June 7, 2023, RNZ: Government action plan failing to deliver for neurodiverse students, support groups say https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/491463/government-action-plan-failing-to-deliver-for-neurodiverse-students-support-groups-say
A coalition of support groups says a government action plan for children with disabilities has failed to deliver for children with conditions such as autism and dyslexia.
The Neurodiversity in Education Coalition told RNZ the government's Learning Support Action Plan 2019-2025 had changed almost nothing for neurodiverse kids.
The Learning Support Action Plan's top three priorities were rolling out hundreds of new "learning support coordinator" roles to schools; strengthening screening and early identification of learning needs including dyslexia, dyspraxia and giftedness; and strengthening early intervention for the youngest children.
It also promised more support for neurodiverse children with moderate needs, more opportunities for gifted children, and more support to stop children dropping out of school.
But the coalition said only 40 percent of schools had access to a learning support coordinator and there was little to no improvement in early intervention, screening or training for teachers.
Coalition members included the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education, the Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand, ADHD New Zealand, and Autism New Zealand.
Autism New Zealand chief executive Dane Dougan said the action plan started well with the appointment of more than 600 learning support coordinators to help schools work with children with disabilities.
He said the coordinators were keen to learn more about autism, but an expected second tranche of appointments had not happened.
"We created a course for the learning support coordinators so that was great. So we were excited about that, the first tranche seemed to go really and we did a lot of education and support of them," he said.
"But it kind of stopped since then and there hasn't been the next rollout so we're not sure where that's at so that's a bit disappointing."
Dougan said Autism New Zealand had also expected to see more screening to identify neurodiversity early.
"There hasn't been seemingly a lot done around screening and early identification of what those learning support needs might be at a really early age for those kids," he said.
Dougan said that was disappointing because Autism NZ had a successful screening programme in west Auckland that it would like to offer nationally with help from the Education Ministry.
"I feel like they have dropped the ball a little bit with our community," he said.
"There just needs to be so much more done and we're not sure what the next stage is."
ADHD New Zealand chief executive Suzanne Cookson said screening helped identify what support a child needed and was a lot quicker and cheaper than a formal diagnosis.
"Screening is something that a teacher or a GP or another trained professional can do. It's just looking at a questionnaire and going 'are these characteristics, are these traits of nuerodiversity'. I believe somebody shouldn't need a full diagnosis to get some of these strategies and accommodations," she said.
Cook said more training for teachers would also make a big difference.
"The top priority for me is to combat myths and make sure that teachers understand that what they're seeing is not a child who is wilfully off task or wilfully misbehaving - they have a brain difference," she said….
She said helping neurodiverse children should not be optional.
"What we need are mechanisms with real teeth to ensure that our schools, our boards of trustees, our principals put the needs of neurodiverse learners towards the top of their lists in terms of priorities in their school strategies," she said.
Munro said the coalition also wanted a national campaign to raise public awareness of neurodiversity.
"Nothing will change the behaviour on the ground unless we radically change awareness and understanding of neurodiversity," she said.
Munro said the Learning Support Action Plan was supposed to lead to more screening of children and more training and support for teachers.
"What has been devastating really in the four or five years since is the Ministry of Education's failure to implement those priorities in a really significant way. There's been some stuff done but in no way do we have things like learning support coordinators in every school," she said.
Munro said she was not confident the government would deliver on the remaining aspects of the plan in the next two years.
Young people told RNZ schools were difficult for those who were neurodiverse…. Education Minister Jan Tinetti said the government spent $1.3 billion [$810M] per year on learning support.
She said the government was committed to an inclusive education system where every child was supported to get a world class education.
"That's why a comprehensive review of the learning support system is currently underway in partnership with the disability community to ensure that the right supports are reaching students at the right time," she said.