Australians with Autism have struggled for decades against negative expectations and a lack of power. Finally, in 2017, we are beginning to gain a more prominent voice in Australian politics and the community in general. When this platform is undermined by people with little to no understanding of the lived experience of Autism, it undermines this struggle to be heard and embraced.
Yesterday, Pauline Hanson made a statement that dismayed and demoralised thousands of Autistics around Australia, when she suggested that they should be segregated from ‘mainstream’ peers and educated only in specialist settings.
It is disappointing to see this calibre of statement in the highest political halls of our nation.
Her views are narrow-minded, to say the least, and reflect an outdated approach to Autism.
The I CAN Network categorically rejects and condemns Pauline Hanson’s statement on the segregation of students with Autism in the classroom.
What these students need, and what their teachers need, is the appropriate support inside and outside of the classroom to enable them to thrive.
We’ve seen the difference that a strengths-based, positive and inclusive approach to learning can make in the life of an Autistic student. Not only that – this approach benefits every student and teacher in the room. We know this, because it’s the approach that we take every day in our Autistic-led mentoring programs.
At 33 mainstream schools across Australia, we work alongside staff, students and parents to create a classroom environment that embraces Autism. As well as raising the self-esteem, confidence, and academic and social performance of these students, our programs have resulted in dozens of ‘mainstream’ students coming to embrace Autism too, by learning more about their peers and accepting them, Autism and all.
Autistic students educated in mainstream schools go on to become contributing members of society. This includes people like our Ambassador Penny Robinson, a Lecturer at Monash University who is teaching a new generation to love statistics; our Evaluation Manager, James, who is researching a cure for cancer in his PhD; and our Chief Enabling Officer Chris Varney, who has brought a rethink of Autism to the Australian community.
Imagine a school with no Autistic students. Imagine a school with no Autistics. Our classrooms would lack their unique strengths and bright imaginations.
We need schools – and politicians – that embrace Autism, rather than reverting to a segregation tactic that is better left in the dark ages.