A Tamworth grandmother and full-time carer is urging the Department of Education and the community to take more action in preventing, treating, and supporting children born with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, including the implementation of exclusive class rooms.
Alison Sullivan and her husband Walter have been the full time carers of their two granddaughters, 12 year old Macie and eight year old Jessica, since they were each six months old after Mrs Sullivan’s daughter “made some poor life choices during pregnancy.”
FASD manifests when mothers drink alcohol during pregnancy, and as such is a completely preventable condition that results in cognitive, physical, and social disabilities in children, often misdiagnosed as Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Earlier in the year Tamworth Centacare Psychologist Josefina Hofman also called for immediate action, particularly in “Tamworth and the Hunter New England area, which has one of the highest rates of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in the state”.
Mrs Sullivan’s battle has become even harder recently, after the local primary school that Jessica attends requested she be moved back into mainstream classrooms.
She says the Education Department doesn’t recognise FASD as a disability, despite the fact that the National Disability Scheme does, however a spokesperson for the Department stated that students are supported for their specific symptoms, rather than their diagnosis.
“Jessica has tested too high intellectually to be classed as mild or moderately disabled, although physically and socially she is,” Mrs Sullivan said.
“She is almost completely non-verbal, and her tests show she needs support. There are classes specifically for autistic students, why not FASD – you can’t put a square peg in a round hole.”
“I am concerned she will be left behind, and even become a target for bullies - she is not verbal enough to tell anyone if she feels unsafe, or if something has happened.”
Mrs Sullivan said that the school is now asking for a clinical psychologist assessment, although the Department has stated that diagnosis and disability confirmations are not necessary.
“All students with disability, including FASD, are able to be supported at their local school through Learning and Support resource allocations without the need for a diagnosis or disability confirmation,” the spokesperson said.
“School students with disability may also be provided with targeted specialist support in accordance with the Department’s criteria. These criteria cover the broad range of impairments resulting from disability, rather than listing specific syndromes such as FASD.”