Genius kids 'suffering' in class spark bid for school reform
WHEN he was ten years old, Koby Bormolini could solve 100 sums in under three minutes and teachers called him a genius.
Four years later, he's had a string of suspensions, constant behavioural warnings and has been pulled out of school by his mother.
Robyn Jurgensen said the final straw was Koby jumping out the window of a demountable classroom after an altercation with a teacher.
She is now calling for an urgent review of how children with autism spectrum disorder are treated in the education system.
Miss Jurgensen said the agony that led Koby to risk his physical safety could have been prevented with better awareness and training for teachers.
Despite his strengths, Koby, 14, is one of thousands of children with autism spectrum disorder who are likely to struggle in an education system that Miss Jurgensen said doesn't support people like her son.
After months of bullying, fights with teachers and classroom disruptions, Koby's problems came to a head when a teacher allegedly threw his hat out the classroom window as a punishment for wearing it inside.
"His natural reaction was to dive out the window to get the hat," Miss Jurgensen said.
The extreme response put Koby's safety at risk but paediatrician Andrew Rees said tactile issues associated with ASD meant Koby insisted on wearing his hat for safety and comfort.
"It's his security item," Miss Jurgensen said.
The incident was a snapping point for the Warwick mother, who pulled her son out of the Warwick school.
"I did everything I could to try to get the teachers to understand how Koby's brain works and what he needs," she said.
It was only later that Miss Jurgensen discovered an individual education plan and Koby's diagnosis had been lost and had "possibly shredded" by the school administration.
"Not having that IEP means there is no understanding," she said.
"Things escalate and blow out of proportion, the child has a meltdown and naturally there is discipline."
The Warwick Daily News contacted the school for comment but did not receive a response.
Traumatised by what her son went through, Miss Jurgensen said her experience pointed to broader issues with how children with ASD were treated in education programs.
"Kids with autism are absolutely amazing but school is such a hard experience for them," she said.
"So many come out of high school with anxiety because they have had such a bad experience.
"There is definitely not enough leeway in the school system for students with autism and there is not enough understanding among teachers and other students."
Miss Jurgensen is calling for more professional training and a review of how children with ASD are treated in the school system.
Her concerns were echoed by a Warwick primary school teacher, whose 13-year-old son also battles ASD.
The mother, who wanted not to be identified, said her son's transition to high school had been particularly difficult and called for more teacher training.
"It is like first aid, you always have to stay current and up to date," she said.
"It is almost like something we should be doing every year."
Her son's school has asked for a diagnosis but the boy's mother was worried what the label could mean for her son.
"I don't want to put him in a box," she said.
"There are a lot of positive things he is really good at I don't want (a diagnosis) to become an excuse for him to not learn or for other people to not bother.
"I don't know what it would do for his self-confidence."
The woman said her son wanted to join the army and feared an autism diagnosis could jeaopardise his career ambitions.
"The school says teachers would be a bit more understanding (with a diagnosis) but my argument is that we should be understanding and compassionate to all children regardless," she said.
"Don't get me wrong, some children need a diagnosis and that is great.
"But it is not what we want."
For others, getting an autism diagnosis and the benefits that come with it has been a struggle in its own right.
Warwick parents Danielle and Terry Young spent two years on the public system wait list before saving enough money to take their six-year-old son to see a private paediatrician.
An ASD diagnosis has given their son, Dontae, access to the NDIS but Mr and Mrs Young are searching for more support to manage his symptoms.
He is prone to meltdowns and at risk of running away in stressful situations, and the family is saving for a smart pup that will help keep Dontae safe.
"Lights, noises and large crowds set him off," Mrs Young said.
"He is very fast and now he is stronger and I don't have that strength any more to grab him in a jolt."
Mrs Young said the need for an assistance pet was becoming more urgent as Dontae got older.
With Dontae having just completed his first term of school, the Youngs hoped professional development and awareness training would prepare his teachers to support their son through school.