Inclusive education

The Disability Royal Commission made a number of findings and recommendations on inclusive education.  

While the Final Report does not include any autism specific recommendations on education, it does include findings and recommendations with particular relevance to people with cognitive, intellectual, social/emotional and/or sensory disability. These may be of particular interest and relevance to some members of the autism community. These findings were informed by evidence from Autistic people and their families and supporters. 

For an Easy Read version of the Commission’s report on ‘Inclusive education’, visit here  

What the Commission found

  • The majority of students with disability receiving support have a cognitive disability. 
  • Students with cognitive, social/emotional or sensory disability are more likely than students with other disabilities to require extensive or substantial supports. 
  • The growth in students with disability attending school has been mostly driven by increases in students diagnosed with social/emotional and cognitive disability. 
  • Non-mainstream or special education classes are increasing in Australia, especially for Autistic students. 
  • Autistic students, and other students with barriers to communication, can experience significant delays in receiving supports or may not receive them at all. 
  • Access to high quality curricula is compromised for all students with disability, but particularly those with complex learning, communication and behavior support needs. 
  • Greater support and training is needed for teachers to develop the skills and expertise required to teach students with disability, particularly students with cognitive or intellectual disability. 

What the Commission recommended 

  1. Recommendation 7.3(b) and p.217, 221 – 222 in Part A of Volume 7: Provide more support for principals and teachers to adapt curriculum and teacher and assessment practices for diverse learners, especially those with complex communication or support needs.  
  2. Recommendation of only Commissioners Sackville (Chair), Mason and Ryan at p.409 in Part A of Volume 7: Within 5 years, the National Disability Commission (proposed in report) undertake a review on progress towards providing inclusive education for children and young people with complex support needs.  
  3. Recommendation 7.8 and p. 284 – 285 in Part A of Volume 7: Improve teacher training and professional development, with a particular focus on building understanding of the needs of students with cognitive impairment and intellectual disability.  
  4. Recommendation 7.13: A National Roadmap to Inclusive Education to address the significant barriers to education experienced by students with disability.
  5. Develop specific guidance on communicating effectively with students who experience learning difficulties and who have complex communication and behavioural support needs. Page 220 – 221 in Part A of Volume 7. 
  6. Employ behavioural therapist and lead inclusive education teachers, with a particular focus on supporting children with learning difficulties, complex communication needs and/or challenging behaviours. Page 288 in Part A of Volume 7. 

To read the Commission’s final report in full on ‘Inclusive education’, visit here.  .   

Some of the lived experience stories shared by the autism community

  • Amy shared about the education experience of her 10-year-old son Sam who is Autistic and has co-occurring conditions. She spoke of the school’s complete lack of understanding of Sam’s support needs, its failures to make reasonable adjustments, the use of restrictive practices (restraint) and repeated suspensions from the age of 5 for so called ‘aggressive behaviour’. Amy described the emotional impacts of Sam’s experiences and the failures of the NSW Education Department to appropriately deal with her complaints. 
  • Rosie shared about her Autistic son Noah’s experiences across special and mainstream schools. She spoke of the bullying and abuse Noah experienced from other students and the schools’ failures to protect Noah, the use of restraints, a lack of understanding and respect for Noah among school staff, and her ultimate decision to home-school Noah to keep him safe. 
  • The parents of Patrick, an Autistic teenager, shared about their experiences seeking to enrol Patrick in their local catholic school. Patrick’s parents were told that Patrick’s enrolment would be conditional on them paying for an extra staff member out of their own pocket to support Patrick’s classroom. 
  • Kobe, an Autistic man with complex support needs, and his mother shared their stories. Kobe’s mother spoke positively about her son’s first mainstream school, which he attended from primary school to Year 8. The school understood Kobe’s support needs, made reasonable adjustments and was inclusive. However, when Kobe moved to a new mainstream school in Year 8, he experienced a lack of understanding, repeated suspensions and eventual expulsion. Kobe’s mother spoke about Education Queensland’s poor handling of her complaints. She felt that the key difference between the schools Kobe attended were the attitude, understanding and approach of staff. 
  • Kimberley, mother of 20-year-old Mitch who is Autistic and non-speaking shared their stories. She spoke of limited schooling options, low expectations, poor communication, inadequate supports to meet Mitch’s learning and communication needs and a lack of transition support and planning from primary school to high school, and from high school to post school life.  
  • Ed, father to 20-year-old Ryan who is Autistic, has an intellectual disability and is non-speaking shared their stories. He spoke of Ryan’s poor experiences in mainstream and special schools, as well as a lack of adequate or co-ordinated supports post school, which have led to poor outcomes for Ryan. Ed spoke of the importance of choice between inclusive, capable and well-funded mainstream and special schools, the need for better teacher training and support, and the need for a ‘third level’ of co-ordinated and capable supports post school, particularly for young adults with complex support needs. 
  • Katie, presenting on behalf of autism organisation Yellow Ladybugs, gave evidence about the experiences of Autistic girls and gender-diverse students. She spoke about the trauma that comes from ‘invisible needs’ not being met, ongoing gate-keeping practices, a lack of adequate funding and supports (as Autistic girls are often not seen as ‘disruptive enough’), regular exclusion from school activities, and vulnerabilities and bullying. She spoke of the need to build understanding, celebrate difference, consider more flexible approaches to schooling (including remote learning) and progress neurodivergent led change. Alexa, mother to 13-year-old Bridget who is Autistic and has ADHD, gave evidence regarding exclusion and abuse, sexual harassment by other students, reduced school hours, the negative mental health impacts of Applied Behaviour Analysis (‘ABA’) for Bridget and her challenges finding an appropriate education setting. She spoke about the importance of choice of education settings. She also spoke of the need to remove ABA style approaches from school settings and require more modern collaborative practices.  

Do you need more information or support?

If you would like more information about these findings or recommendations or have any questions about the Commission or its report, we encourage you to contact Your Story Disability Legal Support on 1800 77 1800, online here or by email here.   We appreciate that reading this page and hearing the lived experience stories shared may raise mixed emotions and cause anxiety or distress for many people. If you, or someone you know, needs support, the following services are available.

  • National Counselling and Referral Service at Blue Knot – 1800 421 468 or visit the website.
  • Beyond Blue 24/7 Support – 1300 224 636 or visit the website.
  • Lifeline 24/7 Crisis Support – 13 11 14 or visit the website.
  • 1800 Respect – 1800 737 722 or visit the website.
  • Disability Gateway – 1800 643 787 or visit the website.
  • 13 YARN – 13 92 76 or visit the website.
  • If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, contact triple zero (000).
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