AUTISM ADVOCATE: Sophia Holland wants the education industry to pay greater attention to students with special needs.
AUTISM ADVOCATE: Sophia Holland wants the education industry to pay greater attention to students with special needs.

Students on spectrum left without basic life skills

SOUTHERN Downs state schools are failing students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, according to the account of former Warwick student Sophia Holland.

Sophia was ashamed when, at 12-years-old, her school noticed she was falling behind the other students.

"I wasn't fitting in as well as I should," she said.

The classrooms were loud and overwhelming, the curriculum was strict, and Sophia found it difficult to understand basic skills, such as reading an analog clock.

After a visit with a specialist, Sophia became one of the 164,000 Australians diagnosed with ASD, a developmental disorder that begins in childhood and continues across the lifespan.

Children with ASD typically struggle with social interaction and display patterns of behaviours that are restrictive, repetitive, or fixated, according to the Australian Psychological Society.

There is no known cause of ASD, though environmental, genetic and biological factors may play a role.

Sophia was embarrassed.

"It was hard for me to accept that I had a disability," she said.

"It was difficult, I kept to myself a lot and I found it a lot more difficult to open up with other students because I didn't know when I was going to say the wrong thing."

But the diagnosis did help Sophia access special education classes and, occasionally, a teacher's aid.

She said while she found some teachers were understanding of her needs, the vast majority struggled to make changes.

"I just felt like they didn't really get it," she said.

"I felt like I would learn better in a smaller class, and when I said to a teacher they laughed at me and told me I had to stay where I was.

"And when I needed to learn basic life skills they didn't listen, they just had to stick to the strict curriculum."

The impact is still felt years after graduation, as Sophia explains early intervention could have helped her develop at a faster pace.

"If I'd been taught those things at an early age, things would be a lot better today," she said.

"Unfortunately I find it's a common experience among students with a disability."

Sophia hopes her story will encourage the education industry to become more accommodating to special needs students.

"I just hope they listen to students with disabilities and their parents a bit more," she said.

"They need to focus on what their needs are, rather than just the curriculum, and maybe teach them things they'll be able to use once they leave school.

"I hope people in the education industry will see this and decide to try doing things differently."