- Disability advocates say it's not uncommon for families to move interstate for education opportunities
- Speech and Language Development Australia runs a school in Brisbane specifically for children with a language disorder
- SLDA is expanding and hopes to run outreach programs in other states to meet the "huge" demand for services
As the school year is about to begin across Australia, some students are settling into life in a new state so they can access education opportunities not available to them at home.
Victorian mother Elizabeth Ellis has moved to Brisbane with her 9-year-old son Murray who has speech apraxia.
Ms Ellis said Murray had been communicating using Auslan for several years and multiple specialists said he needed Auslan in the classroom.
She said using Auslan was helping teach Murray to speak and meant he felt included when he was with other people who signed.
She said Murray was unable to access enough Auslan in the classroom at his local school, and because he is not deaf or hard of hearing, was ineligible to enrol at Victorian schools where teaching is done using Auslan.
Ms Ellis said when Murray heard about Toowong State School in Brisbane, which has a bilingual Auslan/English program for deaf and hearing children, he was excited.
The move means the family is separated — Ms Ellis' husband and their two older children remain in Victoria — but she said it was important for Murray to get the education he needed before he falls too far behind his peers.
"I'm so excited for him. Anytime I think, 'Oh my God, I can't do this,' I just look at him and I just feel so excited for what can come," she said.
'Quite common' for families to move states for education
Tasmanian mother Lisa Denny knows how it feels to make such a decision.
She is also moving to Brisbane with her 11-year-old son Rory, who has a language disorder.
Her husband and his children will stay in Tasmania, as will Rory's father.
"They're big decisions to make, but what Brisbane offers Rory in terms of his speech and language support, and also education, it's a no-brainer," Dr Denny said.
Rory will be attending the Glenleighden School, which is run by non-profit organisation Speech and Language Development Australia (SALDA).
SALDA chief executive Mark Yeowell said it was "quite common" for families to move to Brisbane because of the school.
"We have families who've joined us from Canberra recently … and we've had people move from other states as well because we are the only school of its sort in Australia, and arguably the Southern Hemisphere," Mr Yeowell said.
Glenleighden School is specifically for students with language, communication and related disorders. SALDA also runs an outreach program, which supported about 800 Queensland students, and their teachers, at other schools last year.
Mr Yeowell said one in 14 Australian school students had a language disorder, a disability that was often unrecognised.
"It's a diverse range of need," he said.
"Most commonly we're talking about students' ability to make sense of the language they're hearing — their receptive language — or their ability to express themselves — their expressive language.
There are about 120 students at Glenleighden School, but SALDA recently announced plans to increase capacity to about 300. It also hopes to expand its outreach services to other states.
"Demand is huge … we're also open in the future to opening further schools to replicate what we do here at Glenleighden in other states," Mr Yeowell said.
Parents 'blocked and managed'
Dr Denny said advocating for Rory's rights, and the rights of other children with disability in Tasmania, had been challenging.
"What's astounded me is how hard it is to try and provide the evidence as to why your child and other children should actually receive the support that they deserve, and most of the systems that are in place find ways to not help you," she said.
A Tasmanian Government spokeswoman said students' learning plans were prepared in consultation with students, their parents or carers, teaching and professional support staff.
"The Tasmanian Government is committed to ensuring each Tasmanian student can thrive in an inclusive learning environment, which is why we introduced the new nation-leading needs-based funding model," she said.
Ms Ellis said her experiences with the Victorian Education and Training Department were similar.
"To have the department just go, 'No, he doesn't tick a box', it's just soul-destroying," she said.
A department spokeswoman said the Victorian Government was "strongly committed to inclusive education" and was investing almost $1.6 billion in its Disability Inclusion package.
"All schools will benefit from the change, enabling them to better support students who may have previously been ineligible for targeted support — such as those with autism, dyslexia or complex behaviours," she said.
'We need national leadership'
Advocacy organisation Children & Young People with a Disability Australia (CYDA) said children across the country with disability faced numerous barriers getting the education they were entitled to.
"Often that puts families in a position where maybe they do feel like their only option is to move, or for children to travel long distances to access a school where they feel that they can get the support that's needed," CYDA policy and programs manager Maeve Kennedy said.
Ms Kennedy said CYDA was aware of children and young people and their families being told their local school couldn't support them, "even though they have the right to go to their local school just like anybody else".
CYDA wants a 10-year inclusive education plan developed that state and territory governments and the Federal Government would sign up to.
"We need national leadership around inclusive education," Ms Kennedy said.
"At the moment, that's just not happening."
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