (e.g. dyslexia, high functioning autism) where children have average or above average IQ but need to learn differently. Unlike children with intellectual disabilities, children with learning disabilities have no right to a classroom integration aide in Victorian schools unless their parents pay for it. If their families cannot privately fund extra assistance it is likely that children with learning disabilities will fall through the cracks of our education system and have poor education outcomes. Also, many special schools for vision impaired and other physically disabled children have closed down, often without the provision of adequate replacement services.

Socialist Alliance candidates support;

  • Quality educational facilities in both special and mainstream schools to allow all families of children with disabilities maximum freedom of choice between special and mainstream schooling.
  • Adequate support to children with disabilities in all Victorian schools will help ensure that disabled and non-disabled siblings can attend the same school if this is desired by their families.
  • The decentralisation of special schools and special developmental schools allowing for short travel time in dedicated school buses, while encouraging independent travel by public transport for students who have reached this level of integration into the community. 
  • Allowance of time, training and resources for Integration Aides to develop special programs that can be delivered within mainstream schools to assist children with particular disabilities, e.g. Life Skills programs for children with intellectual disabilities, public transport skills, money management skills. To this end, Integration Aides need realistic pay levels, access to ongoing training and at least three periods of preparation throughout the week, up from the standard one period per week. 
  • Develop a system which allows Integration Aides to create and maintain alternative teaching materials to share amongst different classes and schools. 
  • Integration support should be extended to students with all types and levels of learning disabilities, physical and intellectual disabilities, English language disadvantage as well as socially disadvantaged students and students who have missed school due to illness. Schools, parents and students, rather than Education Department bureaucrats, should have the right to determine which students require integration support and at what level. Funding should be given for all extra assistance including aids and equipment needed by students with special needs. 
  • Free integration support should also be available to children to enable them to access before-and-after school care and school holiday programs, pre-school and recreational activities.
  • Free after-school tutoring should be provided to all socially disadvantaged students and students with disabilities to help give them equal educational opportunity. 
  • Schools and communities need more staff to put in place employment pathways and housing alternatives for young people with disabilities to assist in their transition to adult life — meaningful jobs and quality housing and support amongst relevant age groups. No more housing young people in old people’s homes. 
  • All school children need to be educated about the rights and equality of people with disabilities.