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(New Zealand) Severely autistic boy denied special school place; call for more special schools

Nov 10, 2023, News Hub: Auckland mum angry her non-verbal, autistic son missed out on spot at specialist school https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2023/11/auckland-mum-angry-her-non-verbal-autistic-son-missed-out-on-spot-at-specialist-school.amp.html

Like many five-year-old boys, Micah Tuivaiave has a lot of energy. He loves being outdoors enjoying water-play and bubbles. He also loves reading books.

The difference with Micah - who turns six in December, is that he doesn't speak. He has severe non-verbal autism.

"When Micah was young we noticed he was displaying characteristics of autism. He wouldn't babble or make eye contact. He was assessed and diagnosed with autism at the age of two," said his mum Jaz Tuivaiave.

She said Micah - who is her only child, is not fully toilet-trained. She also said he has no fear or any sense of danger.

"He's a runner. While in public you need to hold his hand otherwise he may run off which is a real safety risk. He also likes to climb tall playgrounds, kitchen benches and tables."

Communicating with Micah and trying to understand what he wants can be very challenging for his parents.

"We wouldn't change him for the world. We just want the best for him."

His parents believe the best place for his education is at a specialist school - specifically Rosehill School in Papakura which caters to more than 300 young people with specific learning needs.

When Micah was four years old, his family started the process of trying to enrol him at Rosehill School.

Staff at the school include teachers, education assistants, speech-language therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists.

Jaz believes Rosehill School would provide the extra support and supervision that her son needs….

Even though he turned five last December, she didn't expect Micah to get a place at the school this year so he stayed on and did another year at daycare.

"But now that he's about to turn six, I definitely thought 2024 was going to be the year that we got a spot."

Micah's family has just been told he does not have a place at Rosehill School next year.

The letter states: "We are really sorry to inform you that we do not have a space available for your child at Rosehill School for the 2024 year. This is because we have a limited number of classes, and we are unable to accommodate all the students on our expression of interest list for next year. If you would like to be considered for the 2025 intake, please complete the Expression of Interest form on our website in July 2024."…

The Tuivaiave whānau acknowledges that it's not the fault of Rosehill School, saying there are just not enough resources to accommodate everyone.

They also acknowledge the fact Micah is not alone and that other children have also missed out on a place….

Newshub spoke to Rosehill School Principal Gill Hedley who said at this point in time, 36 people have received a letter saying there is no space for them at the school and that more people are approaching the school every week.

She said the students who missed out are all aged five, six or seven and have ORS funding to attend the school. She says some even have very high ORS funding....

Hedley said the school is working with the local Ministry of Education to get additional classes.

"We are advocating for the Government to prioritise funding for special school provision to ensure parents have a choice. Families with children with high needs have the right to make choices about where their child is educated, just the same as other parents do."

The Ministry of Education said there are 36 specialist schools in New Zealand and almost $77 million in funding was allocated to specialist schools for Terms 3-4 (2022) and Terms 1-2 (2023).

It has no current plans to open any more specialist schools….

"The mainstream school has welcomed us with open arms and made efforts to accommodate Micah, but there's a lot of pressure on them."

Micah needs the support of a teacher aide but currently only has teacher aide funding for two hours a day. His classroom also has more students compared to the classes at the specialist school.

Jaz isn't critical of their local mainstream school but said they simply don't have enough resources to deal with children with high needs.

Micah would need to be supervised at all times by a teacher aide who would help with his learning, help with toileting and make sure he is safe.

"He is only allocated two hours of teacher aid funding. What do they expect us to do with the remaining school day? Do I have to quit my job in order to stay home with my son? If he goes to school from 9am-11am then what happens to the rest of the day?"…

But the Ministry of Education said mainstream schools are suitable for children with high needs.

"All children can enrol at their local school. Inclusive education is founded in the Education and Training Act 2020, which states: 'people who have special education needs (whether because of disability or otherwise) have the same rights to enrol and receive education at state schools as people who do not," said Teddy said.

Hedley - who believes parents should have a choice as to where they send their child - says the fact no new special schools are being built is an issue.

"To meet the demand of the Auckland area, the Ministry of Education needs to consider building more specialist schools. We really do believe there should be choice for families. For kids with special needs - if there's no special school provision - there is no choice," she said.

A choice is what the Tuivaiave family wishes they had.

"We just want the best for our kids and the special school is where they need to be. Our children with special needs need that extra support. That's all we want. We need to let people know this is not okay. There needs to be more funding so our kids are safe and get the education they need," Jaz said.

Micah Tuivaiave and his family.

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