JUGGLING specialist appointments for her son in Woodend, Ballarat, Bendigo and Melbourne is a constant logistical nightmare for Daylesford mum Kathleen Murray.
Not to mention tiring for the whole family.
Ms Murray knows too well the lack of access and lengthy waiting lists to qualified therapists for children with disabilities in schools – a problem compounded in rural and regional areas and made clear in a report launched by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission this week.
Her 10-year-old son Austin Eaton has autism spectrum disorder and travels for speech pathology, a psychologist, occupational therapist and physiotherapist.
All are specialists he is entitled to have in school but Ms Murray said the wait renders such support in country schools useless. Moving to the city was a gamble and great financial cost.
The report, Held Back: the experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools, details recommendations for change on a list of issues for the state’s students with disabilities in education, including bullying, refused or limited enrolment and testing.
Ms Murray was concerned how much the Department of Education would act on the concerns voiced by students, parents and teachers in the survey, particularly with a regional restructure in the department and likely budget cuts.
According to the Department of Education, the new network structure places support services closer to children and will improve their accessibility and service delivery response times.
Life for Ms Murray and Austin is very much a day-to-day proposition in getting him to school, feeling secure and participating. Austin needs an education support officer in the classroom and has a long record of part-time attendance. Ms Murray is unable to work full-time so she can be on-call for her son and to ferry him to appointments.
“The reality is (specialist support) is not available to all schools and for educators it can be a major source of frustration,” Ms Murray said. Daylesford Primary School, where Austin attends, has been supportive but Ms Murray said in small country towns, parents had to be the strongest advocate for their child’s needs and were wary of speaking out too much.