Parents plead for ‘forgotten’ son

Jennifer Elder says the Education Department is letting her son down. Picture: Emma Reeves d404890
Jennifer Elder says the Education Department is letting her son down. Picture: Emma Reeves d404890

Jennifer and Tim Elder said their 14-year-old son, who has autism, has been ‘forgotten’ because he struggled in the normal school system but did not qualify for special needs support.

Mrs Elder said they pulled their oldest son out of primary school when he started to suffer from anxiety on advice from a psychologist, and she home schooled him for a year, but found she was not equipped to teach him properly.

They then sent him to a private school in the first term of 2012, but said because he was behind, he did not focus in class and distracted other students.

She said that school recommended they pull him out, with letters sent home when he was not wearing the right school socks.

‘They advised me to take him out before they expelled him ” for silly things like forgetting to take his hat, to take the right books to class,’ she said.

Since then, he has been at home playing computer games, falling further behind his peers.

According to the Education Department’s website, the Elders’ home is in the intake area for three high schools: Butler College currently only has Year 8 students, Clarkson Community High School, and Mindarie Senior College which takes years 11 and 12.

The department’s assistant north metropolitan regional executive director Paul Meacock said the Elders’ son had been enrolled in Butler Primary School until Year 6, after which the family made alternative arrangements for his schooling, including a private school.

‘The family did not notify the Department of Education that (he) had since left the private school,’ he said.

‘At the start of the 2013 school year, the family contacted Butler College ” the school considered the application for enrolment, met with the family and consulted with experts from the school psychology service.

‘A decision was made that he was not eligible for a place at the school, and this decision was upheld by the north metropolitan education regional executive director.’

Mr Meacock said Butler College opened this year with a foundation cohort of Year 8 students who were generally 13-years-old.

‘The decision was made on the basis that it was not in (his) best interests to repeat Year 8 this year, a year in which he will turn 15,’ he said.

But the Elders said their November-born son had not been to school since the first term of 2012, so he had missed most of Year 8 and now half of Year 9.

‘We are in the catchment area for Butler College,’ Mrs Elder said. ‘We would have to drop him a year group, but they won’t do it.’

Mr Meacock said he was eligible for a place at Clarkson CHS, and they had offered the family a tour of the school and a meeting to discuss an education program there.

‘The family has declined this offer but it is still open and we would urge them to visit the school and look at the education program on offer,’ he said.

The Elders said they did not think it was in his best interests to go to Clarkson because he would be in Year 9.

They said he had high-functioning autism, but because his IQ was not below 75, he did not qualify for extra support.

‘Although he is two years behind, he is real clever,’ Mr Elder said.

‘Normal run of the mill stuff he struggles with ” it is one of the high-functioning autism traits.’

According to Mr Meacock, the department provided all public schools with advice and resources to meet the learning needs of students with a disability.

‘Regular classroom teachers can get help from specialist services to develop individualised education and health plans for particular students,’ he said.

Mr Meacock said the family had advised them in late June that they intended to enrol their son in another private school, but in July the Elders told the Times they could not afford to pay private school fees, particularly if their son would continue to struggle to catch up.

Mr Elder said they felt like the system had forgotten their son.

‘We just feel like he has been denied an education because they can’t be bothered,’ Mr Elder said.

‘We don’t want anything we are not entitled to ” we just want him to go to school.’

His wife said it seemed strange that they were the ones fighting for him to go back to school, rather than the government, because no one had called to ensure he was attending school.