Thomas Maker-North, 7. Picture: 7.30/ABCSource:ABC
Thomas Maker-North, 7. Picture: 7.30/ABCSource:ABC

Mum 'gobsmacked' by school’s treatment of her autistic son

A SEVEN-YEAR-OLD autistic boy tied in a restraining chair daily and a 15-year-old boy with autism moved between rooms using boxing pads are among a litany of claims of abuse and neglect of disabled children in NSW schools.

The cases are among just under 250 reports of mistreatment in state schools in the past two years, according to the ABC's 7.30 program, which used Freedom of Information to access the government document detailing them.

In response, NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes told 7.30 he had instructed the state's education department to review procedures and provide more training to teachers.

Georgina Maker-North told the program she was shocked to discover her son Thomas, 7 - who has autism, is intellectually disabled, non-verbal, and can't go to the toilet on his own - was being restrained, she suspected daily, for hours.

Her horror was compounded when she approached Taree's Manning Gardens Public School school demanding answers, and discovered the existence of the chairs, only to be asked if she'd prefer one that was "more aesthetically pleasing".

"It's something we thought was happening in the '70s and went away in the '70s and we don't hear about it anymore. Since this has happened I've discovered it's quite common," she told 7.30.

"When I saw the chairs it was shown like it was a great show-and-tell piece: 'they were fabulous'," she said.

"The words that were used when I looked - and I was gobsmacked - was, 'would it better if we got some more aesthetically pleasing chairs?'"

Ms Maker-North complained to the NSW Education Department, and was told via letter there was "evidence to support that some of the alleged conduct had occurred" and "appropriate action" had been taken.

She said she did not know how often the chairs - which she says were referred to as "Thomas's chairs" - were used, but suspected it was "at least every day, probably for hours a day".

A chairs used to restrain an autistic child at a NSW school. Picture: 7.30/ABCSource:ABC
A chairs used to restrain an autistic child at a NSW school. Picture: 7.30/ABCSource:ABC


Meanwhile, the parents of Austin Franks, 15, told the program they pulled their autistic son out of Pennant Hills High School last year after he came home several times covered in blood.

At home, he was self-harming and not sleeping, but when his mother, Caroline Franks, asked the school what had happened, the school would say they didn't know.

Austin is autistic, intellectually disabled, and non-verbal, so was unable to tell what was happening. His parents hired a psychology intern to watch him in the classroom, where she saw boxing pads being used to move Austin around.

"They failed to mention he was being pushed around with boxing batons or screamed at or not allowed to go to the toilet or access his sandwiches or anything like that," a tearful Caroline told 7.30.

The intern, Tanya Shenoy said the teen was treated "like he was an animal and not like a child".

Other complaints of abuse of children with disabilities included them being dragged forcibly, being locked in cupboards and having their heads hit on walls.

Mr Stokes has apologised to Thomas and his mother, saying the chairs have "no place in a NSW public school".

He said in regard to Austin, the boxing pads are no longer being used and he will personally resolve Austin's situation.

But his mother says it's too late: her son is too traumatised to go back to school.

Mr Stokes told 7.30 he was "shocked and horrified" to see the way both Austin and Thomas had been treated in schools.

"I was shocked and horrified to see a device like that being used in a NSW public school," he said, referring to the chair used to restrain seven-year-old Thomas.

"Material like that should never be used in a public school and I stand by that, that sort of device has no place in a NSW public school."

Following the complaints, NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes has ordered a review on teacher training.

News Corp Australia

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