By Amy-Ann Nolan
Sunshine Coast educator and advocate for inclusivity, Kristy Thompson, believes more can be done to include children with disabilities in mainstream schools.
For many children, the transition into primary school is an exciting time, but for children living with disabilities, it can be daunting.
AEIOU campus childcare at the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) tailors their program to help make the transition into primary school easier for children with disabilities.
Many families struggle with discrimination in Australia’s mainstream schools and a major hurdle they face is a lack of understanding and compassion from teachers.
Mrs Thompson said a solution to this could be a targeted four-week course about the inclusion of children with disabilities.
“I feel that if teachers were taught about the hardships, the discrimination, the real-life stories children and families face then they would take a different approach,” Mrs Thompson said.
“They would have that empathy, that compassion to want to work with that child and make a difference.”
Mrs Thompson said there has been success with similar courses that educate teachers about the inclusion of indigenous children.
She said educating pre-service teachers about indigenous culture has helped to close the gap.
Mrs Thompson said this was ideally what she would like to see being taught to teachers about disability.
She said a short course could change how children with disabilities were perceived in the classroom by teachers and by the wider community.
Mrs Thompson is currently collaborating with USC’s Dr Eva-Marie Seeto on creating a practical short course for teachers and education students about working with children with disabilities.
Dr Seeto said there was room for further conversation about inclusion in Australia.
“I would say that there could be greater inclusivity and understanding of diversity in society generally, and that will only happen through diversity being more visible in our daily lives,” Dr Seeto said.
She said there were currently two courses in the USC education program focused on inclusion and individual learner needs.
Mrs Thompson said she hoped a practical course would allow teachers to hear stories directly from families and help build understanding about the discrimination they face.
“I’ve got a little girl transitioning to school next year and the school told them they’re not going to take her because she is autistic,” Mrs Thompson said.
She said teachers would benefit more from first-hand experience that could change how they approach challenges in the classroom.
Mrs Thompson said One Nation senator Pauline Hanson’s call for children with disabilities to be removed from mainstream classrooms was “disgusting”.
“How are we meant to move forward with that?” Mrs Thompson said.
She said statements like these come from a lack of understanding that a targeted short course could address.
Mrs Thompson said she understands the issue from both sides being an educator and raising a son with a disability.
“I identify with the teachers that it is hard, we live with it we know how hard it is,” Mrs Thompson said.
“But in saying that, to just discriminate, not support and turn off isn’t the answer.”
She said their needs to be more support for teachers and better allocation of funding so that teachers can be part of the solution.
Mrs Thompson is hopeful the course will be running at USC as early as 2018.