Professor Vicki Bitsika, Director for the national Centre for Autism Spectrum Disorder (CASD) at Bond University said the comments made yesterday by One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson on withdrawing children with autism from mainstream schools, had inflamed a very vulnerable situation.
“I’d like to side-step the emotion and angst that’s been caused, and urge people to consider an alternative point of view,” Professor Bitsika said.
“Rather than arguing about withdrawing children with autism from mainstream schools because they’re overusing resources; I urge people to consider the flipside - which is what will we be taking away from the mainstream school environment by withdrawing these children?
“They are intelligent, quirky, loyal, keen to do the right thing and they think outside the box. Quite frankly, our school environment would be poorer without them.
“We should be looking at how we can upskill our teachers – who are committed and loyal to children with autism and different abilities – so the time they are spending with them is more effective.
“Let’s talk about the gaps in teacher training – and how we can fill these gaps with skills, knowledge and new learnings – rather than focus on the consumption of teaching resources from children on the autism spectrum.
"We also need to consider what impact removing these children from mainstream education will have on them, in terms of their capacity to make a difference to their community and society.
The CASD, based at Bond University on the Gold Coast, is currently conducting an international study, in collaboration with researchers in the UK, US and Europe, into the benefits and strengths that arise through having autism.
Professor Bitsika said the research asks parents of children with ASD about the capabilities of their children, rather than focusing on the problems and issues.
“The research so far is showing us children on the spectrum display a very large pool of talents spanning science, physics, medicine and art,” Professor Bitsika said.
“Our aim is to collect robust, international data that we can use to inform schools, universities and organisations who educate children on the autism spectrum about how to advance their amazing talents, as well as how they can compensate for the social skills and difficulties that these children have.”
“The research finding will also be used to educate organisations who might employ people with autism, now and in the future, about the incredible benefits that people with autism can bring to their workplace and their communities.”
Professor Bitsika is keen to hear from the families of children with autism to participate in her questionnaire-based research. Interested families should email the Centre for Autism Spectrum Disorder at Bond University call 07 5595 1596.