Children with learning differences 'losing their childhood'

Tania Hodgson, right, tells the education and science select committee why having her 16-year-old son diagnosed with ...

Tania Hodgson, right, tells the education and science select committee why having her 16-year-old son diagnosed with dyspraxia at age 7 saved him from being a frustrated and angry child.

Children with learning differences fall through gaps in the education system unless they have a supportive teacher, money, and proactive parents.

This was the message put across at a select committee hearing on how dyspraxia, dyslexia, and autism spectrum disorders are identified and supported in schools.

Parents, grandparents, teachers, and support workers spoke of the challenges children with learning needs outside the "norm" faced.

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Friday's hearing in Christchurch came a week after 20 Wellington students packed out a hearing in Parliament to reveal how the education system failed them.

Lyttelton solo mum Janelle Wills said her 11-year-old son with Down syndrome and autism had been "misunderstood and treated badly".

"There is a lack of understanding and funding."

Wills' son now qualified for Intensive Wraparound Service (IWS) funding, which was dedicated to year 3 to 10 students with socially, emotionally, and educationally challenging behaviour.

IWS was supposed to help families, communities, and schools, but for her son the funding was "wasted" on unconfident teacher aides who did not know how to work with him.

"I would love to go to school one day and hear that he's learned something today."

Instead, his school focused mostly on his behaviour, not his learning, she said.

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Glenda Frapwell said while she did not blame teachers for the late diagnosis and inadequate management of her autistic 14-year-old grandson, Alex, it would not have happened without his family pushing for it privately.

"He has lost a whole childhood and he didn't need to."

They spent "six years of misery" trying to understand what was going on inside his head, while teachers "just thought he was naughty".

"I'm very upset that he doesn't interact with people and he is never going to get over that. He is never going to have friends."

She asked the committee where the support was for children, parents and grandparents.

"As you are aware, children that display traits within the autism spectrum confirm these from about the age of 3, so please tell me why my grandson had to wait so long to get the help he deserved?"

Banks Avenue School teacher Belinda Walsh said 70 per cent of parents she worked with could not afford the tests needed for a diagnosis of their child's learning needs.

"Why does this have to cost our parents so much," she said.

"There are many children who are being failed."

Tania Hodgson said her 16-year-old son was diagnosed with dyspraxia at age 7, but if they had not paid and pushed for it privately, he would be a different boy now.

"I believe he would be a very angry and frustrated young man."

The Hodgsons spent thousands of dollars on private occupational therapy and tutoring during his primary schooling.

"The primary school years were difficult because all additional support given to him was provided by us. I was often in the position of educating the teachers about what dyspraxia is and how it affects him."

He was "different", not "disabled", she said.

"I believe that the key is to identify and assess at an early age."

Jacqui Scott, who worked with the Dyspraxia Support Group, said a lot of parents feared their child would be dealt with in the youth justice system. She had spent $40,000 on intervention for her 13-year-old son with "complex needs".

"Had I not had the financial resources or personal resource to get involved and advocate for him, he will have well and truly fallen by the wayside."

Green MP Catherine Delahunty, who initiated the inquiry, said there had been about 445 written submissions, and hearings would continue until mid-December. The final report would be completed in early 2016.

"I am passionate that we actually get some action."

 - Stuff

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