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Children With Special Needs

The expulsion of an angelic five-year old boy just weeks before SES manager Celia Lashlie was dismissed from her position for speaking out about a fictitious five-year old child, was kept secret while education officials searched for a new school prepared to take the Palmerston North boy deemed a danger to staff and students.

Daniel, whose full name cannot be disclosed for privacy reasons, was diagnosed as having significant features of Asperger's syndrome with co-morbid ADD several months prior to his expulsion.

In an open letter to the Education Minister and several senior officials dated 30th March, his grandmother asked whether it was departmental policy to wash their hands of any child too difficult for the system to handle.

Anne Hunt who is also the controversial author of a history on Kimberley Centre, advised the department that her grandson had been unable to attend school for a fortnight and that no other school in the area was prepared to accept him unless he met the criteria for ORS funding. An application on his behalf had already been turned down.

"When mainstreaming was introduced a decade ago", Mrs Hunt said, "the intention was to integrate all children - regardless of any condition inhibiting their development - into a school environment."

She says that as a result of Daniel's expulsion, he had been denied access to an education, social contact with his peers and most tragically, parental support as he was forced to live with his grandparents in another town due to parental work commitments.

Mrs Hunt concedes that there were problems associated with Daniel's behaviour, but says the Board of Trustees was quick to succumb to pressure from other parents without fully investigating the incident which prompted his suspension.

"To then send his parents a letter advising that Daniel may attend the meeting to consider his formal exclusion and speak to the board was totally inappropriate. To suggest he seeks legal representation borders on the farcical."

Mrs Hunt says Daniel was so traumatised by his experience that his parents felt they could not expose him to any media coverage at the time. Instead, she put him on an intensive intervention programme based on the therapy once provided at Kimberley Centre for children with challenging behaviours. She says it was a tough ordeal because this type of programme should be carried out in a neutral setting with back-up support when necessary.

However, she says it worked, and after three weeks noticed dramatic improvements in his ability to cope with situations which would once have left him in a terrible state.

Mrs Hunt says that after dealing with Daniel, she shares Celia Lashlie's concerns about young children destined for a life of violence.

She stresses that Daniel does not come from a dysfunctional family, but he would have certainly fulfilled those prophecies if his family did not have the networks to provide specialist intervention to prevent this happening.

The Education Ministry, she believes should be held to account for not having the expertise to support children who are having difficulties coping with a conventional classroom due to their special needs.

There are 40,000 children classified as having special needs in this country. One child in 250 is affected by Asperger's syndrome or an associated condition.

Children with this condition can exhibit exceptional skills in a specific area but are particularly prone to suicide during adolescence due to low self-esteem caused by frustrations during their childhood.

For further information, contact Anne Hunt (ph/fax 06 363 7750)


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