'A gilded cage is still a cage': Concerns over new Autism schools

Non-profit Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) recently announced a $60m investment towards new and existing schools across NSW to create “best-practice, autism-friendly spaces” for students over the next few years.

According to the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIS), there are more than 5,500 children in the Hunter-Newcastle region who lie in the autism spectrum.

In October, Aspect purchased the Bupa aged care facility in Cardiff Heights, Newcastle and will be opening an additional autism-specific school in the Hunter-Newcastle region for approximately 50 to 60 school students. In total, the organisation provides education to 1,200 students through 67 locations.

Maryanne Gosling, national director for education at Aspect, said that the project hopes to work with corporate and individual funders to assist in closing the gap for needed resources and ensure the longevity of Aspect’s programs.

However, Dr David Roy, a senior lecturer at the University of Newcastle who is also a advocate for families with children with a disability, said that while such facilities have a recognised demand, they “exacerbate the lack of inclusion in society and in particular in our education system”.

“Mainstream schools have not the training, facilities, structure nor attitudes to allow for successful integration of all our children,” Dr Roy told The Educator.

He said until there is fundamental change, children with a disability will “continue to be pushed into the path of separation from society that perpetuates vulnerability and disadvantage long term”.

“A gilded cage is still a cage,” Dr Roy said.

“We were able to change our segregated education systems to allow gender to learn together. We changed our segregated education systems to allow our different races to learn together. We need to have the desire and push to allow children with and without disabilities to be educated together.”