Saturday, March 13, 2010
(Photo: ABC News)
I've been thinking about this horrible story all week.
And it stinks like seven kinds of stink, but there's more to the story, I think.
(I'm going all Dr Seuss, and it seems kind of appropriate...)
Indulge me in a little trek back through our recent history.
When Billy got his first diagnosis (autistic tendencies at 22 months), the official ASD 'numbers' quoted to us were 1 in 10 000. Enough to make us feel genetically unlucky. My sister also has a child on the spectrum, and there are a few undiagnosed shadows swimming close in the breeding pool... so there was a chance, but we still felt a bit miffed that we drew the ASD card.
When Billy got his second diagnosis (PDD-NOS at 3 years), we were told the statistical chances of getting an ASD dx were around 1 in 900. Seemed like a hell of a jump in a little over twelve months, but who were we to argue with the medical profession? (The statistics aren't the only things to have changed a lot in the last few years...)
When Billy got his official, mandated-by-the-ADOS, diagnosis at almost 5 years, the 'welcome to autism' pamphlet from the Government admitted that we were in good company at 1 in 160.
Half way through last year, close to a year after his diagnosis, the numbers were re-jigged again to 1 in 100, 1 in 58 boys:
Are you still with me? I understand if you've gone to get a cup of tea.
OK... here's the point.
In my mind, this is why Seven Hills West Public School is 'caging autistic kids for their own safety'. In the end, who cares whether some parents requested it? Who cares whether the government thinks the school should be congratulated for its innovative approach to integration?
What matters is just over four years ago, children with the needs mandated by an autism diagnosis existed in far fewer numbers. That's a statistical fact.
We can pretend they were there, just lacking an official diagnosis. We can pretend that a whole generation of parents just suddenly woke up and started noticing their kids were struggling with communication and social issues - over the space of four years... yeah, let's pretend that.
While we're at it, have you noticed I've suddenly transformed into Heidi Klum? Really. You just didn't notice it happening.
It doesn't mater whether we're talking about better diagnosis, or cleverer teachers, or more vigilant parents. In fact, right now, it doesn't mater if we choose to live in the real world and are realistically considering other reasons for the massive leap in the diagnosis rate.
What matters is children with significant additional needs are being enrolled in mainstream schools. And the majority of those schools are not equipped to meet those needs. Worse than that, people with a very limited understanding of autism are making decisions that have a significant impact on the lives of those who live with autism every minute.
That, as a parent of an autistic child, scares the bejeebies out of me.
I'd like the New South Wales Premiers' children to be offered a segregated cage to play in for their own safety. I wonder how that'd go over in the press.