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Children With Challenging Behaviours Being ‘Excluded’ From Maltese Education System, Disabilities Professionals Warn

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Healthcare professionals working in the disability sector on the island have urged for a more inclusive system as they say students with challenging behaviour are being excluded from schools who can’t handle them.

“Even though it is a reality that some students would never be able to work or be independent, this does not mean they should be excluded from the education system,” the three workers, who asked to remain anonymous, told Lovin Malta.

“There are various ways of engaging and helping the student improve in their daily living or simply ensuring they are happy during their time at school.”

The workers wanted to raise the alarm after they saw how some students, such as those on the Autism spectrum and who exhibited disruptive behaviour in class, are finding the “door closed” for them in government-run specialised schools for persons with disabilities.

“Unfortunately, when a student is labelled to be challenging, the school either suspends the student or ask families to look for other placements since ‘the students are getting nothing out of the education system’,” one of the workers, Mandy*, said. “We are getting to a very bad place where educators are closing doors and forcing parents to revert to other places which might lead to them getting lost within the system.”

Challenging behaviour can take various forms and can happen for different reasons.

It can be as simple as a student refusing to participate in an activity, to having a tantrum or meltdown. This means the student can engage in aggressive behaviour; such as hitting, pinching, pulling hair, exposing self in public, destruction of property and self-injurious behaviour.

These behaviours can happen for various reasons: lack of ability to communicate, sensory disregulation, changes to routines or new environments or feelings of being unwanted.

“By all means, these behaviours are not easy to manage, but they should not be referred to as being ‘mischievous or cheeky’ and the trigger or cause of the behaviour should be found,” Mandy said.

“A multidisciplinary approach should be used, and all recommendations should be tried before giving up on the student.”

Malta currently has four dedicated schools for students with special educational needs, known as Resource Centres. However, many schools often have in-house LSEs on their campuses to handle small amounts of students as well.

Mandy said a number of families had reached out to them after they found their children were being excluded following an incidents they’d be involved in, and urged for a multidisciplinary approach to understand students and improve them, instead of “punishing” them via things like suspensions.

“Schools are making the huge mistake of not adapting to their students’ needs by not grouping individuals of different abilities together and treating them the same,” she said. “The special education system – as it states – should be inclusive for everyone, irrespective of how severe the disability is.”

“Teachers and LSEs should be trained in the disability sector to understand and help individuals and their families as much as possible,” she continued.

“Instead, they are looking for the easy way out by avoiding having these kinds of students in their schools. This is leading to families carrying even more burdens than they already have and, as a consequence, also leads to more mental health instability.”

The workers ended by urging for a truly inclusive system that ensures that all students in Malta are given the best chance at a fulfilling life as possible.

“Unfortunately, the current system caters for those who would have a prosperous future in the workforce and within society,” they said, “whilst forgetting those who would benefit from having an improved quality of life that doesn’t result in work or being independent.”

*Names have been changed

Have you or a loved one been affected by this issue? Contact Lovin Malta in confidence by emailing [email protected] or [email protected]

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Johnathan is interested in the weird, wonderful, and sometimes dark realities late capitalist society forces upon us all. He also likes food and music. Follow him at @supreofficialmt on Instagram, and send him news, food and music stories at [email protected]

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