Mum backs special education changes

19:27, Jul 23 2012

Natasha Humphries said she felt like the worst mother in the world.

At his worst, the Auckland mother's nine-year-old son Te Rau Kura hurled a computer at his teacher and was on the verge of being expelled from school.

Now the mother is singing the praises of the Government's community support programme after her son made a dramatic turnaround.

What makes her position unique is that Humphries is going against a tide of anger centred on a Government special education review.

The Government's review of four schools for high-needs teenagers has caused widespread controversy. 

The Ministry of Education announced the review of four residential schools in May, which could mean some or all of the schools could be closed.

A wrap around service, such as using social workers and education experts in the community, has been mooted to replace residential schools.

Each student at a special residential school costs $80,000 annually, while the community support model would cost about $29,000 a child.

Many parents of children with intellectual impairments and behavioural issues have slammed the review, saying children in rural areas would miss out and their children would fall behind if put back into regular schooling.

But Humphries said her son is now enjoying school and socialising with friends, and plays for a local rugby team since being given community support.

Last year Te Rau Kura was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which causes people to be hyperactive, highly impulsive and have difficulty concentrating.

Humphries was referred to the Intensive Behaviour Service (IBS), a branch of the Ministry of Education, when Te Rau Kura had exhausted the school's expertise.

He was offered a place in a residential school but Humphries said it wasn't the right fit for her son.

Instead they forged ahead with the wrap around service to turn his behaviour around.

His teacher was funded to attend specialist training and a teacher aide began working in his class to provide extra assistance.

The change was extraordinary, Humphries said.

''I've gone from feeling like I was a useless mum to having this child the school is proud to say he goes there," she said.

''On the way home from school the other day his friends came up to him and did a 'high five'. I thought 'Oh my god, he is being a normal kid'.''

David Pluck, IBS interim national manager, said they are able to work with local schools and communities, rather than having all the expertise centred at residential schools.

Brian Coffey, ministry group manager for special education, said the proposed service would be personalised to each child.

Like residential schools, it would cater to children with disability and behavioural problems that had exhausted local expertise and intervention.

However, it could reach more pupils than the present system, he said.

Coffey said this is not about saving money. 

"This is about how we can do more for that child and support them."

The fate of residential schools is expected to be announced in August.

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