Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 11 Hansard (9 December) . . Page.. 3389 ..
MR STEFANIAK (continuing):
We have the use of itinerant teachers for vision impaired and hearing impaired children and that commences from diagnosis and subsequent referral. Itinerant teachers support younger children before they reach school age. They visit them at their home and they visit them at their preschool. Preschool resource teachers also provide support for children making the transition from early intervention programs to regular preschools and children identified with special needs at preschools.
We have seen an increase in the number of children in the ACT with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, and that is especially true in the early childhood area. The early intervention services currently run an autism intervention unit for children aged three to five. As well, there are a range of options for students with autism, including placement in early intervention units, special schools, special classes or mainstream classes. We are working very hard on this issue.
We have a working party of parents and departmental officers which has met regularly since October last year. It has made some very important recommendations about educational programs for students with autism. A total of 33 recommendations are currently being considered by the department. Two autism-specific classes were supported this year at Turner Primary. They will continue next year. A class using applied behaviour analysis is being supported in North Ainslie Primary and that will continue next year. Additional arrangements for students with autism are planned for next year. These will include at least two autism-specific classes in a mainstream primary school and a class as well for high school students.
Special needs transport is a very important area. As a matter of course, as an additional service to assist families with children with disabilities, we provide transport to school for students with disabilities. They are currently transported to and from school by one of three ways: By ACTION special needs bus with a regular supervisor, and about 290 students utilise that, at a cost of $1.125m per year; by a private bus company where a supervisor is provided when required, for example, for behavioural difficulties which affect the safety of those travelling by bus, and about 90 students use that; and by taxi or multicab, and currently, about 90 students use that, at a cost of about $360,000.
Safety is a critical issue, Mr Deputy Speaker, in transporting students with disabilities. The safety of students is maintained with constant contact between the department, the transport provider, the school staff and parents. Of course, where unexpected difficulties arise, a case conference involving all parties is convened to develop and implement strategies to ensure the safety of students and drivers.
We also provide, as Mr Moore highlighted, for a very broad range of needs right across the spectrum. In terms of students with disabilities in our schooling system, overall in 1997-98 we spent some $19.025m. That indeed was an increase. It was for 1,466 students with disabilities. The year before, 1996-97, for 1,467 students with disabilities - one more - we spent some $17.454m. So there has been a significant increase in this crucially important area in what I must say is a very difficult budgetary situation for the Territory. I think that shows the importance the Government places on this essential service. That is in the face of a very severe financial constraint and, again, I think the Auditor-General's report highlights that.