Students with autism: Cruel comments will hurt young people


Pauline Hanson strikes again with her suggestion that children with autism should be removed from mainstream classrooms (The Age, 22/6). As someone with Asperger's Syndrome, I find her remarks deeply offensive and discriminatory. Every individual on the autism spectrum is different. For some children, it is beneficial for them to attend a special school. For many others, life in a regular school can be challenging, but this does not mean they should be barred from mainstream classes.

I was fortunate to receive fantastic support from many teachers (and students) at my high school in Melbourne, and without them I would not be where I am today. To say that children with autism are "holding other kids back" is wrong. Although I had difficulties in areas that others did not, it was precisely because of my autism that I was able to undertake an accelerated curriculum, help students several years above me with their homework, and act as a mentor to others with autism. My peers learnt to understand and respect neurodiversity, and I learnt from them many of the social and communication skills that have allowed me to be the independent adult that I am now, studying for a doctorate at Oxford University.

Young people with autism can feel isolated enough from society; we do not need public figures telling them that they are a burden on others. Segregation only breeds disconnection, intolerance, and poorer academic and social outcomes. We need an inclusive approach that values neurodiversity in the classroom, not shoves it out of sight.

Andrew Frampton, Oxford, England

Boost classroom support to benefit all kids

This is a nasty idea from someone who thrives on creating division. A better suggestion would be to provide (properly trained) learning assistants in every classroom. This would free up teachers so they can focus on academic requirements and keep all children included at school so that they can be prepared for real life.

Rebecca Provan, Mornington

Teach children tolerance and compassion

My children (biological and the thousands of others that I have taught) have had their lives enriched by learning beside children with special needs. It taught them that some people need more help than others and that they have an obligation to help. It is a reflection of our society. It taught them tolerance, compassion and respect. Obviously these are not virtues that Senator Hanson values herself.

Regina Hooper, Elwood

Extend idea of segregation to parliament

Sure, Pauline Hanson, let's remove students with autism from mainstream classes. And should we also segregate from society those right-wing, populist politicians who misunderstand or misrepresent basic facts?

Gregory Donoghue, Carlton

The real danger confronting our society

No, Pauline Hanson, it is not children with autism who are holding other kids back. It is people who do not have the ability to think clearly, express themselves succinctly and see the strength of an inclusive society who do most harm.

Dianne Powell, Fairfield

Why Pauline Hanson should apologise

For Pauline Hanson, no publicity is bad publicity. However, she should have brought hard data and statistics, or at least a recent study, to support her claim that teachers spend too much time on children with autism, and this led to our education standards dropping. She should apologise for her sweeping statement.

Aqeel Ibraheem, Blacktown, NSW

The harsh reality

I have 40 years of teaching experience. I have taught students with various levels of disability and overseen the management of students with disabilities in my role as a principal and assistant principal. Some students with disabilities provide only positive examples to their more-abled classmates and therefore everyone benefits. Some, however, do not fit easily into the classroom and it is the teacher who has to manage them, along with perhaps 24 other students.

Possibly, with unlimited funding and practical teacher aides, many students with disabilities could be managed. In 40 years, I never saw sufficient funding to provide such support. Even with outstanding aides and great teachers, I saw students with disabilities who created significant management issues that disrupted others' learning. In the best of circumstances, teaching is hard enough. I suggest those who criticise Pauline Hanson for her comments spend a few days in a typical state classroom that includes a student with a disability and no teacher aide. You might change your tune.

Pam Cupper, Dimboola

In praise of aides

Pauline Hanson not only undervalues the kids with autism, but also the amazing work that their aides do. An aide's funding means they are to work with one kid, but often they will also help the kids sitting nearby if they are stuck on their work. Aides will take kids who vomited to the sick bay, clean up them and the mess so the teacher can continue to teach the others.

 When you are a casual relief teacher, aides can tell you where the spare sticks are for the glue guns, which boys are not allowed to sit together, and what the class is up to in maths. Take away the beautiful autistic kids and classes lose not only them, but also the awesome aides.

Donna Lancaster, Inverloch

Teaching every child

I write both as a teacher of many years' experience and the father of an adult autistic son. Students with autism, and students who are part of the integration program, do not take up all of my time in class, Pauline Hanson. The lazy and the unmotivated students take up a lot of time – but that is OK, we are there to teach everybody. You know who waste my time? The twits who do not do their homework and then try to bluff their way to success by spouting the first bit of nonsense that pops into their heads.

Chris Agar, Blackburn


A bold step forward

The lack of support by Labor and the Greens for Gonski 2.0 shows two parties that are hamstrung by partisan hypocrisy and dysfunction. The bill might not be perfect but it is a big step in the right direction.

It surprises me to say this, but well done to Simon Birmingham and Malcolm Turnbull for delivering a significant example of centralist pragmatism, something the nation has so obviously craved in the post-Abbott era.  For Labor and the Greens, all that is left is face-saving posturing to their core constituency.

Rees Quilford, Harmers Haven

Gonski's big questions

Politicians have presented "needs-based funding" as a problem fixer for schools and students of all persuasions. But what are the criteria for it and who decides? Will it be equitable and apply to each state? The 9000 schools posited as receiving it presumably receive a base, related to enrolments, which is then supplemented by "need".

 One imagines this includes socio-economic factors, physical disability of students, intellectual difficulties and emotional challenges, such as the manifestations of autism and attention deficit behaviours. What roles will principals, staff and parents play in this process? What will happen in six years' time? Will it be the needs of students or the available funds that determine how much a school receives?

Geoff Pryor, St Leonards

Where's the support?

"Motherhood regret doesn't mean you're a bad mum" (Comment, 22/6) is tame in its assessment of society's expectation and support. Until my recent retirement, I worked as a perinatal mental health nurse for 20 years. Daily I was assailed with mothers sharing their antenatal and birthing experiences, and often delivery trauma. Shocking as these were, they were nothing compared to the lack of support in the form of practical knowledgeable assistance. Then, the judgment when they tried to access childcare. Confirmation of that experience is evident today while I support my daughter's family with two boys aged under three. And what of new fathers who have to navigate in an insecure 24/7 workplace? What happened to the 2008 National Perinatal Depression Initiative?

Maree Williams, Kew

Open the wallet, AFL

Why, when the AFL is apparently awash with cash (Sport, 21/6), do members of the Victorian state schoolboys football team have to pay their own way to the upcoming carnival in Perth?

John Taylor, Cobram

Living in harmony?

The Victorian government plans to open up several aged public housing estates for public-community-private partnerships (The Age, 21/6). The Community Housing Federation applauds the move and hopes it will result in "vibrant mixed-use precincts". But who will prevent the segregation of private apartments from public housing within these precincts?

Peter Clements, Tarneit

So, what has changed?

David Monaghan (Comment, 22/6), people have been damning London as a dismal hellscape for centuries, and fewer have done so with greater venom than the Londoners themselves. Poet William Blake memorably described the London of the 1790s as a city of blackened churches and foul-mouthed prostitutes, whose inhabitants' faces bore "marks of weakness" and "marks of woe". A few decades later, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote of a city both "deaf and loud" that "vomits its wrecks, and still howls on for more". 

In the Victorian age, Benjamin Disraeli called London a "modern Babylon", and the novels of Charles Dickens stand as forceful condemnations of a heartless metropolis that harboured appalling squalor amid uncountable wealth. True, the challenges that beset Georgian and Victorian London are not those besetting it today — but, when it comes to writing it off as uninhabitable, well, plus ça change.

Daniel O'Neil, Footscray

An act of pure idiocy

It was not just the strangely unmentioned level of predicted carbon dioxide emissions involved in the wood-fired power stations proposed by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (The Age, 22/6) that was gobsmacking. It was also the Tasmanian experience of what happens to "wood waste" in the wrong hands.

 Leaving the details to the self-regulated industry, the state ended up with 94per cent of its enormous harvest classed as "waste", purchased for peanuts, and exported as woodchips to foreign pulp mills. Burning forests in a time of climate chaos is pure idiocy.

John Hayward, Weegena, Tas

Extreme power saving

We have received an email from our electricity retailer headed, "Want to get paid for not using power? Powershop is proposing to pay customers for turning off the lights when "there is a lot of demand on the electricity system". It says the payment for not using power will "not be huge" and it has suggestions for keeping cool without electricity. Pop along to the local cinema. Or use the barby rather than the stove. Or turn off your pool pump.

Really? As a way of covering for incompetent politicians and the foreign crooks who own our power supply, we are onto something here. Why not pay us not to use water, not travel by train and keep the kids home from school?

Terry Lane, Blackburn

Helping the starving

More than 20million people are facing starvation in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen. The United Nations says this is the world's largest humanitarian crisis since 1945. Many Australians are giving as generously as possible to help humanitarian organisations provide essential food and water. But what are our state and federal governments doing to help? They have the ability to provide millions of dollars in support and I plead with them to immediately send lifesaving supplies.

Robert Van Zetten, Highton

Facts discounted

Michael Gordon reported comments from Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs that criticised my reporting during her tenure (The Age, 17/6). The comments conveyed the impression I had not tried to speak with Professor Triggs nor had availed myself of all relevant facts. This was a slight against my journalistic practices and integrity. If Gordon had simply checked this allegation with me, I would have been able to furnish him with emails and other communications refuting it.

Chris Kenny, associate editor, The Australian

Case of shifting sands

Celebrity sues the media. It's not about the money. Seven million dollars should do it.

Murray Boyd, Jan Juc




We should segregate redheads from Parliament. They can be disruptive and don't always contribute to the smooth running of the country.

George Houlder, Cambrian Hill

Hanson's comments about children with autism indicate that she's ill-informed and inarticulate.

Brendan O'Farrell, Brunswick

Watch out Derryn, someone else is after the reputation of being the human headline.

John Handley, Eltham North


Please, Mr Turnbull, once in a while could you answer a question during question time?

David MacLeod, Thornbury

I laughed at Dutton's black kettle moment when he accused the Opposition of being divided. 

Peter Knight, St Arnaud

If males had periods, would GST apply to sanitary pads and tampons?

Kerrin Black, Ocean Grove

A true test of Australian English would be a glossary of expletives.

Malcolm McDonald, Burwood


I wonder what the response would be to an AFLW player's request for a 20per cent pay rise.

Helen Jennings, Williamstown

An article telling us to take five minutes to eat a raisin (22/6)? That really is a First World issue.

George Greenberg, Malvern

I can just see all the baddies lining up to hand in their guns.

John Cummings, Anglesea

We're paying private schools too much if they can afford expensive billboards to spruik for students.

Tony Blackshaw, Officer

Is it underquoting if an online property listing quotes $660,000 to $700,000, then it sells for more than $800,000 at auction?

Kate McCaig, Surrey Hills

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