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Public hearing 24 - The experience of children and young people with disability in different education settings, Canberra - Day 1

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CHAIR: Good morning, everyone. I extend a very warm welcome to everyone in very chilly Canberra to participate in this, the 24th Public hearing of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. During this five day hearing in Canberra, we shall be examining the experiences of children and young people with disability in different educational settings. We start, as always, with an Acknowledgment of Country and I invite Commissioner Mason to make the Acknowledgment of Country. 

COMMISSIONER MASON: Thank you, Chair. We acknowledge the First Nations people on the land on which this Royal Commission is sitting. We pay respects to the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples. Their land is where the city of Canberra is now located. We also pay respects to the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation where the city of Melbourne is now located. We pay deep respects to all elders past, present and future and especially elders, parents, young people and children with disability. Thank you, Chair. 

CHAIR: Thank you, Commissioner Mason. As many of you will know, we have just celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Mabo decision, a transformational event in Australia's history and not just our legal history. The celebration is tinged with sadness because of the passing last week of Sir Gerard Brennan, former Chief Justice of Australia, who delivered the leading judgment in Mabo. Sir Gerard was a man of profound learning, wisdom and humanity. 

He knew that the law can be a means of achieving social justice and was prepared to develop the law to that end in a principled and rigorous fashion. I was fortunate enough to meet with Sir Gerard on many occasions on his post judicial life, his rich post judicial life, and despite achievements, I was always struck by his kindness, generosity and humility. We have lost a great Australian. 

This is the first of our hearings to take place in Canberra, and it's the second hearing this year that is open to members of the public. As I mentioned last month in Sydney at Public hearing 23, the COVID 19 pandemic has had a significant and continuing impact upon our public hearings. The planning and preparation of a public hearing takes significant, really enormous time, energy and resources and skill, and this is the case at the best of times. 

I want to acknowledge the exceptional work of the staff of the Royal Commission in organising and preparing for this public hearing while contending with the complications that are created by the COVID 19 pandemic and the seasonal flu risks. I also want to acknowledge, of course, that the COVID 19 pandemic has continued to have significant consequences for people with disability around Australia, as well as for the broader Australian community. 

At this hearing, I am joined in the hearing room in Canberra by Commissioner Andrea Mason OAM. Commissioner Rhonda Galbally AC is participating in the hearing from Melbourne. Senior Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission, Ms Kate Eastman AM SC, is also in the Canberra hearing room, and she is joined by Ms Elizabeth Bennett SC and Ms Cathy Dowsett of Counsel. Subject to any unforeseen developments, bearing in mind that COVID has not disappeared, the Royal Commission this week will receive evidence from 12 witness, most of whom will give evidence in person. Ms Eastman will provide more details in her opening statement. 

A number of parties have been given leave to appear at this hearing, and I will take their appearances   their legal representatives' appearances shortly. The Royal Commission has held two previous Public hearings on the subject of inclusive education. Public hearing 2, the first substantive hearing conducted by the Royal Commission, took place in Townsville, Queensland in November 2019, over two and a half years ago. 

The choice of education as the subject matter of the hearing reflected the profound importance of education to the life experiences of people with disability. The main purpose of Public hearing 2 was to undertake a preliminary examination of the systemic challenges and the barriers that children and young people with disability face in accessing and obtaining a safe, inclusive and quality education. 

This examination, that is in Public hearing 2, focused on the policies and practices of education authorities in Queensland. The Commissioners who participated in Public hearing 2 published a Commissioner's report which is readily available on the website and elsewhere. The report identified a number of drivers of forms of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of students with disability in school settings. These drivers included gatekeeping and informal and formal exclusion of students from mainstream schools; restrictive practices applied to students exhibiting so-called behaviours of concern; the lack of adjustments, supports and individualised planning for students with disability; the low expectations often held of students with disability. 

Misuse of disciplinary measures, including suspensions and exclusion from school, poor complaint handling procedures, and insufficient training of the education workforce to increase awareness of disability and an associated insufficient use of communication, educational techniques and suitable materials to support students with disability. The Commissioners' report identified these as subjects for further investigation by the Royal Commission. 

Public hearing 7, which was conducted in Brisbane from 12 to 16 December 2020 investigated a number of the matters identified in Public hearing 2. The specific objective of Public hearing 7 was to examine the barriers experienced by children and young people with disability in accessing safe, quality and inclusive education in mainstream schools. That hearing focused on the government school systems in New South Wales and Queensland. 

The Commissioners' report for Public hearing 7, which has also been published, made findings about the experiences of Sam, a child whose first suspension was in his second term in kindergarten in a New South Wales public school. The Commissioners found that the process followed in Sam's case was defective and that he should not have been subjected to repeated suspensions that ultimately prevented him from receiving a safe, quality and inclusive education. 

The Commissioners also found that Sam's school had inappropriately identified restraint of Sam and of students as a reasonable adjustment. The Commissioners' report, after analysing the evidence that had been given at the hearing, identified some additional topics for investigation by the Royal Commission. These included the ways in which the education system should protect the inherent dignity and value of students with disability, in particular by preventing them from being the subject of bullying; policy and regulatory levers available to address the disproportionate use of exclusionary discipline against students with disability; and how restrictive practices should be regulated to ensure the safety of students with disability, including the question of whether such practices should be prohibited altogether. 

The Royal Commission's work on inclusive education has gone well beyond the public hearings on this subject. For example, in October 2019, we published an Issues Paper on Education and Learning. By the time we published an overview of the responses   and the overview, of course, is available   we had received 49 responses, many of which were extremely detailed. The responses related to experiences across all education systems. They also expressed a variety of opinions on the issues that we had identified. Not surprisingly, people within the disability community have a diversity of views on where the priorities for reform lie. 

The Royal Commissioners also received a large number of submissions and we have conducted many private sessions. As of today, the Royal Commission has received 4,677 submissions. Of these, 996, or 21 per cent, discuss issues relating to education and learning for children and young people with disability. Certain themes recur in the submissions, such as the unwillingness or inability of some schools and educators to provide students with disability with reasonable adjustments to facilitate their studies. But as with responses to the Issues Papers, submissions have varying opinions on issues such as the ability of mainstream schools to provide inclusive or high-quality education to students with high support needs. 

Up to date, the Royal Commission has conducted over 1,000 private sessions, that is, a session at which a person meets with a Commissioner and recounts their experiences or concerns on a confidential basis in that setting with the individual Commissioner. Of the 871 private sessions which have been reviewed and coded, 271 relate to education and learning for children and young people with disability. About 160 of these private sessions were with parents or supporters of students or adults with disability. Many of the remaining private sessions were with people with disability themselves who shared their experiences and ideas. 

Participants in private sessions addressed the matters for investigation identified in the Commissioner's reports Public hearing 2 and Public hearing 7. They too expressed a variety of opinions about the approach that should be taken to the education of students with disability, particularly those with high support needs. It is clear from the responses to issues papers, from the submissions and from information conveyed in private sessions, that the disability community does not speak with one voice on all issues relating to the education of and learning by students with disability, especially students with high support needs. We are likely to hear something of this diversity during the course of the week. 

In this public hearing, by contrast with Public hearings 2 and 7, students with disability and parents of children with disability will give evidence about students' experiences in a variety of educational settings, not only in mainstream schools. Following the completion of their evidence, a panel consisting of two advocates will give evidence. Evidence will also be given by senior officers from the Western Australian Department of Education and from the South Australian Department for Education. Each of these officers has provided a detailed statement explaining the educational programs and settings available to students with disability in each of those states. 

And, finally, we shall hear from the Special Advisor, Early Childhood Intervention and Autism at the National Disability Insurance Agency. Senior Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission will provide a detailed overview of the evidence to be examined from the hearing. But I would like to touch upon the themes that are likely to arise. The first is choice. Australia is a country that allows students and their families a very wide array of educational options. We would like to understand what choice means for students and families of students who enter or are considering entering the special segregated education system. What factors prompt the choice?   Is the decision made with the benefit of advice and support?  In practice, what options are available?

The second theme is the impact of different education settings on the life course of children with high support needs. We will receive evidence from students with disabilities and their families about the challenges of transitioning to life after school. This includes not only preparing for further education or employment, but also acquiring core skills such as effective communication and decision making. 

The third theme is the intersection between the education system and the NDIS. The Royal Commission has already received evidence about the importance of reasonable adjustments for students with disability within systems like education that primarily remain the responsibility of the states and territories. We will hear evidence about the division of responsibilities between state and territory systems and the NDIS and the ways in which those tensions are managed in practice. 

I add one further comment. We quite often hear at the Royal Commission the policy issues arising out of our Terms of Reference are to be regarded as involving a choice between mutually exclusive alternatives. We hear about it in the context of supported decision making versus substituted decision making, open employment versus segregated employment, group homes or similar arrangements versus independent living and inclusive education versus segregated special education. 

The policy measures needed to achieve the objectives specified in our Terms of Reference do not necessarily require what can be described as binary thinking, that is, one thing or the other. The principal difficulty with binary approaches is that they tend to assume that there are relatively simple answers to relatively complicated questions. If there is one thing that clearly emerges from the enormous range of activities conducted by the Royal Commission over the past three years, it is that while some problems may be relatively easy to identify, finding solutions that will work and bring about real change is extraordinarily complex and challenging. 

We therefore need to consider whether there are more nuanced approaches that recognise the range of issues that must be confronted and the complex nature of the policy choices that we have to make. 

I shall now take appearances. 

MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Chair. I appear as Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission and with me is Ms Elizabeth Bennett SC and Ms Cathy Dowsett. Thank you. 

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Ms Eastman. Can I take appearances from anyone who is in the hearing room at present. 

MS HEALEY: Ms Healey, Chair and Commissioners. I appear for three witnesses in this hearing, all of whom are parents of children with disability, that is, Ms Kimberly Langcake, who will be giving evidence today; Mr Ed Croft, who will be giving evidence tomorrow; and Isabella, a pseudonym, who will be giving evidence on Wednesday.

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Healey. Yes. Is there anyone else in the hearing room. Yes. 

MR ARNOTT: May it please, my name is Arnott. I appear with my learned friend Ms Munro for the Commonwealth of Australia. 

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Arnott. 

MS BEDFORD: Thank you, Chair. My name is Rebecca Bedford and I appear on behalf of the State of Victoria. 

CHAIR: Thank you very much. You jumped the gun, Ms Bedford, but that is perfectly okay. There is one other appearance here, I think.

MR HOWARD: May it please the Commission, my name is Howard. I appear with Ms Buller, pursuant to the Commission's leave at the end of May, for the State of Western Australia. 

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Mr Howard. We have taken Ms Bedford's appearance. Is there any other appearance by representatives appearing remotely?  Perhaps New South Wales, yes. 

MS FURNESS: Thank you, Chair. My name is Gail Furness and I appear with Trent Glover for the State of New South Wales. 

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Furness. Is there an appearance for Queensland?

MS CLOHESSY: Yes. Good morning. May it please the Commission, my name is Clohessy, Patrina Clohessy, appearing for the State of Queensland, with Ms McMillan of Queen's Counsel, instructed by Crown Law. 

CHAIR: Yes. Thank you, Ms Clohessy. Is there any other appearance to be announced?

MR SIMPSON: May it please the Commission, my name is Tom Simpson. I appear for the State of South Australia. 

CHAIR: Yes, thank you, Mr Simpson. I think that may conclude the announcements of appearances. In that case, Ms Eastman. 

MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Commissioners. Well, Counsel Assisting also acknowledge and pay our respects to the traditional custodians on the lands on which we are meeting today and across Australia. We pay our respects to First Nations elders past, present and emerging, as well as to all First Nations people here in the hearing room today and following the public hearing. 

I want to start with human rights. There is no doubt about the importance of education. Education prepares children and young people for life, work and citizenship. Education provides children and young people with the skills to make their own decisions and become independent. Education is a human right and a means by which people may understand their rights and also advocate for their rights. In 1948, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights declared everyone has a right to education. And, further, in Article 26(2) it states: 

"Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms." 

Article 26(3) acknowledges: 

"Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children." 

The right to education has been part of the core international human rights treaties such as the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention on the Rights of the Child recognises the importance of education, supporting, as it says, the development of the child's personality, talents, and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential. 

Relevant to the Royal Commission's work is the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the CRPD, with particular reference to Article 7 and Article 24. Commissioners, during the course of the hearing this week, the Royal Commission will publish on its website Professor Andrew Byrnes' advice explaining the scope of Article 24 of the CRPD. And with all of the research commissioned by the Royal Commission, the research informs the Commission's work but does not necessarily represent the views of Commissioners. 

Here in the ACT, section 27A of The Human Rights Act recognises the right to education. That is based on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. And in 2019, Queensland introduced its Human Rights Act, and it expressly recognises the right to education. Commissioners, education and the early years are so closely linked to the development of beliefs, attitudes and behaviours towards people with disability. 

And in the submissions and responses that you've received to issues papers, you have heard that school is the place where all children learn about society, difference, social interaction and their peers. You've heard the lack of inclusion for children and young people with disability during their school years forms a key aspect of neglect and it significantly contributes to exclusion and mistreatment throughout their lives. It highlights the importance of education generally but specifically for the respect of the rights of people with disability and addressing issues such as attitudes. 

During this hearing, there will be an opportunity to examine whether and how the right to education informs the education policies and practices of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the West Australian and South Australian governments. I want to now turn to the Royal Commission's work on education. Chair, you've outlined the Royal Commissioners’ work with respect to Public hearing 2 and Public hearing 7. While this is the third public hearing examining specifically education in Australia, Commissioners, we have looked back at all past public hearings. 

You have heard from over 70 witnesses who have told us about their lives   sorry, about lived or direct experience in education across a wide range of education settings, spanning over many years. The Royal Commission has received many submissions and responses to the Issues Paper and listened to people in private sessions and during community engagements. You have heard students with disability face significant barriers to a safe, quality and inclusive education. 

In your interim report you said the Royal Commission will examine the social development and life course impact that the lack of recognition of the right to inclusive education in law has on people with disability. At this hearing, you will hear about the experiences of children and young people with disability across different school settings. This hearing will also be an opportunity to hear about the experiences of children and young people in special or segregated education settings. 

If I can put the importance of this in context. In Australia, in 2021, there were around 340,000 children aged between 4 and 5 years old who were enrolled in a preschool program. There are over four million students enrolled in 9,581 schools in Australia. The majority of students attend government schools; around 65 per cent. This is followed by Catholic schools at 19.5 per cent and independent schools, 15.4 per cent. There are over 300,000 full-time equivalent teaching staff in Australian schools. 

In 2020 the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that the proportion of children and young people with disability in Australia is as follows: 3.7 per cent of children aged between 0 and 4 years old; 7.6 per cent of children aged between 5 and 14 years old; and 9.3 per cent of young people aged between 15 and 24 years old. That is a significant proportion of children and young people in Australia. We do not know precisely the proportion of students with disability attending mainstream schools or those who attend special or segregated units or classes. However, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that 21 per cent of students with disability attend special classes. 

In trying to capture the data, we also had regard to data that as at June 2021 there were 122,763 NDIS participants who had school education as a goal in their participant plan. This included over 31,000 children aged between 1 and 4 years, and 136,640 children aged between 5 and 12. Nationally consistent collection of data for school students with disability   the shorthand is NCCD   which was obtained by the Royal Commission under notice recorded that in 2019, 5.2 per cent of students with disability attended a segregated or special school and, of these, 84 per cent of students presented with cognitive disability. 

Commissioners, you will recall Professor Julian Trollor's evidence at Public hearing 4. He addressed the health of children and young people with cognitive disability, which is intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder. He told you over 60 per cent of people with autism have a disability involving profound or severe restrictions on core activities of daily living. Professor Troller said that according to data from 2015, approximately one in 150 Australians, or 0.7 per cent of the population, are estimated to be on what he described as the autism spectrum. 

He told you that over the past 70 years, the reported worldwide prevalence of autism has increased dramatically from four in 10,000 people to one in 100 people. The Australian statistics reflect this rise with a 79 per cent increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism since 2009. These statistics are relevant to the delivery of education in Australia and, importantly, to support children with disability to participate in inclusive education into the future. 

Professor Trollor also told you that people with intellectual disability commonly experience impairments in both expressive and receptive communication abilities. They may experience difficulty understanding abstract ideas and may require support to express and/or receive information. Up to 60 per cent of people with intellectual disability are able to use some form of symbolic communication. For example, pictures, symbol, signs or people. Professor Trollor says that people with very severe or profound disability, however, are primarily reliant on the support of people to interpret their vocalisations, facial expressions or body language. Up to 80 per cent of people with severe intellectual disability do not develop effective speech. 

Professor Trollor said people on the autism spectrum display significant variability in functional language ability. He said people with severe autism and/or including co intellectual disability may not develop effective speech. The ability to communicate is a core part of education, and it will be examined over the course of this week. Professor Trollor's evidence highlights that when children are not supported and assisted with their communication in education settings, it will have long term consequences across all areas of a person's life. 

Professor Trollor said this is particularly important for people with autism to have access to autism-related diagnostic and early intervention services, and he said it has been noted internationally for this to be limited to people who experience poverty or for people from vulnerable racial minorities. 

Commissioners, I'm now going to put up on the screen a slide. This hearing will include evidence that may be distressing to some people. It will include accounts of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of children and young people with disability. If the discussions over the course of this week raise any concerns for anyone, please contact Blue Knot Counselling and Referral Service, 1800 421 468; Lifeline, 13 11 14; Beyond Blue, 1300 224 636. And for viewers who wish to seek support in relation to accounts of sexual violence, domestic and family violence please contact 1800 Respect, which is 1800 737 732. For First Nations viewers, you can also contact local Aboriginal medical services for social, emotional support and wellbeing. 

So, Commissioners, I will now turn to the hearing and how we will present the hearing over the next five days. The focus will be on hearing from people with lived and direct experience. It will be an opportunity to hear about the day to day experiences in a range of settings. People with disability have diverse and different experiences, and we hope to capture a range of experiences hearing about the course of a person's education in primary school and in high school. 

We want to understand the sliding door moments. You may hear over the course of this week that metaphor "sliding door" being used often. We want to understand the sliding door moments which might be the choice of school, the relationship with particular teachers or principals, when support and adjustments have worked, the implications and impact when planning and adjustments are not made. We will examine how the NDIS supports students in achieving their education goals, particularly in the transition from school to life after school, be it employment, future education or exploring the world. 

Today, you will shortly hear from our first witness, Brittney Wilson. I'm very pleased she's here already in the hearing room. And she uses the pronouns she/her. Brittney, who likes to be called Britt, is a board member of the Association for Children with Disability (Tas) Inc, and Britt lives with muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair. Brit is the voice of youth on ACD with its board of management, as a young female with neuromuscular disability. 

She has experienced barriers that are prevalent for people with disabilities, including with discrimination, accessibility and inequality. Britt is also a youth leader with ACD's Youth Empowering Peers program. She is, I'm pleased to say, an aspiring advocate. And she believes that, from the experiences that she has faced and witnessed firsthand, we have overlooked children with disabilities. Britt finished school a few years ago, and she will share her experiences in mainstream education. Britt has a younger brother, and he has asked Britt to tell you about his story. 

You will then hear from  Kim Langcake, and she is here with her son Mitch. Mitch finished school recently, and Kim will talk about Mitch's experience from preschool, primary school, high school and beyond. She will tell you about the importance of supporting Mitch as a whole team: parents, teachers and community. 

Tomorrow you will hear from Gi Brown, who uses the pronouns they/him. Gi is a proud trans queer and disabled person who believes in being a keen disrupter of the system. Gi was a participant in the Children and Young People with Disability Australia's National Youth Disability Leadership Program. He lives and breathes social advocacy and justice for everyone, with a specific interest in disability, LGBTIQA plus youth, and mental health through the lens of policy, education, awareness and his own lived experience. Gi is also a current board member for Encompass Community Services and involved with CYDA, that is, Children and Young People Disability Australia. 

Now, in March 2021, Gi was a keynote speaker at the Building Stronger Families Australia policy forum run in partnership with Families and Australia and CYDA. And in April 2021, Gi and Mary Sayers, who you will also hear from this week, the CEO of CYDA, gave evidence before a Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Inquiry into Independent Assessments. 

Gi Brown will tell you about his experiences at school in a mainstream setting and particularly the final years of school and how they felt when the curriculum failed him. They will speak more broadly on education systems, including segregation. Gi's brother attends a special segregated school, and Gi will talk about his experiences. Gi will tell you about how to advance the rights of children and young people, including involving young people in decision making and hearing the voices of disabled youth and how policy addresses children and young people with disability. 

You will then hear from Ed Croft. Ed will share his son's Ryan's experiences. Ryan has recently finished school, and Ed will tell you about the barriers Ryan has experienced in his education, changing schools to find a learning environment that has responded and supported Ryan. He will speak about the impact on Ryan of his treatment at school, including restrictive practices. 

On Wednesday, we will be very privileged to speak to Bas. He's 13 and he recently presented a speech to his school talking about Cerebral Palsy and why people with CP are just the same as everyone else. Now, I have to warn you, Commissioners and people following the live feed, that Bas has a YouTube channel, and I am sure that he will ask all of us to follow and subscribe to his channel so we can follow his activities and his interests. 

You will also hear from Bas' mother Julie, and Julie will talk to you about the importance of inclusive education and how schools need to plan and adapt to make the schools physically accessible and the educational settings inclusive for children and young people with disability. 

You will then hear from Isabella about her experiences with respect to her son Emerson. Emerson is still at school, and she will tell you about planning for Emerson commencing school, his attendance at a number of regular primary schools before attending a special school. 

Then, finally on Wednesday, we have a panel, Mary Sayers, the CEO of CYDA, and Catherine McAlpine, the CEO of Inclusion Australia. We warmly welcome them to return yet again to give evidence at the Royal Commission. And they will address the key themes that will arise in the evidence and the importance of children and young people being heard and involved in decisions about their education. They will speak to a vision of an inclusive education system in Australia and how to make that happen. 

Then on Thursday, we turn our attention to the governments. On Thursday, Mr Percival, the Director Disability Inclusion for the Department of Education in Western Australia will give evidence. Mr Percival is responsible for leading the implementation of systems strategies to improve achievement and outcomes for students with disability in Western Australia. In his evidence, we will explore the extent to which that aspiration is operationalised at key points of a child's school life. 

Again, the sliding door moments, at the point of enrolment when the option of where to commence their education is made; during their schooling, when decisions about how best to provide adjustments to facilitate access to the curriculum, including by permitting external therapies or assistance in school environments; and how the Education Department works with the NDIS to ensure a smooth transition from school. 

At each stage, we will examine the way in which parents and students are involved in decision making and what opportunities they have for raising and escalating concerns that they might have about the progress of their child's education. You will also hear from Dr Caroline Croser Barlow, the Executive Director of Support and Inclusion with the Department for Education in South Australia. She leads a division of nearly 650 staff with a budget of $125 million to support inclusion in government schools in South Australia. 

We will examine how South Australia approaches its task of supporting inclusion. Like Western Australia, we will examine the key inflection points in a child's journey through their school life, the interaction of different educational options and the way in which that system and practices respond to the needs of the child. 

On Friday, you will also hear from Katie Koullas and Alexa from Yellow Ladybugs. Now, Commissioners you will recall the Yellow Ladybugs participated at Public hearing 17 concerning the experience of women and girls in family and domestic violence. The Yellow Ladybugs is an autistic led non-government organisation dedicated to the happiness, success, and celebration of autistic girls, women and gender diverse autistic individuals. 

They have a strong advocacy mission to address the many challenges and barriers and disadvantages that autistic girls and young women face, including in education. Alexa will tell you about her daughter's experiences attending an independent school, mainstream schools and now special schools as a young woman with autism. 

The final witness will then be Peter De Natris   I hope that's the right pronunciation   the Special Advisor, Early Childhood Intervention and Autism for the National Insurance Disability Agency. With respect to his evidence, we propose to examine three key issues: the first, what constitutes a reasonable and necessary support and, therefore, what attracts the funding under the NDIS; secondly, we will ask how the NDIA and school education systems work together to plan and coordinate streamlined services for individuals requiring school education and disability services; and, thirdly, we will also ask about NDIS support during the transition into school and then the transition from school into employment or life after school. 

Commissioners, we appreciate that language is important. For this hearing, we are taking our lead from our witnesses with respect to the language they use. This means that the expressions "mainstream", regular", "local", "special" and "segregated" may be used to describe a range of educational settings. May I also stress that this hearing is not intended to be a referendum of the merits of regular versus segregated educational settings or any judgment on the choices and decisions made. 

Our focus is to listen to understand, not to judge the experiences of people with disability and their family. They and the Royal Commission all share a commitment to improving the human rights, lives and opportunities of people with disability. Commissioners, for this hearing, we are not asking the Royal Commission to make any findings of negligence or breaches of the law. The Royal Commission is not intended to be a substitute for local complaint processes or internal investigations. The Royal Commission is not a court, and it cannot provide remedies for individuals. For this hearing, we will not be asking the Royal Commission to make findings whether a particular person or government breached a law or breached a policy. 

As with every hearing, I want to conclude by reminding those in the hearing room or following the Royal Commission that there are provisions in the Royal Commissions Act which have the very clear object of protecting witnesses who give evidence before the Royal Commission. In particular, I want to draw attention to section 6M of the Act, which provides that any person who uses, causes, or inflicts any violence, punishment, damage, loss or disadvantage to any person on account of the person having appeared as a witness, giving evidence or producing documents to the Royal Commission, that person commits an indictable offence. 

Can I further draw attention to section 6N of the Act which makes it an offence for any employer who dismisses any employee from his or her employment or prejudices any employee in his or her employment on account of the employee having appeared as a witness before the Royal Commission or given evidence before the Royal Commission or produced a document or thing or given information or a statement pursuant to a summons or requirement or notice. 

So can I return, finally, to remind people that the public hearing will continue to be made available on the web stream and we encourage people watching this hearing that if they feel that the topics cause them distress or concern or they are upset, then please contact the numbers and the services that we identified in the slide. We perhaps can put that up again. And for those here at the hearing, the Royal Commission has an internal counselling and support services team which is made up of social workers and councillors who are available to provide counselling and support to people engaged with the Royal Commission, and information is available on the Royal Commission's website. 

So, Commissioners, thank you and we now open the hearing. I'm mindful of the time and maybe if we can have an adjournment for   we've got time   for half an hour and then we will commence with Brittney Wilson's evidence. 

CHAIR: All right. It is now 10.50, more or less. So we will resume at 11.20, if that's convenient. 

MS EASTMAN: Thank you. 

CHAIR: Thank you. We will take the adjournment now.



CHAIR: Yes, Ms Eastman. 

MS EASTMAN: Thank you. Well, our first witness for this hearing is Brittney Wilson, and I think we have agreed that we will just go with Britt today. And Britt is going to give an affirmation. 

CHAIR: Britt, thank you very much for coming to the Royal Commission to give evidence today. We very much appreciate you doing that. 

MS WILSON: Thank you for having me. 

CHAIR: And telling us about your experiences and your views. If you would please follow my associate, who is hiding behind the column over there, she will administer the affirmation to you. Just listen to what she says and follow her instructions, if you don't mind. 


CHAIR: Thank you very much, Britt. Just to explain   I'm sure you know, but just to make sure, you can see on the screen Commissioner Galbally, who is joining the hearing from Melbourne. Commissioner Mason is with me in the hearing room, of course, and Ms Eastman you can see in front of you. I will now ask Ms Eastman to ask you some questions. Thank you.


MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Britt, for joining today. I just need to do some formalities and to confirm that your name is Brittney Wilson. 


MS EASTMAN: And the Royal Commission knows your address. 


MS EASTMAN: And in terms of   often we ask people to describing what they do, and I think we've agreed that we would like to describe you as an aspiring advocate. Is that okay? 


MS EASTMAN: And you haven't prepared a statement for the Royal Commission, but you've got some talking points. 


MS EASTMAN: And, Commissioners, we've had a discussion about the topics that Britt would like to talk to you about today. And when we do that, we are not going to refer to the names of any person, be they a teacher's aide, a teacher, a location of a school, the name of the school, principal, and we will do our best on that one. And then, secondly, you want to share with the Royal Commission your experiences, but also you have your brother's permission and wish that you speak on his behalf as well. And he's happy to be identified as James. Is that right? 

MS WILSON: That's right. 

MS EASTMAN: So I want to start by inviting you to tell the Royal Commission about yourself. You might have heard me mention this morning in the opening about the advocacy work that you are doing and the organisations that you're involved in. But can we start, just to share with the Commissioners and people following the hearing, tell us about yourself. 

MS WILSON: So I'm Britt. I go by Britt. I'm 21 and, as mentioned, I have a love for advocacy. After years of advocating for myself and my brother, I realised it's something I could do professionally, and I've developed a real love for it. So I've been working with ACD for a couple of years now, which has led me to a position on their board, and currently I'm an employed mentor to young people with disabilities under them as an employment youth connecter. We are doing a research project with BIAT to help young people better their skills for employment. 

I'm also working with CYDA on a research team paired with the University of NSW and Inclusion Australia. And we are working on a research project around growing up and making decisions for people with cognitive disabilities. So my role in that was to facilitate interviews with participants from all around Australia. I got to hang out and chat with a lot of young people and their families, which was really nice. It showed me a lot of what I had learnt from my mum and what I had gone through as a disabled young person myself. 

And then my role was to make sure all of that data that we got from the lovely participants was heard and understood correctly in our final report, which is still being written. So there's some preliminary evidence there. I'm sorry, I can't say that word properly. Preliminary findings there that are really, really valuable. 

MS EASTMAN: I might ask you about some of those findings, if you are allowed to talk about that, towards the end, because I think you've got some recommendations and suggestions. 


MS EASTMAN: So can I ask you to tell us about James. He's given you some things he would like to share so that you describe him and his life. What would you like to tell us about James? 

MS WILSON: Yes. So James is my little brother. He is 17. I will always call him my baby brother, but he is a young man. He is an avid gamer and absolutely loves anything to do with electronics. He's currently studying business in year 11 and wants to make his own business eventually. The dream is to open a café for disabled   for disabled people to be employed within the café. And run it completely inclusive to all people, which is a really, really nice dream, I think. 

MS EASTMAN: So you know this hearing is about the experiences of children and young people at school and some of those decisions that are made about children and young people about where they go to school and what happens when they are at school. And you wanted to talk to the Royal Commission about your experiences at school and also James' experience at school, and some of this touches upon what we might call mainstream schools. 


MS EASTMAN: And also segregated schools. And that's been for James; he's had time in a segregated or special school. Is that right? 



MS WILSON: James   we have both been in mainstream school. James has   we have had learning centres which are segregated parts within mainstream education. 

MS EASTMAN: Within the school. Okay. So both of you have had some very challenging experiences at school. So, Britt, can we start with you. I know you might want to tell the Royal Commission some stories which are difficult, and just as a bit of a reminder to people following that some of the things you're going to talk about are quite hard things to talk about and to listen to. So we will just go slowly. You let me know if you need to have a break or you just want to have a pause as well. 


MS EASTMAN: So we are going to go right into it. Some of the experiences that you've had at school, you've been bullied. 


MS EASTMAN: You've been excluded. You've been left behind by teachers aides, and you've felt sometimes personally, you know, very left out by the adults around you, not so much by the kids. So there's some of the experiences that you particularly wanted to share with the Royal Commission, and I know you've got some notes there. So over to you. 

MS WILSON: So, basically, our story kind of starts in primary school. I will go into a bit about   because my brother is only four years behind me. We did share a lot of our experiences, and then after I went to high school, they kind of became separate. So it kind of started from day dot. My mum struggled to find an accessible school that had flat surfaces for me and my brother. And it was an out of area school, so she had to fight for that. 

Then, as the years went on, it became really apparent that OH&S and all the rules and everything kind of could be abused to help   or overused in the   under the impression of our safety, which wasn't always right, in my opinion. When I was younger, I was made   with my manual chair for long excursions and things like that, which I did tire easily. But I was put in my manual chair sometimes when I didn't want to be because it was easier. 

In grade 4, grade 5, I actually became permanently wheelchair bound due to scoliosis. When this happened, my friends kind of rallied around me, which was really sweet. They would want to take it in turns who got to push me in the playground and to help keep me included. Though we   and a lot   the majority of the TAs there would allow this because they saw how happy it kind of made me and they would supervise. 

MS EASTMAN: Just jumping in, TAs is teachers aides? 

MS WILSON: Yeah, sorry. Some would turn up late for shift, though, which meant that I wasn't able to eat my lunch. I would miss out on a lot of play time. Some would flat out refuse to allow my friends to push me, to keep me included, saying that it was their job, it was a safety rule and   but on the same hand, in the middle of a game, they either just didn't want to help me or they would see another TA and spend the next whatever left of the break talking to that TA while I sat there in my chair with them and refused to kind of go. And if I interrupted their conversation, I was told that I was rude and disrespectful. 

MS EASTMAN: Were they talking about you or talking to you? 

MS WILSON: No, they would be talking about either one of the other students, what they did on the weekend, upcoming meetings. 

MS EASTMAN: Did you sort of feel invisible, that were you there and they were talking around you? 

MS WILSON: Basically. I wasn't included in the conversation whatsoever. 

MS EASTMAN: And how did that make you feel and what impact did that have on you? 

MS WILSON: It was very damaging. Especially when I tried to interrupt and say, "Can I please go play" and was told that I was interrupting and very rude and that I had to wait. It made me feel very insignificant. Especially when my friends would come up and be really upset that I wasn't playing with them and they would even ask, "Can we just take her so we don't have to interrupt your conversation." And they would be like, "No, it's against the rules." 

So I would have to tell my friends, "Please go play without me. Don't miss out on your recess too." And that was really hard as a 9-year-old. I shouldn't have had to have that responsibility to kind of think of my friends above myself. 

MS EASTMAN: Were you able to tell anyone how you were feeling at that time so that it could change and you would be able to play with your friends at lunchtime and breaks? 

MS WILSON: There was   I would tell some of the other TAs that I was close with and they would apologise on other TAs' behalf and allow me to do whatever I wanted with my friends because they didn't agree. But there was really no one that fixed the behaviour. And no one that I really spoke to that   and if I did, the next day I would get a, "Well, why did you dob on me?"  Like, it was one conversation which I never wanted to deal with. 

I'm not a confrontational person or I wasn't as a kid. So I would find those situations really hard to deal with and I felt like I couldn't speak for myself without basically being labelled as rude. And that was very damaging to me because I never wanted to be rude in any sense of the word, because I was raised to be very respectful. 

MS EASTMAN: And you've got some more points there that you wanted to talk about. What would you like to talk about next? 

MS WILSON: We were made to go to the toilet at certain times. If we didn't go to the toilet at these particular times, we were told that   well, we weren't told. It was made very apparent in the behaviour and the body language that we had majorly inconvenienced the staff. Then we   they would have adult conversations in the bathroom about their weekends while we are sitting in the sling over the toilet, and if we interrupted these conversations, it was made very apparent that it wasn't appreciated. 

My brother, my mum and I were very   my mum sheltered us very much from a lot of things, and alcohol wasn't talked about in our house at all. And one afternoon, my brother was in the bathroom with two TA staff and they were talking about their weekend and how drunk they got. And my little brother turned around and said, "What's alcohol?"  And they are like, "Well, your mum would drink alcohol."  And my brother's like - "Oh, everybody drinks alcohol.” 

My brother’s like, “Oh, coffee. My mum drinks a lot of coffee and it makes her go a bit silly and she gets very hypo.” And they were like, “No, coffee is not alcohol, silly. Alcohol is different.” And tried to explain what alcohol was to my little brother who was, oh, about 7. And my brother come home and my – asked my mum, “Do you drink alcohol, mum?”  And mum was like, “No, where would this conversation come from?”  And she wasn’t very pleased about that, and we didn’t find it very appropriate for them to be having that kind of discussion while they are taking my little brother to the bathroom. 

They would also constantly – a lot of the Tas would constantly butt into conversations when I was talking with my peers, which would make my peers very uncomfortable, considering – try being a little kid trying to go out and play and get up to mischief with a TA constantly hovering over you, telling you, “Oh, This is against the rules. This is against the rules. You shouldn't be acting this way. You should be  " like, basically, I wasn't allowed to be a kid because I was constantly monitored. 

And rather than helping me be included, the TAs became kind of a segregation in themselves because no one wanted to be around a teacher 24/7. And it became very, very isolating. I was just very grateful that I had a few friends that found ways of dealing with it. So we would   if the teacher   if the TA was late, they would quickly pack up my lunch and we would go hide down at the bottom of the oval away from the TAs for the whole break. 

And because they didn't want to get in trouble themselves, they didn't tell on anyone because, like, they would have to admit they lost me. So that became our way of dealing with it. We would hide in bushes. They would hide my wheelchair and everything. It was great. 

MS EASTMAN: What about some of the school work?  So you had some experiences with the TAs, in effect, taking over your school work. 

MS WILSON: Yes. So   

MS EASTMAN: And telling you what was right or wrong. And you had   one of your friends intervened in that. 

MS WILSON: Yes, they did.

MS EASTMAN: Do you want to tell the Royal Commissioners about the school work? 

MS WILSON: So I struggled with math a lot. I have never been a good mathematician. It's not my strong suit. One day, I was working and I followed the formula the teacher gave us and I followed it to the key and I knew that I had got this math equation right. For once. I knew I had it right. My TA rubbed it out and said that I was doing the equation wrong and that I had to do it this way and this is the way she did it at school. And I said, "Well, look, I followed what   the way the teacher said. The way the teacher has done it makes better sense to me. I am pretty sure I have it right, I'm sorry. I don't want to go with your answer. I want to go with my own." 

And she's like, "Well, I'm telling you, you've got it wrong." I'm like, "Well, I'm sorry, but if I've got it wrong, I would like the teacher to tell me I've got it wrong."  And she kept insisting that I use the equation that she laid out. So I turned to a fellow peer that I had known since I was little, and I just kind of tapped him on the shoulder and I said, "Look, you're good with maths. You're top of our class, have I done this correctly?" 

And he's like, "Well, you've done it the same way I did and you've got the same answer I did. So, yeah, Britt, you're right."  The TA still insisted that we were both wrong. So I called the teacher over. And the teacher patted both my peer and I on the back, and said "Good job, kids. You've done good. You've done it right."  And all I did is kind of look back over at the TA to say, okay I did it, because I was really proud of myself. And she goes, "Oh, you don't have to be like that, I was only trying to help." 

And I'm like, "Oh, it's not how I meant that look." And it kind of made me feel, like, really bad. And I kind of avoided her the rest of the day because she was meant to help support me, not belittle my experiences in learning. My brother had a lot of those incidents as well, where he was completely   all of his work. He struggled with spelling and handwriting. And we found, after my mum had gone in there for a week to help support him and watch what the TAs were doing with him, they were completely erasing whole sentences that he didn't write correctly and rewriting them for him. 

So the teachers weren't even marking his work. So the teachers were going off of the TAs' experiences and telling us that my brother was three years behind in his learning, which we knew was incorrect because we were working with him at home and he was flourishing. The only thing he struggled with was writing and spelling. And my mum figured out why. 

So, yeah, there were a lot of incidences like that, and they built up a lot of frustration because we weren't allowed   every time we spoke out, we were told that we were being rude, that we were being disrespectful, that we weren't appreciative of the help that they were giving us. And we didn't need to act that way when, really, it was just frustration and the wrong tone, because the frustration was evident in our voices. We actually got sent to the principal's office. 

We had a meeting with the head of the Disability Department in our school, both of the TAs that we were having issues with, both of our teachers each and the principal. My mum was not notified of this meeting at all. My brother and I had no support besides those in the room that were accusing us. I was told by my favourite teacher that I thought was really supportive of me, and my principal that I thought understood me, that we   that they were very disappointed in my behaviour, that they never thought that they could see me   hear about me acting this way, that they didn't appreciate the way I was treating the staff, that I was being very rude, very disrespectful and that there are better ways to communicate if I am having any issues. 

Because I'm a very   I try to be very respectful, as I was raised, I started bawling. I just cried. I couldn't even defend myself. My brother, he is more quick to temper. He got very angry. And was saying "Well, this is what you're doing to us, though. Why can't we talk about it?"  And we didn't even get an apology. All we got was that we should try to do better and that they know we can do better and that there must be a miscommunication going on. 

None of the issues were resolved, and my mum wasn't even still notified until we got home and told her the meeting happened because we were so distraught that our teachers were seeing us this way because we are were being painted in that light by our TAs. 

MS EASTMAN: James had some other issues at school where he has experienced some physical abuse. Is that right? 


MS EASTMAN: Do you want to talk about that? 


MS EASTMAN: How are you feeling about talking about this?  Are you okay? 

MS WILSON: Yeah, I'm okay. So after I left for high school   I was sort of my brother's protector a lot in school. So if I knew something was going on, because I had more diplomatic way of dealing with things, he would come to me, and I would go to the person that we needed to talk to. After I left for high school, James no longer had that person. And because James' approach is more quick to temper, he   all of his issues and concerns were labelled as bad behaviour. 

So because he didn't know how to deal with things and express his emotions in the correct way, he was labelled as a bad child, that he had behavioural issues, and they would   because his behavioural issues were so bad they, would tell him what speeds he's allowed to use on his electric wheelchair; they would control that kind of thing. But there were a lot of issues late into him being in grade 6 and grade 5. 

He would come home with   our carer found scratch marks all up his bottom, all the way from his back from where they had pulled up his pants after taking him to the toilet with their fingernails. He had more issues about them not taking off his harness, so he was unable to reach the desk to do his school work. He got detention on his birthday because he didn't complete his school work because they didn't allow him to take off his harness. 

So his friends took off his harness for him, they lifted the table to try and get him under the wheelchair   under the table to do his work and were trying to give him all of his pencils. So they were trying to do this in the whole class time. So none them got their work done and the teacher gave them detention, even though they didn't see the struggle and James had no TA staff that day. 

There was also another incident that resulted in my mum   well, the two other incidences that resulted in my mum pulling my brother out of school for six months. One was my brother had just had a circumcision for medical reasons and he was allowed to go back to school after a couple of days. He   James would use a urinal bottle, and they didn't place the urinal bottle correctly when taking him to the bathroom. And to stop him from urinating on them and making a mess of the bathroom, they grabbed him by the tip of his private area and squeezed to stop him urinating, which obviously caused him immense pain. 

And after this, they gave him a bunch of Dojos, school Dojos, and a big reward for the way he communicated and dealt with the situation. So James come home   they didn't call my mum. They didn't make an incident report about what happened. And James come home, "Mum, I got some really cool Dojos and a reward today because  " keep in mind he's only 9, 10   sorry, 10, 11 and was really excited that he got rewards. And mum was like, "Well, why did you get those?"  "Because I was awesome at communicating with what happened in the toilet." 

And mum is like, "Oh, okay."  Didn't really think of much of it because of all the other issues going on. She thought they dropped him   like, they   the sling wasn't right again or they've made a mess again. The next day the principal come up to mum and said, "We are really sorry for what happened in the bathroom with James, but we were really impressed with the way that he handled the situation. We are very proud of him. Good job," to him. 

And mum is like, "Okay, well, I'm glad that the situation was resolved. I don't know what are you talking about, though." And they are like, "Just an incident happened in the bathroom. I'm sure James will tell you when you get home."  So they didn't inform my mum when they had this conversation. My brother went to the bathroom when we were home and it really hurt him. And mum is like, "Well, why is it hurting you, mate?  It shouldn't be hurting you." 

And James goes, "Because of what happened in the bathroom, mum."  And mum is like, "Right, okay, what happened. You need to tell me now." And James informed them   informed mum. Mum was livid, to say the least. She wanted action to be taken. The Education Department and the principal said that it was an accident, that it's been taken care of. Mum requested that the TA no longer work with my brother. She was still working with him because they had no other staff that could be rostered on to James. Because mum didn't even want her in the   mum didn't even want her in the vicinity of the bathroom with James ever again. But because they were lacking in staff, that was not an option, apparently. 

Mum tried to go to the police to get a restraining order put on this staff member because she was that desperate. The police told her that it wasn't their issue, that it was the Education Department issue and that she had to take it up with the Education Department. The Education Department never got back to her and basically said that they need to go through the criminal courts and things like that. Which   so everyone gave mum the run around. 

Then there was also an incident where my brother   my brother was becoming tired of everything that was going on, and there was an incident that led to mum pulling him out of school after this where he   James no longer wanted to go to the bathroom at school so he would hold, which caused him urinal problems and bladder   and bowel problems. And he had an accident. And so they went to the bathroom to clean him up and take him to the toilet. The TA pulled his pants down, took one look at him, pulled them back up, said, "I'm not dealing with that, I want to go watch the assembly." 

And James was left in his own faeces until he got home. Which could have caused him severe infection after the circumcision, not to mention the embarrassment of the smell and everything that it could have caused. But James lied. James told us that it was the other TA that had been harassing him and not the TA that had done it, because he wanted to use it as an avenue to finally fire the TA that had been the one causing all the problems. 

And because of this lie, all of his credibility apparently was now shot and we couldn't fight anything that had happened to him during his time at primary school. So my mum pulled him out of school and he remained out of school for six months until we were able to put one of our own carers that was at home into the school as his TA. And it was to solely work with James. And that was the only condition that mum would allow James back to school. 

MS EASTMAN: Just pausing there, Britt, and I'm conscious of the time and all the topics that you would like to talk about. 


MS EASTMAN: School has still been difficult for James, hasn't it, and he's had his moments in terms of   


MS EASTMAN:   wanting to be at school and there was one very serious matter that you want to speak about. So I will give everybody a warning, that what you're going to talk about may be extremely confronting. 


MS EASTMAN: So do you want to just tell   I think James wanted you to share his experiences getting to this point where he just felt that was it. 

MS WILSON: Yeah. So James and I experienced some time in out of home care due to Child Protection Services. This was not a great time in our life, along with everything else we had dealt with in the Education Department. James didn't have the support staff that he had in primary school in high school, and he didn't have a lot of it. So one lunchtime, with everything that had been going on, he managed to sneak out of school grounds   

MS EASTMAN: In his wheelchair? 

MS WILSON: In his electric wheelchair that's 200 kilos. Managed to be lost for an hour before they knew he was gone, and he had made it to the [redacted] Bridge and he was going to attempt suicide. He was 14 when this happened, and I only heard about it because a friend noticed him on the bridge as she was driving past. So   because I wasn't living with him at the time. Thankfully, our father was able to talk him down, because once he realised that there was railings on the bridge, he was heading for the wharf. 

But tell me how a high school loses a disabled child in a 200 kilo wheelchair and lets him walk out the gates?  Like, that shouldn't have happened and to not notice him gone for over an hour. I know he's a smart kid, but he   that shouldn't have been able to come to pass. 

MS EASTMAN: So, Britt, just looking at the time that we've got, and I know there's a story that you want to share about   towards the end of your time at high school. 

MS WILSON: Yeah. So year 11. 

MS EASTMAN: Do you want to talk about that one or would you prefer to sort of move on to talk about some of the work that you are doing with CYDA and recommendations. What would you like to do? 

MS WILSON: I suppose I can quickly brush over that. 

MS EASTMAN: I don't want   I don't want you to rush. I just want you to be comfortable in the stories that you want to tell. Because I think this coming to the end of school and that sense of how an attitude of one person really caused you to feel excluded and different, but also became this sort of, like, spark for you to say, "Right, I am going to speak up from now on." 


MS EASTMAN: So do you want to tell the Royal Commissioners about that and then we might talk about the work you are doing with CYDA. 

MS WILSON: Yes, okay.

MS EASTMAN: So just say to the Commissioners, we are just probably going a little bit over the time that we had allocated, but I'm very keen for Britt to tell you about this. 

CHAIR: That's quite all right. This is something we are very much interested in. So it is perfectly okay. 

MS WILSON: So in year 11   which is college to me, so I will refer to it as college because down in [redacted] we are different. I   I had a big passion for photography and I chose to use it as one of my subjects. Right from the get-go, I just did not click with this teacher. And in college, I actually refused to have any TA staff because of my experience in primary school. I did in high school as well, but I had minimal TA staff to help me with bathrooms because it was an OH&S risk, apparently, to let me go to the toilet by myself even though I was perfectly capable. 

So, in college, we were told that if we wanted TA staff, we had to go into the segregated learning centre, which I flat out refused to do because it didn't allow me to pursue my mainstream classes that I wanted to pursue. So I risked having no support, which I was fine with because I had friends in the majority of my classes that were happy to help, except for photography. So this teacher and I didn't get along. From the get-go he referred to me as "Belinda" rather than Brittney. 

And it was always   because I told him that I need to be able to access the classroom and that it was really important that, like, people kind of pushed their chairs in for me to be able to get through and things were at an appropriate height for me to reach. As long as that was happening, I didn't need a TA. And right from the get-go he   "Oh, everybody push your chairs in. Belinda needs to get past. Oh, make sure to help Belinda if she needs it."  And things like that. 

MS EASTMAN: So one of your friends had to step in? 

MS WILSON: After a couple of days   it was about a week of school and me reminding him, "My name is Brittney, not Belinda", one of my peers from high school stood up in the classroom as he was doing roll call and said, "Her name is Brittney. How about you get it right?  Like, it's been long enough now."  And he's, like, mumbled an apology. But for a student to have to step up to the teacher, yeah, like, it made me feel pride because I had that backing, but it still shouldn't have happened. 

Then there was an incident in the dark room. I was struggling because the machine wasn't working, the enlarger. I knew how to do it, but I just couldn't get it to work. So I called the teacher over. He said, "Oh you haven't got it set up right." I'm like, "Well, yes, I do, I've got it set up how I need it for now so I can reach it but it's not working." And he's like, "Oh, well, because you haven't got it right."  I'm like, "I do. It's not turning on. How do I turn it on?" 

And he's like, "Oh, it's not right. Here, I will get the student over. They can help you."  And the student came over, and they are like   he's like, "Help Britt."  And she's like, "What do you want me to do, Britt?"  I'm like, "I don't need your help. I've got it set up. The actual thing is not turning on. I don't want to keep you from your work. Like just go, I will figure it out."  And she's like, "Are you sure?"  I'm like, "Yes, I'm fine. He's just not listening to me." 

And we kind of chuckled about the teacher's attitude and she went and did her work. The teacher come back because I still hadn't done anything because the enlarger wasn't working. He's like, "Oh, why is this not on?"  And I'm like, "Because it's not working." He's like, "Well, why didn't you tell me that?" I was like, "I did three times, actually." He's like, "Oh, well, maybe you need to speak up." I was like, okay, whatever. 

And because of these constant little things, I started to slack off in the class. I was deliberately being lazy just to see what would happen. And   because I had no drive, he had taken all of my happiness out of photography with his attitude and the way he was constantly putting me on spotlight in the classroom. For someone with severe social anxiety that had had six months off school the year prior to extreme bullying, that was really, really hard for me and was giving me constant panic attacks in the school environment again. And my friends were constantly having to deal with me at recess and lunch trying to calm down after that class. 

So because I slacked off, he wrote in my book   and it's years ago but still stays with me, "I'm sure all work was completed to the best of your ability. Perhaps we should look at getting you a TA." He wrote that under my artwork, and I was livid. I stormed out of his classroom and I refused to go back. And I took my book home and my mum's   my mum's ex husband at the time   husband at the time come in and checked on me. And I showed him and like, "What do you get from that?" 

And he goes, "Well, sounds like a pompous prick wrote it." And I'm like, yeah, that was my teacher. I begged him not to tell my mum because I knew my mum would react. Mum come in, looked at   he told my mum. She come in, looked at it, ripped it out of my book and said, "That's not going anywhere near my daughter's artwork. I will be coming into school with you tomorrow." I'm like, "Okay. Mamma bear has awoken." She marched into the school with me, went straight to the principal's office and sent me to class. 

They told her that the teacher wasn't on premises but they are really sorry for the way he's treated my and that I am allowed to transfer to my friend's class that would still allow me to do my photography. And mum texted me, "He's not here today."  I'm like, "Mum, it's Wednesday. I have class with him today. He's here. I just passed him in the hallway."  She's like, "Oh, I will be back." But, yes, so the assistant principal came to me after that and said that I'm able to transfer and that I didn't need to go and do the green slip thing that would mean talking to the teacher and confronting why I wanted to transfer, which was fine and I was really happy about that because I don't do well with confrontation. And I knew it would be an argument. 

So in the next class, I went to the new class that I was going to and I had my best friend with me. It was her class. He came and found me, the teacher. He went through the back door so the other teacher wouldn't see him and he asked me to come into a room alone with him to discuss the issues. I said, "I'm sorry. I don't feel comfortable with that." He's like, "Well, this is not the way to do things. You are still assigned to my class and I would like you to tell me why you were leaving it." 

I'm like, "I'm sorry, but I have been given permission from the assistant principal that I do not need to discuss this with you and I will be staying in this classroom." And he's like, "Well, that's not how we do things. You need to come with me." And my friend stood up, very powerful, she   closed fists and she said, "I'm sorry, but my friend is not going anywhere with you." And he turned to her and said, "Well, you are a student, I am the teacher. You will listen, and she's coming with me." 

And my friend said, "No, she's not, mate. I don't care who you are." And I could see that she was getting riled and I didn't want her to get into trouble. So I said, "Look, fine, you want to hear it, I will tell you why I'm not coming back to your classroom but I will do it here with my friend and not in a room alone with you, because I do not feel safe." And he sat down, and he was like, "Okay, fair. Why aren't you coming back to class?" 

And I said, "Well, quite frankly, teachers like you are the reason I'm bullied. Teachers like you who single me out and make every little thing about my disability and highlight it to the whole classroom are why people like me get bullied. I had six months off school last year because I have social anxiety due to bullying. You triggered all of that with your actions. You constantly put me in the spotlight and, quite frankly, I was lazy in your class and you blamed it on my disability. You made everything about it, and the comment you wrote in my book just sent me over the edge. It was extremely derogatory."

He said, "A comment in your book. I don't remember writing a comment in your book."  I'm like, "You said that my lazy artwork was that to the best of my ability and you wanted me to get a TA."  He's like, "Oh, I didn't mean it like that. I was sure that you were working as hard as you could and I meant it as a compliment."  I was like, "How is that a compliment?" 

MS EASTMAN: Can I jump in there?  The other teacher whose class you were in wasn't aware of that conversation   

MS WILSON: Yeah. No, she wasn't.

MS EASTMAN:    but overheard it, didn't she, and did she intervene? 

MS WILSON: She didn't overhear it. She saw him leaving because she was in the other classroom doing   it was a segregated classroom so there was a wall and you had the art area where you were painting and then you had the inner classroom. She was in the inner classroom. And we were in the art area where there was a back door, and he had purposely gone through the back door. And, yeah, so he tried to defend himself and I said, "Look, I have got severe social anxiety, there is no further things I want to discuss with you. I'm not returning to your classroom. We cannot fix this issue and, quite frankly, I would like you to leave." 

And he kind of mumbled and didn't give an apology, but he left. I was shaking by the end of this because that's the first time I stood up to a teacher. Once he left, the other teacher came to check on us and realised he was leaving and said, "He didn't come in here, did he?"  And we were like, "Yeah, he did."  She's like, "He wasn't supposed to. He wasn't supposed to come near you until you had an apology." And I'm like, "Well, I didn't get an apology." 

And so we went to the assistant's principal's office, told him what had happened. He apologised immensely. Not long after that, I don't think he worked at the school. But a couple of days later, because I was still enrolled in his class technically, I had to check in with him for homeroom to be   for attendance. And he mentioned to me, "Oh you mentioned you have social anxiety."  I said, "Yes, I do. I've been diagnosed with it."  He said, "I feel anxious sometimes too. If you can't   if you choose to come back to class, I'm sure we can work on our anxiousness together." 

I'm like, "So you didn't hear a word I said. Okay, no, I won't be returning to your class and I don't want to see you again. Goodbye." And went off. Thankfully, I didn't have any other issues like that after him, but that was a huge one to deal with. 

MS EASTMAN: Britt, thank you. I know there's a lot of other experiences that you've had, but do you want to talk to the Royal Commissioners about what you are doing with CYDA and this really important work on assisting children and young people with decision making? 

MS WILSON: So at the moment, as I said, I'm going through   I was an interviewer for participants, and we were talking about the capacity to make decisions and how to make that more accessible to young people with cognitive disabilities. And a lot of it actually   we saw that it did actually have a connection to the Education Department. So education, as it's been said today, is a right. Like, everyone deserves to have an education. 

But we aren't making that education accessible. The curriculum is so rigid and so structured that it doesn't fit everyone, and how are we meant to make making decisions more accessible with something that can't be bent?  So many families, from what we have heard, they have to put in so many building blocks to get their children to the stage of making decisions that can affect them for the rest of their lives. And some children can't get to that point, and those families have to make them themselves. 

There is not enough support in anything for families, but it makes you think about the children growing up in CP, Child Protection, that don't have those fundamental building blocks that so many parents can give. Sometimes school is the only constant, but if school is not providing those accessible fundamentals, who is?  And when we talk about segregated learning and we talk about mainstream, why does there have to be two, is what I want to know. 

Why can't we bring what we have in the support network and the inclusivity into mainstream?  Why can't we   why does there have to be a learning centre that we bring disabled people into and pull them away from their peers?   Because that's not teaching the children anything. That's not helping the children. That's showing all of the other   all the other peers that they have got to go away and do that, like, they've got to be taken away because they are different. 

I've never believed in that. Why can't we make a curriculum more accessible and more adaptive?  Because we know it doesn't work, even for able-bodied children. So many able bodied children can't face the curriculum either. I've had so many friends drop out of school because they just can't do it anymore. So why are we stuck to this structure that doesn't work?  Like, we've had it for years, but we've always said change is meant to happen. 

And with what we've found in some of our preliminary findings, there needs to be more support for families, for educators. Educators need more funding. They need more training. They need more lived experience with how to, like, handle a disabled person coming into their classroom. Because we don't want to be guinea pigs anymore, which is what we feel like. We are constantly a training tool. Every new disabled child is a new learning curve; I get that. But don't make us feel like it. Don't make the children have to be the ones to stand up for their peers. Don't   I don't know. 

So it comes on that basis of we're getting more support in segregated learning but we're not giving the children opportunities to pursue their mainstream education goals. And, honestly, segregation   segregated learning isn't a choice anymore. Mainstream has become so inaccessible and so wrought with bullying that it doesn't feel like a choice anymore. I've had so many friends that have all said that home school is the only accessible and safe learning experience for them to be able to pursue their career goals in a way that they actually can. And it shouldn't have to come to that. 

MS EASTMAN: Britt, thank you very much for sharing your story and James' story, and I think you could well and truly move from being an aspiring advocate to a very strong advocate. You've demonstrated your strength of your advocacy today, and the Commissioners might have a few questions for you. But a big thank you. 

MS WILSON: Thank you. 

CHAIR: And a big thank you from us too, Britt. 

MS WILSON: Thank you.

CHAIR: I will just ask the Commissioners if they have got any questions to put to you. I will ask first Commissioner Galbally in Melbourne   you can see on the screen   whether she has any questions for you. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thank you so much, Britt. That was just really very helpful to us. So your last comment, which is that segregated learning isn't a choice anymore, your meaning   I just want to clarify your meaning. You're meaning because mainstream education is failing to be inclusive and accessible. Is that your meaning? 


COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: And can I come back to your very valuable   you know, comments and experience, even though it was awful for you, with teachers aides. Do you think that the teachers aides have been trained in human rights, in understanding the rights of children with disabilities?  Do you think they have had that training? 

MS WILSON: Potentially, before they   potentially, when they first started, but they had been in the industry so long   and they still are   that I think   I was talking about it last night. They are in it so long with so little support and so little upkeep training that they run themselves to the point that they don't care anymore. It's just a job again. 


MS WILSON: And I don't think that that is the way   the attitude that someone working with a disabled person should have. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: You describe your interaction with them as almost they kept you from the teacher and from the education that was in the classroom. Now, am I getting that right? 

MS WILSON: Sometimes it felt that way, yes. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Yes. So, well, I think that the curriculum being more adaptive   so your point really is that if mainstream schools were inclusive, it would be good for everybody. 


COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: For non-disabled and disabled, and that your interaction with your friends would set them up for the future to understand disability and to include people with disabilities all of their lives. Is that what you're saying? 

MS WILSON: Yeah, I actually have examples of this. My friend has just finished her Cert III in Disability Support Work, and another is training to be a   aspiring to be a personal trainer and wants to be able to work with disabled people to help build up their muscle tone and support them. And I have had that friend that wants to be a personal trainer since grade 4. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: So you are really influencing the whole   the community. Yes. 

MS WILSON: I actually see it as they   because of the people they are, they were drawn to me. And the people that   I don't see it as I've inspired them. I see it as their already caring nature has kind of blossomed, and they learnt through experiences. So I didn't   I didn't help them become who they are. They just were, but they have learnt through what they have experienced with me. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Yes. Thank you very much. Thank you. 

CHAIR: Commissioner Mason? 

COMMISSIONER MASON: Thank you, Britt, and also for speaking about your brother as well. I just had one question. With the different experiences you were sharing, was there a process in the school   primary school, high school, of explaining and talking and having a process of complaints or feedback that was a regular part of your experience in school?

MS WILSON: Not   not that we were aware of. Mum tried to find a complaint process, but everyone kept referring her to someone else and it never seemed to go anywhere. We had memo books for a while where we used   jotted   tried to jot everything down in a memo book. So mum would send messages to and from home. So we still probably have those somewhere but   and they would be filled with little things mum used to write for us. But other than, that, no. 

COMMISSIONER MASON: Okay. Just one other question. And as Ms Eastman said, you know, you're aspiring to be an advocate, and I know just from today you're going to be amazing. When you were in high school, in primary school, when did the moment come that you thought that there was a profession or a career in the school, the environment that helped you to do that?  Where did that penny drop and how did it happen?

MS WILSON: It wasn't actually really in high school   in school. I mean, there was an incident where I had to   my mum didn't   my mum is very much like my brother. They are very quick to protect. So my mum is not very diplomatic. So I was her voice when she couldn't express things in a diplomatic way. So I was my brother's advocate through his issues with primary school. I had to come in and have my mum beside me and express a voice for my brother. 

And one time I was like, "Oh, I can do this" and they actually listened. But it wasn't until I had   I had the experience with CP and an advocate came in to help me and my brother. She was amazing. And she kind of showed me   rather than   because, technically, she couldn't advocate for me because she’s with a children's advocate and I was just approaching 18, she showed me how to advocate for myself and the laws and everything to help me do that for me and my brother when she couldn't, and then kind of fostered that growth. 

And then after we were out of CP   she works within ACD and they founded the Youth Empowering Peers program, and she gave me a call and she's like, "You don't get a choice. You're coming in. We need you in this program." 

COMMISSIONER MASON: It sounds like the school missed a chance of having your advocacy as part of a student council or that process to really help improve the school. 

MS WILSON: Yeah, we didn't have anything like that. 

COMMISSIONER MASON: No. Thank you so much, Britt. 

MS WILSON: Thanks. 

CHAIR: Britt, you've told us about the awful experiences with the photography teacher. Did you have teachers who you felt understood you and supported you in your goals or aspirations at school?

MS WILSON: I had the one in primary school. Unfortunately, she was part of that meeting which is what cut me the most. But she was brilliant, and she helped me get to the point where I could go to high school. And she would foster my learning and lend me books and things like that. And then, yeah, in grade 11 and 12   sorry, 9 and 10, I had   I was part of the Big Picture Program which really fostered a lot of my photography and my learning in that program, and I absolutely loved it. 

CHAIR: And the new teacher that you had in photography, did she help you get to   where you wanted to go with your study?

MS WILSON: Yeah, with my art and with my photography. She was fantastic. 

CHAIR: And what do you think were the particular characteristics that allowed her to do that and the other teacher not to be able to do it?

MS WILSON: She didn't focus on the disability. She focused on my work. So rather than   she actually just kind of left me to my own devices and said, "If you need me, I'm over here."  Or   and pointed me to areas that I could access and set up the classroom in an accessible way so that I could just be left to my own devices. And, yeah, it was   my disability wasn't pointed out at all unless there was something that I bought to attention that, "Hey, I can't get through this. Can we move it."  And "Yeah, no worries, I will get one of the kids to move it straightaway."  And that's all I needed. 

CHAIR: And do you follow that up now, the photography?

MS WILSON: I haven't done a lot of photography work in a while. The only thing I really photograph these days is my dog. But I'm teaching my little sister. So yeah. 

CHAIR: Well, Britt, thank you. I echo what has been said by Commissioner Galbally and Commissioner Mason. Thank you very much for telling us your experiences and of James' experiences. As far as your aspirations to be an advocate are concerned, I think you have a mixture of determination, courage, and you seem to be the diplomat in your family. So that when you combine all of those three, I think you really will be able to pursue your goal and you will do it wonderfully. So thank you very much for coming to us and giving evidence today. 

MS WILSON: Thank you. Thank you for having me. 

CHAIR: Thank you. 


MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Commissioners. 

CHAIR: Ms Eastman, do we break now?

MS EASTMAN: I'm mindful of the time. 

CHAIR: You are always mindful of the time. 

MS EASTMAN: But I'm also mindful that sometimes my estimates of time are not accurate. 

CHAIR: I hadn't noticed that.

MS EASTMAN: So what we thought we might do is, given the time now, to adjourn until 1.30, so a little bit ahead on one level, but a little bit behind on the other. So if that's convenient for the Commissioners and those assisting us, to adjourn now until 1.30. 

CHAIR: We will do that. And thank you again, Britt. We will now adjourn until 1.30. 



CHAIR: Yes, Ms Eastman. 

MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Commissioners. Our next witness is Kimberly Langcake, and she's going to come up now and I think Mitch might be joining you or deciding what he wants to do. Okay. 

CHAIR: Good afternoon. Thank you very much for coming to the Royal Commission    

MS LANGCAKE: Thanks for having me. 

CHAIR:    to give evidence. We are very grateful to you and for the statement that you have prepared which we have all, of course, read very carefully. I will ask, if you don't mind, to follow the instructions of my associate who is around the corner and she will administer the oath to you. Thank you. 


CHAIR: Just to explain, you may well already be aware, that Commissioner Galbally, whom you can see on the screen, is joining the hearing from Melbourne. Commissioner Mason is with me in this hearing room, as is Ms Eastman, and I will now ask Ms Eastman to ask you some questions. 


MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Chair. Can I deal with some formalities. You are Kimberly Langcake. 


MS EASTMAN: And we have decided that you would just like to be referred to as Kim today? 


MS EASTMAN: Your address is known to the Royal Commission.


MS EASTMAN: And you have prepared a statement dated 12 May this year. 


MS EASTMAN: You've had a chance to look over the statement. Is there anything that you want to change in the statement at all? 

MS LANGCAKE: No, we've been over it plenty   

MS EASTMAN: And the matters set out in the statement are true; is that right? 


MS EASTMAN: Now, Commissioners, the statement is in Hearing Bundle A, behind tab 1. This might be an opportunity just to explain about how we are using the documents for this hearing. So there is a Hearing Bundle, and the statements, together with some accompanying background documents, comprise the Hearing Bundle over a number of volumes. For this hearing, we are not going to be tendering the statements as witnesses give their evidence and the accompanying documents. 

So we will follow the approach that we've used in other hearings that at the conclusion of the hearing we will consult with the lawyers representing the various parties and agree on the material to be subject to the tender. So just if people were waiting to see statements being tendered after witnesses have completed their evidence, that's not the approach that we are going to take for this hearing. 

CHAIR: Thank you. 

MS EASTMAN: So you've got your statement there with you, and this is all known to you. It's in your head. You have lived and breathed this. So what we are going to do is walk the journey that you and your family have had in relation to your son Mitch, and he's with you in the hearing room today. 

MS LANGCAKE: He is here today. 

MS EASTMAN: So thank you, Mitch and Brett, for joining us as well. So can we just start with a little bit of background about you and your family. And the Commissioners will have read this in the statement, so, as I said, Mitch is here. He's 20 years old now, but he's not your only child. So tell us about your family. 

MS LANGCAKE: No. Proud mum to four neurodiverse sons. My oldest son is 22, Mitch will be 21 in September, and I have a 10 year old son and a 9 year old son as well. And we have a combination of autism spectrum difference, ADHD, epilepsy, global development delay. We've pretty much got the whole mixed back of neurodiversity in our family. 

MS EASTMAN: I think you say in your statement that you were learning to be a neurotypical mum in a neurodiverse world. 

MS LANGCAKE: And, yeah, that's new learning. I consider myself a late learner, and that's a label I've just given myself recently. 

MS EASTMAN: And for this hearing, you wanted to talk about Mitch's experience not the other family members. Is that right? 

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah. There are some parallels, though, with having a 9 year old coming through the same system in the same town. So I may mention him. But, yeah, we   Mitch's journey has been pretty amazing. 

MS EASTMAN: And part of reflecting on Mitch's journey, I think, is to say what's happened for Mitch may not be the same as what may happen for your younger sons; is that right? 

MS LANGCAKE: Yes, it is quite different. Yeah, the journey is quite different. 

MS EASTMAN: And so that sort of really brought a perspective in reflecting on how Mitch has sort of navigated his way through the education system. 


MS EASTMAN: Now, I feel like I'm talking about Mitch and he's here. Let's know a little bit more about Mitch. 

MS LANGCAKE: Okay. So Mitch was born in Darwin. He was my second child. He had a very busy, active young childhood. We   he was diagnosed just before his third birthday. He presented at child early learning without any speech, and that was where it was first picked up. And we went through the channels of hearing   a hearing test, but basically at the Adelaide Women's and Children's Hospital. 

MS EASTMAN: I want to ask you some questions about that, but just sort of stepping back, he lives with autism and Mitch   

MS LANGCAKE: Mitch is diagnosed with autism and dyspraxia, and there has been an intellectual disability label as well without a formal diagnosis 

MS EASTMAN: And he also has a diagnosis of epilepsy as well. 

MS LANGCAKE: Epilepsy as onset puberty, yes 

MS EASTMAN: So he has some complex health issues but also communication is a really big feature of Mitch's life   is that right   and the struggles that he has had. 

MS LANGCAKE: Mitch is an alternative communicator. He has no verbal structure. 

MS EASTMAN: But he does communicate, you say, in simple signs and he understands what is going on; is that right? 

MS LANGCAKE: Very simple level of please, thank you. We use a lot of visuals now with, you know, visual menus in options that are now available. And he does interact with the very basic couple of apps, app based assistive technology 

MS EASTMAN: And you think Mitch understands a lot more than people give him credit for. And why do you have that view living with him? 

MS LANGCAKE: He has a very cheeky nature which, to me, indicates there's more going on than what most people realise. And quite often in conversation, he will indicate his humour that indicates he's, yeah, quite switched on to the conversation. 

MS EASTMAN: And, you know, we have heard in evidence before the Royal Commission in understanding the experience of people who live with autism that sometimes changes and transitions can be quite a sort of big deal. But for Mitch, change is not overwhelming, is that right? 

MS LANGCAKE: We've   I guess, as from very early on from his diagnosis, I chose to make a normal life around a special child rather than a special life around a special child. Probably for his older sibling's benefit and my sanity as much as challenging him. And we have always done change. So his normal is change. Well - so he copes with normal, and I think I'm probably the constant that makes the change happen. So while I'm in the mix or constant people are in the mix, he   yeah, he travels, he goes to different places. He's very changeable in his life. 

MS EASTMAN: All right. So let's start with early childhood. As you said, Mitch was born in Darwin. And I think you describe him as a fairly laid back, content baby. 


MS EASTMAN: He was a good feeder, happy routine. Good   the eat sleep regime was working well. So after his birth and as an infant, nothing sort of caused you any concern at that stage; is that right? 

MS LANGCAKE: He used to chew a lot of unusual things, like, in that around teeth   around 12 months. You know, I've got home videos of him obsessively chewing on metal objects and at one point the tow bar of the car was something that he would go for, and it was like, well, that's really unusual. And, you know, never found anything that he had eaten. It was always just the chewing obsession. And Mitch is still a chewer to this day. He still loves to chew. 

So, yeah, he does have that sensory   and that was one of the first indicators that whole sensory profile was very   he's a sponge. He   and that's probably why he's so adaptable in life too, because he seeks rather than overwhelm. 

MS EASTMAN: So when he was about 14 months old, the family moved to Tasmania. 


MS EASTMAN: And this was around the time where he was starting to walk? 


MS EASTMAN: And at this phase, sort of looking at that 14 month sort of two year period, were you starting to think about options for him in terms of whether it was playgroups, preschool, any early childhood education? 

MS LANGCAKE: Not   it wasn't particularly on the radar. We moved to the west coast of Tasmania. We went from Darwin to west   to Queenstown, which was quite absurd in itself, with the plan of buying a home without a mortgage. And we were in a very small community. So it was really just playgroup was at the town hall where mums sat and talked and the kids all ran around. That was the only formal   that was the only kind of real interaction he was having with other children. A couple of friends with kids   they were a little bit older. And it was probably a factor his sibling also being neurodiverse and slower developmentally, he didn't stand out as exceptionally different from his older brother. 

MS EASTMAN: So at that stage, I mean, in a small community like Queenstown in Tasmania, you are not there surrounded by paediatricians and nurses, educators and the like. 

MS LANGCAKE: No. And they were fit and well, so we never visited GPs often or, you know, we didn't have any real connections. 

MS EASTMAN: And nothing stood out at that stage to say, "Do we need to do something" or you were worried at all? 

MS LANGCAKE: No. It really wasn't until we engaged   after we moved back to South Australia and engaged in that formal early intervention through the local kindy that that's when the staff, you know, indicated, "Hey, we're really concerned that he's not verbalising." You know, "Has he had his hearing checked." 

MS EASTMAN: So he was almost 3 when you moved back to   closer to your family; is that right? 

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah, a month before turning 3. 

MS EASTMAN: And from age 3, he was also going to playgroups? 


MS EASTMAN: And it was part of the playgroup where you noticed that the communication issue. And so what was that process about getting a diagnosis?  You have described getting the process of diagnosis in your statement. So this is starting to take you into a bit of a health system. 

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah. Into the South Australian system. 

MS EASTMAN: What were the steps involved in that and what can you tell the Royal Commission about that stage? 

MS LANGCAKE: So our local GP referred him with suspicion of autism to the Women's and Children's Early Development Unit. Child Development Unit. And we visited on the one day and he was hearing checked and diagnosed by the chief medical director on the same day – it moved pretty quick. 

MS EASTMAN: So people have said maybe he's got a problem with his hearing, but you didn't think there was any hearing problem. Why was that? 

MS LANGCAKE: No. I knew that he could hear very well. I would rattle a packet of chips at one end of the house and he would come from the other end of the house. He knew   he loved chips and he knew what a chip packet sounded like from a long distance. 

MS EASTMAN: So it was   at least as far as you were concerned, it wasn't so much hearing issues but the   what seemed to be that delay in communication and connecting to it. 


MS EASTMAN: You yourself, though, started to put the pieces of the jigsaw together. 


MS EASTMAN: As you describe it, before you went to the hospital for the diagnosis. 

MS LANGCAKE: Yes. The   wasn't    

MS EASTMAN: And I'm asking you this, because what information is out there?  You now know, looking back now over many years, but taking yourself back to that point in time, sort of early 2000s, what information was out there for you to get information to know what the next steps   

MS LANGCAKE: Very little. It was pre   you know, really, we didn't Google then. There was no, you know, real accessible information. I   it sounds corny. I watched Rain Man and went to work the next day and said to my boss, "I think my son has autism." And, you know, a 3-year-old child versus Raymond, very different but there was something in that movie that triggered me to   and then the conversation with the GP, he went to the word "autism" straightaway. 

So I knew when we went to the Women's and Children's, as soon as the hearing test said ear is fine because he was only sedated long enough to test one ear, yeah, I put my head down and cried. I knew it was autism. I had a pretty good   I think I knew instinctively before that point. 

MS EASTMAN: Did anyone tell you what would be involved in the testing and what the outcomes of the test might mean for you and for Mitch? 

MS LANGCAKE: It wasn't a lot of information around, no. The GP had basically done that pre, you know, the pre-warning conversation that he was quite sure it was autism and he was   had a great reputation locally. My family had been connected with him for quite a while. So I took his word, and I guess my instincts were sort of facing that as well, with the non verbal status that he was in. 

MS EASTMAN: Right. So Mitch receives the diagnosis just before his fourth birthday. It's one thing to have a diagnosis. It's another thing to say, "What will this mean for Mitch and what supports may he need to live with autism?"  So immediately after that diagnosis, what information was available to you at that point in time and what did you do? 

MS LANGCAKE: On the day of diagnosis, the Child Development Unit gave me a VHS video which was something like, "This is autism", you know, "take it home and watch it and you will be coming back in seven days to have a follow-up conversation with us." I took the video home and watched it. And the child in the video just presented flapping, basically, and there was not a lot of   you know, there was not a lot of positive spin in the video about a pathway for a child with autism. 

I pretty much became the advocate for him immediately and went   well, took it back seven days later and said if that's the best information you can give me, it's not very good. You know, and I just went on that sort of   I think first thing I did was started reading from a parent perspective. I would be tracking down autobiographies written by parents with kids on the spectrum and getting the parental perspective very quickly for my own benefit, I guess. Mitch was no different. He was still the same kid, doing the same things, happily in his own world and we just had the label now. 

MS EASTMAN: The next step was then the pathway to kindergarten, and so kindergarten is that year before formal school starts. 


MS EASTMAN: So there was no question in your mind that that's where Mitch was going; is that right? 

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah. So the local kindy in the small town we lived in had supported his brother. So when we moved back from Tasmania, he was already 4. So he went straight into kindy locally. And they struggled with him. He hadn't   he had no diagnosis at that time. He was quirky and different, but they coped. And from that journey, I knew they wouldn't cope with the non-verbal Mitch at that kindy. And we   and the kindy team very quickly connected us with the Pathways Kindergarten at the closest place, which was 80 kilometres away in [REDACTED].

MS EASTMAN: So 80 kilometres away.

MS LANGCAKE: One way, yes.

MS EASTMAN: And this, I think you describe, as a disability-specific   

MS LANGCAKE: Pathways kindergarten.

MS EASTMAN:   pathway for children who had a diagnosis. 


MS EASTMAN: So did you have to have the diagnosis to get into this Pathways? 

MS LANGCAKE: Yes, for the funding. 

MS EASTMAN: And this meant just the 80 Ks drive there and back. Was he going every day at this stage? 

MS LANGCAKE: So he was doing Mondays and Tuesdays, and I was working for myself. I was self-employed at that point, so I drive him Mondays and Tuesdays and would spend the time at [REDACTED] during the day. 

MS EASTMAN: And on the other days, was he in any type of formal child care? 

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah. We   luckily, they just built a child care facility at our home town, so he went into three days a week child care with the other days of the week. 

MS EASTMAN: So looking at the Pathways program and the child care, were they connected in any way? 


MS EASTMAN: And did they sort of speak to each other in terms of supporting Mitch? 

MS LANGCAKE: Only through conversation with me. You know, and he was in such   it was really just around routine, really, for the first time, and me probably disconnecting. I remember dropping him at kindy and the director was amazing   and she still is. She's still in that role. And her saying, "He's okay. Leave him with us."  Because she knew it was first time we had separated. 

MS EASTMAN: Take your time. 

MS LANGCAKE: It always gets me. 

MS EASTMAN: One of the - often for parents, that first step of your child leaving the home and being in an environment surrounded by adults who see your child in perhaps a different way, sometimes that can be very supportive, but sometimes that can have its own barriers. 


MS EASTMAN: So the Pathways Kindergarten was an anchor point for you   is that right   in the family? 


MS EASTMAN: And this director had the relationship with you where you trusted her. 


MS EASTMAN: You under - accepted her advice and was guided by that. 


MS EASTMAN: And she gave you and Mitch the confidence in terms of what was going to follow. 

MS LANGCAKE: She was amazing. 

MS EASTMAN: Okay. So can you tell the Royal Commissioners what was it about this Pathways kindergarten that provided that level of support for Mitch prior to starting formal school?  What was it about it that worked so well? 

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah. They were   because he was so freshly diagnosed, I think they bought tools to us that we hadn't   you know, we were so fresh in our autism journey. So they introduced visuals straightaway for, you know, the routine at kindy. They had very experienced staff. So there was an older   the main teacher in that Pathways   they were staffed, I think, three staff for six children in that Pathways kindy. So it was very intensive support for him. 

And, yeah, they had a huge experience. They were very experienced operators. They had been on that – in that facility for quite some time. They had it well laid out, that they had their own space but the kids would spend time in the kindy around, you know, recess, lunchtime, and in the afternoons, they were in amongst the yard with all the other kids. They would go on excursions with the whole kindy. It was   yeah, it was very well managed by the director. She knew her stuff. 

MS EASTMAN: What about communication?  And you heard me say in the opening this morning and, I think, in preparation for this hearing, communication is a really central issue in Mitch's story. 


MS EASTMAN: What was it about the Pathways program that started to open up options in terms of communication for Mitch? 

MS LANGCAKE: So, for him, it was the introduction of visuals. Routine, because he hadn't had routine before then. It was his first   and it was his first time as public property out in the world. So, yeah, they were very, very well organised. It was   and the visuals were his first introduction and scheduling. 

MS EASTMAN: And in terms of what was sort of happening at home and what might have been happening either at Pathways or the kindergarten, was there a process of sort of bringing together the tools to support Mitch in terms of developing communication? 

MS LANGCAKE: It was more   I don't remember translating those to child care or home so much. It was just the introduction there at kindy. I was a single mum at that point, and I think they saw me struggling and didn't put any extra pressure on for too much to translate out of kindy. And, yeah, we were   our commitment was to   the routine getting him there two days a week and being consistent, and we did that. It was his attendance and getting that routine was really important. 

MS EASTMAN: Right. So can I take the next step which is then moving from the two days a week at kindergarten and starting to enter into the formal school education environment. So the first question, I suppose, is what guided you in the decisions about what type of school would best support Mitch? 

MS LANGCAKE: We didn't have an option. The only school we had for him was [the Special School]. 

MS EASTMAN: So there was no option. 

MS LANGCAKE: That was it. He had a diagnosis. He had been in Pathways kindy. The only direction we had was Mitch has place at [the Special School], which was on the north school campus.

MS EASTMAN: That wasn't a sort of discussion about whether it was either/or. 


MS EASTMAN: And you have heard the Commissioners talk about choice and you've heard about choice   

MS LANGCAKE: We didn't have any other option. 

MS EASTMAN: So that was the only option. 


MS EASTMAN: Did you accept that option? 

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah, I didn't have any other place to go. He couldn't attend school in the town we lived in. We had established a travelling routine, to [REDACTED] and it was kind of a funnel effect. If he was in that Pathways class, he was going to go to that school next. That was   that was the only option for him. 

MS EASTMAN: And what was the steps to assist him make that move from the kindergarten setting into primary school?  And you've set this out in the statement somewhat, so one aspect of preparation was just that ongoing travelling and support. So that routine about getting to school and getting from school, that you had to have in place. 

MS LANGCAKE: So we were granted funding for transport for taxi. So we met the taxi driver the week before school went back. He was amazing local man who had been driving for many years and still does, and he came and met me and Mitch at home in the week prior to school starting. He came down in his own time and did that. 

MS EASTMAN: So transport. But what about at the school itself? 

MS LANGCAKE: I don't remember going and seeing the school, but there must have been one visit where we got a tour of the facilities. 

MS EASTMAN: So the Special School that Mitch was enrolled in was a public specialist school with a public primary school located on the same grounds. 

MS LANGCAKE: Correct. 

MS EASTMAN: So not   you have used the language "Special School" completely separate as an exclusive stand-alone school. It was adjacent to or with the primary school. 

MS LANGCAKE: Physically, it was on the north school campus but there was no interaction between classes – 


MS LANGCAKE: - or even playground. It was separate. 

MS EASTMAN: So it effectively could have been   


MS EASTMAN: It didn't really matter whether it was there. It could have been anywhere. 

MS LANGCAKE: It could have been a kilometre away, yes. 

MS EASTMAN: So it wasn't   

CHAIR: May I ask, you have said you were given no option. Looking back on it, what other option would you like to have been given? 

MS LANGCAKE: Looking back as to what schools were around at that time, there   and I don't think there would have been another school that would have been a perfect fit anyway. There was only mainstream schools available, and there have been some smaller private schools since, but they weren't built at that time. 

CHAIR: So looking back on it, you think, in fact, that was the only realistic option. 

MS LANGCAKE: It was the only real pathway for Mitch at that time. 

CHAIR: Okay. 

MS EASTMAN: So notwithstanding there's the primary school and the school that Mitch went to, it wasn't a situation of a special class or a segregated class inside the primary school. 


MS EASTMAN: They effectively operated as separate entities and they had different principals. Is that right? 


MS EASTMAN: And different teachers. 


MS EASTMAN: Tell us about Mitch's sort of beginning in that school setting. What was the transition like for him into school? 

MS LANGCAKE: So I guess the travelling was something   like he had done two days a week travelling with me, but he was travelling five days a week to and from. So he would always fall asleep coming home. So he was only little. He was always   because he's that under   he's looking for stimulation all the time, so he   he took to school quite well. He was wanting us to be busy and, you know, school gave that opportunity. 

I don't remember much push around communication, skill building or anything in the first few years. It was more around attending and, you know, being social in that setting more than structured or you know, visuals or that learning approach. 

MS EASTMAN: I think you describe the approach in this way that it was to love them up rather than to challenge the students. What do you mean by that? 

MS LANGCAKE: There was different mottos that the school   well, they actually promoted them around a child being loved and those sayings, which we felt that was our role as a family to be in that space. Whereas, you know, the school was more around what skills can we build. Yeah. "A child that's loved is never forgotten."  "Never forgets", something like that was one of their mottos. It was a very casual school in that, you know, there was uniform, but it didn't have to be worn. 

You know, we did push for meetings at different times to coordinate with them and they would occur when we pushed. But there wasn't a lot of information shared back from school as to what they were doing and what was going on. 

MS EASTMAN: Reflecting back at that time, when Mitch started at the school, was there a sort of coordination between the parents, the teaching staff and the setting of particular learning outcomes and also the processes by which to support Mitch to achieve those learning outcomes? 

MS LANGCAKE: It   there wasn't the structure that we have now around a learning plan or any of those approaches. It was more meeting and us as presenting   as parents presenting, you know, we are doing this with a speechy, can we talk about how this can be incorporated. Or I went and did the Hanen principles which, you know, we structured meetings around that, but it was still very much driven by us to take that to the school and present that to see how we could incorporate it. 

MS EASTMAN: And starting school, I mean, you've said in the Pathways program that he was supported to start to develop his communication skills. Did the initiatives at the Pathways program continue through to the school?  And was there a program specifically designed to assist Mitch in relation to developing his communication at this early stage of primary school? 

MS LANGCAKE: I don't remember the picture exchange, even in its simplest form, from kindy translating to school. We did introduce what was called a GoTalk 9, which was a very simple switch, basically, nine switches which you could put a picture and you could program your own voice behind the pictures. And we were supported in that in that we would, put, like, lunch box, his favourite foods out of the lunch box and the   run interference so that   because food was always a great motivator   that if, when it came to lunch, it wasn't just that he sat down with his lunch box but he would   they would take the food and he would actually request it first using the GoTalk 9 and to request lunch box to start. And toilet was always a big focus. Toilet was always a big focus. So toilet was on there as well for him to request to go to the toilet 

MS EASTMAN: This was all introduced around when he was around 7 years old? 

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah, it was in the first   yeah, within grade one or two, and that was basically the technology that was available then. You know. Now they have amazing iPad versions, but   

MS EASTMAN: When you reflect back on this move from Pathways to the Special School, I think your perspective is that when he was at school, he was really just being babysat and you felt like Mitch was just killing time rather than being challenged; is that right? 

MS LANGCAKE: There was one year in particular when his   it felt very much like the classroom teacher was   who set the tone for the success and what the challenges were that they tackled. There was one year in particular where he had   and I think it was very detrimental   he had the same teacher two years in a row. And they had become a husband and wife team in the classroom and I think it was around grade 4, and that year felt very much like it was just a treading water year that really nothing   nothing was challenged. Nothing was put up. Nothing was really structured. It was turn up. 

Swimming was routine once a week. They would go to the heated pool. And that was probably the highlight of the week for actually achieving a goal or having something in it that   there were times when, you know, "Today Mitch ran string around the classroom" was one example that I remember. And I remember thinking, well, what is educational all that about?  What is actually   you just really killed time today in a room that was safe. And that was with those two teachers. 

MS EASTMAN: And as his parent, was there any sort of agreement at the beginning about what your role would be or how you could contribute to Mitch's education in terms of what was happening in the classroom? 

MS LANGCAKE: It was never really a priority. It was   and it felt at times it was   you are to drop them off here at the door and that's it. And that was quite   for quite a few years at that school. 

MS EASTMAN: And you say that you felt sidelined and that this sort of had a sense the school was siloed from Mitch's life in a way. Why was that? 

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah. Well, it was very much he got in the car, he went to school, and he came home in the afternoon. We   if we pushed for meetings or discussion around a particular approach that we were taking through, you know, work with the speechy or the   what we were doing out in our own life, it was us bringing that forward. It wasn't   there was no structured learning, that program, no structured meeting even probably twice a year where you would get together and say, "okay." 

If there was a concern   if there was a behaviour of concern, yes, we would meet. Mitch was always a climber   still is   and there was some instances where his climbing around the   I think he could probably navigate the fence even to get out. That became a concern. I remember us having meetings for that. 

MS EASTMAN: Okay. And I think you've provided to us some communications books. So there was a book that went back and forth between home and school each day. But did that come in later? 

MS LANGCAKE: I don't think we had it for primary school. That was only for high school 

MS EASTMAN: That was later. All right. But nothing like a communications book that you   

MS LANGCAKE: We may have it had it in the final year of primary school, but I don't remember it being in the early years. 

MS EASTMAN: What about allied health support at school?  So we assume that with a diagnosis of autism, that Mitch would need allied health support at different points in his life. But also to sort of get a sense of what supports he actually needed. Where did you go with allied health and how did that fit within the school system? 

MS LANGCAKE: We did have connection through Disability SA in the later years of primary school. Through that old funding where we had an OT, and there was conversation around speech connection through the Education Department provided speech pathologists. I got the impression it was   they were more in, like, a group setting. It didn't really seem like there was strategy for Mitch as such that came from those engagements through school. 

Psychologist reports were provided by Education Department psychologists. They were   they were never our arranging or   and they were mainly for the funding, I believe. But, yeah it was very ad hoc. I don't remember ever having connection with the education provided allied health in a meeting or strategy building, as such. That is certainly a different kettle of fish now with NDIS. 

MS EASTMAN: So when we get towards the end of Mitch's primary school years and you are starting to think about the transition to high school, Mitch had a teacher who you described as amazing for the final year at primary school. 

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah, his year 7 teacher.

MS EASTMAN: What was it about this teacher that was different to the experiences you had had? 

MS LANGCAKE: She was quite a bit younger and dynamic from the teachers he had had in probably grade 5 and 6. They were   I don't mean it nasty, but they were a bit old and stagnant in being at the special school for quite a few years, and she was fresh blood into the school. She saw him in a different light. She had that belief that, you know, your potential is not limited with someone with   on the spectrum. So she did challenge him. 

She   I still have on the wall a poster she had made at the end of the year which was two hand prints and two footprints done in paint and it was, "My heart and soul is connected to you." Like mum. She actually had a connection with each child. And we wrote a reference for her for the   in the following year, which I found, and it really did highlight how amazing she was 

MS EASTMAN: Do you want me to read that? 

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah, that would be great if you could 

MS EASTMAN: So, Commissioners, this is part of Kim's statement but the reference said this: 

"We knew from the onset that 2014 was going to be different when, in the first week, the teacher sent notes home in the communication book wanting to know what made Mitch respond and how to get into his world. We had never had this engagement or enthusiasm from any teacher prior to and to have had it in the first week of term one was very exciting for us. 2014 turned out to be just as exciting a year for Mitch as the first week had promised." 

So you remember writing that reference? 

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah, we wrote that the following year 

MS EASTMAN: So it's a big year, the final year of primary school. And looking back on that point in time, what was the planning or thinking in relation to the next steps for Mitch? 

MS LANGCAKE: My ex husband and I were very committed to finding the best option for Mitch. We travelled to Victoria at one point and visited an amazing school in Bendigo, and we actually put an offer on a house in Bendigo. We were prepared to move to get him into that school, which just had a total different   it was a disability school from reception to year 12. It was that's what their business was. And we weighed up that as an option. 

We were pretty committed to getting him into the best space possible. And then in the connection with school at the end   as we approached   actually, it was mid year, around June, the offer came from the Education Department for Mitch to attend [the Disability Unit], which I was given basically seven days to accept the offer. And with no other option available, we did accept the offer, but we did keep thinking in the back of our minds if something better comes along, we will be doing what we can to make it happen. It wasn't finite. 

And in August of year 7 we did a transition tour of the High School Disability Unit and in that, we were given promotional materials showing their senior class programs. They had an amazing textile program, a beautiful newly commissioned commercial kitchen, two classes running. We toured the facilities. We talked about communication strategies. And we were quite surprised at what we found. We were pleasantly surprised that, hey, we have got this locally. We don't need to go making the world change to move to Bendigo to find a great school. 

So the acceptance   you know, we continued with that after the tour in August and were confident that he would have a good place at the local high school. 

MS EASTMAN: And to be ready for the transition, did Mitch have to undergo any testing or updated diagnoses? 

MS LANGCAKE: There was psychologist assessments done, and I'm not sure if one was in that year or if it was in the previous year that indicated he would need to continue in the disability stream of education. 

MS EASTMAN: Was there any discussion at all about stepping outside the specialist scheme and into, using the language of mainstream, into a mainstream class with supports? 

MS LANGCAKE: No. No. That was purely our looking around at other options, and even in doing that, we were looking at a disability specific school. We   you know, Mitch's communication deficit meant we didn't think he would cope or peers or teachers would cope with him in a mainstream environment. 

MS EASTMAN: Reflecting back, just again, we are on that cusp of high school, from when Mitch started as a little one in the reception through to being a big one in the primary school ready for high school, what change had occurred in his ability to communicate and engage at home, at school, and in the broader community? 

MS LANGCAKE: So we had implemented   so technology had, you know, led us to Proloquo2Go, assisted communications with an iPad. So we had implemented that after the GoTalk 9. 

MS EASTMAN: Tell us about that and how that works? 

MS LANGCAKE: That was   yeah, that was, I think, in year   right at the end of primary school. So that is based   it has a core   what they call a core screen which   and it was probably the first assistive technology that could actually speak as   so you press the button. It had a visual - it matched the PECS communication system so that it has a visual and the word, and when you press the button the iPad spoke the word for you. So we found that through a workshop and were absolutely, you know, this could be the thing that Mitch could talk with for the rest of his life. You know, that was   

MS EASTMAN: Had that come   sorry to interrupt, did that come through school, that workshop -

MS LANGCAKE: No, we found that ourselves. 

MS EASTMAN: Or wa that just your own inquiry? 

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah, I'm not even sure how the workshop crossed our paths but we actually got to meet with the designer of the software in a one day workshop in Adelaide, and we ran with it. We just put it out to family, "Please give him Apple vouchers for Christmas. This is the app we want to buy and it's expensive so   and we want to get him an iPad as well."  So we started him off and we were engaged with some speechies at that time and, you know, different tweaking of, let's reduce the core screen to less buttons so it's more navigatable   so it's easy to navigate. Bring it back to words of interest, you know, around food options and run that interference to   and the principle behind is it is obviously a lot of modelling. 

Everyone needs to be showing, you know speaking the word, pressing the button, having the, you know, communication generated to show him how to use it. So we started that in year 7 and, yeah, the plan being that the iPad travelled with him everywhere, charged it overnight, and just use it at every opportunity to wave words under his nose to help him understand that he could generate words that way. 

MS EASTMAN: And did you see a change in terms of Mitch with using these new technologies? 

MS LANGCAKE: It takes so many repetitions for someone of Mitch's ability maybe to pick up a tool to get it to an extent that you could actually have a conversation. But for us, it was just   even the light bulb moment of him, you know, using it to indicate toilet to someone   in a unplanned moment because it meant that he was actually initiating the communication rather than it being prompted. 

Like, we could do time training, time toileting until the cows come home, but for the one time that he's   we are out somewhere and he actually tells you he needs to go to the toilet was a success because it meant he was initiating it. He was initiating the communication. So we started very simply and just built slowly on it. 

MS EASTMAN: There was one more thing that happened towards the end of primary school that was quite an important moment and may   had an influence on your thinking about what might happen next. And this is the assistance dog. So when Mitch was 11 he received some funding for a companion dog. And I won't say the name, but you know who I mean. And the dog had undergone all her training and you thought that this dog would connect with Mitch and also support him and assist him in communication and confidence. Is that right? 

MS LANGCAKE: As a companion and a   yeah, as that plus one. 

MS EASTMAN: And at that time, the autism assistance dogs were not particularly well known and not, probably, a feature   

MS LANGCAKE: And she wasn't an autism assistance dog. She was really a companion dog. 

MS EASTMAN: And you wanted to get permission for the dog to attend school with Mitch. 


MS EASTMAN: And what was the outcome of making that suggestion? 

MS LANGCAKE: So we did an assessment with the Department of Education psychologist based locally, which wasn't   which was in an outdoor setting, and Mitch didn't demonstrate the ability to control the dog, as such. And so it was declined. At that time, I don't   there were autism assistance dogs beginning to be utilised, but they hadn't been   they weren't well   they weren't established. So we were a bit   we were ground breaker, and I think we have kind of always been that way. 

We have always been the first to run with the assistive technology in our school to have that. We were probably the first family to ask, can this assistance dog come to school. We always pushed the boundaries. We were always a bit out there wanting to do more. 

MS EASTMAN: But the dog wasn't able to go to school; is that right? 

MS LANGCAKE: She was declined based on the observations of Mitch and her in the outdoor environment that they didn't feel he would   he wouldn’t have the skills to control the dog and it would be a disruption in the class. 

MS EASTMAN: All right. Then let's get to the transition to high school. I think you reflect on it now and say, with the benefit of hindsight and seeing your other children coming through, is there wasn't a lot of planning for students at that time from that transition from the primary setting into the high school setting. And, for you, not a lot of information about what to expect and what would be required of the family as part of that transition process. Is that right? 

MS LANGCAKE: We presumed there was transfer of information between the schools, but there was not a formal or structured, "Let's get together and transit - have a discussion around how you think transition should look" apart from Mitch being assisted to attend to the new school. I think there was two days in one week at the end of term four. So   and we weren't involved in that. Our tour was separate. So we kind of saw a facility tour and then Mitch did an in-person visit. I don't know what information was transferred between schools. 

MS EASTMAN: And I think I asked you a little earlier about whether there had to be any sort of further testing or any new diagnosis. And I think you mentioned that there might have been a psychologist's report. 


MS EASTMAN: Do you remember a psychologist's report that   I think you've seen a copy of it   that described Mitch as having a primary diagnosis of autism but also an estimate of his cognitive functioning would place him in the severe range of intellectual disability. 

MS LANGCAKE: So that was mentioned in the report that – that when we were looking at [REDACTED] the dog attending school. So the psychologist that did the assessment around the assistance dog indicated that he felt there was a severe intellectual disability. It had never been pinned or included in a report, and it was around   but it stated that this was not, you know, under a formal diagnosis. 

MS EASTMAN: Well, a diagnosis of intellectual disability in what was described as a severe range was not a diagnosis that   

MS LANGCAKE: It was never formally completed, no. 

MS EASTMAN: And have you taken any steps to confirm whether or not the opinions of the   


MS EASTMAN:   psychologists were accurate or correct? 

MS LANGCAKE: From that point, it kind of became included in reporting that Mitch had an intellectual disability diagnosis, but it was always the disclaimer that this has never   that it wasn't formally completed due to his lack of communication. So, no, we never   we never chased it, never pursued an intellectual disability diagnosis. 

MS EASTMAN: Were you required by anyone in the school setting to have to go and   


MS EASTMAN:   see if this should be confirmed or not? 

MS LANGCAKE: Because I think from the point of that report, a box just started to get ticked and that   I don't know. I don't really know whether they did it on the grounds of that initial   that assessment. 

MS EASTMAN: When you're saying the box just had to be ticked, I think we have sort of seen some of the enrolment documents and there literally are boxes. 

MS LANGCAKE: Yes, there are boxes, and it's ticked for autism and intellectual disability. 

MS EASTMAN: Did anyone say to you, well, if this box is ticked or that box is ticked, this might be the pathway for your child in high school? 

MS LANGCAKE: No. I just presumed it would give more funding for ESOs for him to be in that stream. I didn't sort of question it. 

MS EASTMAN: Then, so high school can be so characterised with this understanding that Mitch lived with a primary diagnosis of autism but also was treated as having   in the severe range of intellectual disability. 


MS EASTMAN: Do you think, reflecting back over Mitch's years, that having that description of his lived experience with disability meant that   and I will use that sliding door   that there was a sliding door moment there in terms of what might be the opportunities for him and how he may have been treated in that   the education system? 

MS LANGCAKE: I think expectations were lower. I have always advocated that the potential is unlimited and that someone on the autism spectrum just learns through repetition and being guided. I do think expectation of Mitch was capped very much at school and that they did focus on behaviour a lot, rather than positive reinforcement and end result. 

MS EASTMAN: Can you remember, reflecting back at this time of moving from the primary to the high school environment, what were your expectations for Mitch?  What did you want to see happen? 

MS LANGCAKE: Our key goal was to have the communication device supported in every setting. You know, for it to be alongside him at school and for it to be modelled, you know, every opportunity. We weren't excluding other communication options. We understood that having   there was some basic visuals that were on the desktop, and they did continue from primary school, I believe. They were just a couple of simple   and it may have been toilet and yes/no. 

So we weren't excluding every other way of communicating with Mitch, but we wanted the effort to be   the commitment to be the same as what we were wanting at home, doing at home to make   we understood that it took a lot of   thousands of opportunities of modelling for those   that communication to develop. And that was really our only   you know, obviously we wanted him to participate in water safety, because he loves swimming, and that was a shining light of going through high school and primary school, is that they did water safety once a week. And he   he is   he's very safe in the water. We didn't have a lot of expectation apart from that. 

MS EASTMAN: We are going to get, as we go along, to finishing school, but thinking about the start of high school, did you have any goals or expectations of how school would support Mitch for life after school?  Were you thinking that far ahead at that time? 

MS LANGCAKE: Well, we certainly had no grand illusions of him going to university in being in an academic stream. I mean, it was all around   and because there was the cooking   the commercial kitchen at the school and also that textile program which was in the senior years, you know, we were always very focused on life skills. What can transfer from school into life skills. What   you know, what path will he have?  We really don't know but communication was a really important part of all of it. 

If he can communicate basically, he can at least exercise choice. And so, yeah, we weren't   we weren't really shaping a specific pathway for Mitch. We were winging it. You know. We were winging it right until the end of year 11 and then I just drew a line in the sand and went, no, there's got to be a better place for you to   for this final year transition out of school. 

MS EASTMAN: So the unit that he was going to go into was made up of two classes. 


MS EASTMAN: One was a junior class and one was a senior class and there are about 20 kids in each class. 


MS EASTMAN: And two to three teachers in each class? 

MS LANGCAKE: So one   

MS EASTMAN: Or across? 

MS LANGCAKE: So two primary teachers but SSOs as well floating around. 

MS EASTMAN: Helping Mitch get ready for that transition to high school, did he do any tours of the school or have any orientation before he started? 

MS LANGCAKE: I think there were   I don't remember going with Mitch in year 7 to being with him at the school. I just remember us doing a tour. There may have been some notes around him doing one visit. 

MS EASTMAN: And going into the unit with the two classes, the junior and the senior, are we to understand that in those two classes that there would be children of a particular age range?  So if he's coming in as the youngest, there would be older children in that junior class and then moving up to the senior class? 

MS LANGCAKE: So it was kind of like an 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 thinking. And in that dynamic, there were children who were quite a bit older. So Mitch's peers now from school, while he's 20, some are 23. So while there may have been, you know, that grouping of year, there were quite a wide range of age. 

MS EASTMAN: And was there any   if you can remember, any preparation for going into an environment where you're coming in as the youngest in the class, and there's older people   older kids who might have been there for a period of time? 

MS LANGCAKE: No, I don't remember any of that being a priority or what we discussed when we were starting. 

MS EASTMAN: And the school itself, so, again, just   was it a unit within a regular mainstream school or were they sort of separate campuses like the primary school? 

MS LANGCAKE: Yes. No, on the grounds of the local high school with a very deliberate fence around it. It was a fenced area for the Disability Unit. 

MS EASTMAN: What was the extent to which the children and young people in the Disability Unit were involved in the day to day activities of the regular high school? 

MS LANGCAKE: They weren't. 

MS EASTMAN: Not at all? 

MS LANGCAKE: Not that I'm aware of, no. 

MS EASTMAN: Did it feel segregated from the community of the school. Was that your impression? 

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah. There were a couple of kids that had friends that were mainstream students, and I don't believe that those friendships were even really encouraged. Like, they could talk to them through the fence but, no, there was no   not that I'm aware of. 

MS EASTMAN: What about the preparation for travelling to school. So did the transport arrangements have to change? 

MS LANGCAKE: So we had taxi for all of his primary school which we were really grateful for, because it was   we did live, you know, a significant distance from school. And we   so we made the conscious choice to move so   because his older brother was also travelling for school to [redacted] by that time so   which was his own dynamic in itself. So we   and we were lucky enough that we could   our work supported we could buy another house and move. So we moved to [redacted] and got ourselves in a position that we were local for Mitch to start year 8. 

MS EASTMAN: So was the transport then in place and was that critical for you? 

MS LANGCAKE: To our surprise, the taxi turned up on day one of term one to pick him up, which we weren't expecting. We figured, well, we live in the local town. We will be getting him to and from school. But the taxi turned up, and so we happily put him on. And, obviously, it was a different dynamic. It was a small minibus because they were coming from the [redacted] direction with six to eight kids. Mitch would be the final pick up and then they would literally five minutes to the high school. 

MS EASTMAN: And did the arrangement last for the whole of Mitch's schooling? 


MS EASTMAN: How long did it last?

MS LANGCAKE: It didn't last very long at all. I think it was within term one we were told   and this was probably the first communication concern I had with the high school. 

MS EASTMAN: Sorry, pausing there, when you are talking about communication, we are not talking about Mitch's relationship with the school.

MS LANGCAKE: No, communication between the Disability Unit and us as parents. So, yeah, this is a parental communication. 

MS EASTMAN: What happened? 

MS LANGCAKE: So we were advised by the principal of the Disability Unit that Mitch - had been behaviour of concern in the taxi and that he had kicked the back of the seat and that he was now suspended from the taxi because the taxi driver had attempted to talk to us about it and we didn't seem interested. Now, my husband   my ex husband and I do not have cognitive difficulties. Neither of us had been spoken to about it. We both looked at each other, and went, "Well, I don't know who they talked to, but it wasn't me. Was it you?  No, it wasn't me." 

So we were told that a conversation with us had occurred, which it hadn't. We weren't really told of what the dynamic was in the taxi. He does have a habit of   like, you know, would put his foot up or would push the back of the seat, and I presume that's what happened. We were a little bit, "Well, don't like the way you've gone about telling us that he's no longer allowed in the taxi."  We were kind of in a mindset, well, we didn't expect to have a taxi anyway now we have moved. So let's just roll on. Let's just get him to and from school every day. 

MS EASTMAN: Didn't the Disability Unit tell you that they had done a risk assessment? 

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah, we were told of a risk assessment, and we were given a template form of what the risk assessment involves. But we never saw   we never saw correspondence of who the driver was, what the conversations were, what the incident report was. We were just told Mitch was no longer on the taxi. 

MS EASTMAN: Was it a risk assessment, as far as you knew, about Mitch being a risk? 

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah, about the behaviour, I understand. 

MS EASTMAN: Or about the way in which the transport was organised being a risk to him? 

MS LANGCAKE: No, I believe the risk was his behaviour. They were risk assessing his behaviour in the taxi. 

MS EASTMAN: And you had no consultation in that process at all? 

MS LANGCAKE: No. We weren't aware of it until we were told he's no longer on the taxi and this is what occurred. And it was like, well, we weren't actually   we don't know who you spoke to. We don't know who the taxi driver spoke to, but it wasn't us. Whether it was my older son looking vague on the front veranda and he presumed it was dad, I don't know. 

MS EASTMAN: But was there communication book that was used about the travel to and from school as well? 

MS LANGCAKE: We had a communication book in place from, yeah, day one of year 8. 

MS EASTMAN: And had Mitch been assessed as a risk or having to be assessed for risk purposes ever raised in the communication book? 

MS LANGCAKE: No, there was no   we were blindsided. We had no understanding of what had happened or where the communication conversations were with. 

MS EASTMAN: I'm just sort of looking at the time, Commissioners, and just mindful of our Auslan interpreters, and we are   I might ask if we can take a break in a moment. But I just want to finish on this topic before we take a break. And that is, looking back, your perception of the events was that there was never any consultation about Mitch's capability   and there's an issue about Mitch riding bikes that really brought home that sense of Mitch's capability and his activities at home and how he may well have been perceived at school in terms of his capacity and capability at school. Can you tell us about that and then, Commissioners, if we might take a short break of 10 minutes just to give everybody a comfort stop. 

MS LANGCAKE: Yes. The bike riding project was in year 11. And the University of South Australia was involved with   I don't know whether they were PE students or what their capacity was, whether they were physio students, but they   there was a project that underwent   didn't really know a lot about it. But I did find notes in the communication book later, so we obviously were aware it was coming up. And it was riding trikes. 

Now, we had spent years teaching Mitch to ride a bike from when he was, probably started at 4, and by the time he was 8, he was riding a BMX. And it gave him amazing freedom. You know, we took a lot of risk with bike riding, but it's so worth it because he still rides today. And, yeah, there was a project at school where they were riding trikes, and I don't know if they were doing, like, X number of distance to create like a marathon bike ride or what it was, but there was   you know, great celebration that, you know, he came home with a certificate. 

And somewhere in that conversations   we were coming towards the end of year 11, and I was totally frustrated that they hadn't asked about his capacity to ride a bike and he was put on a trike. Like, this kid can ride a bike. Why did you not ask?  Why did we not have a two wheeler bike?  The feedback I got was, "I chose to buy the trikes" which was what I was told. Is it is like, well, we could have provided a bike. "I chose to buy trikes" was what I was told by the principal of the Disability Unit. 

So we weren't given the opportunity   and we actually did indicate earlier that he can ride a bike, but he wasn't supported to ride a bike. He was put on a trike. So   and I'm sure he enjoyed the trike riding. I'm sure he participated in it wonderfully. And he actually came home with a certificate he'd aced it. You know, that that was his big moment for success. But for me it was quite bittersweet. It was like, well, I don't want that certificate. He can ride a bike. 

MS EASTMAN: And you felt that this was where there were gaps in communication. So for the school to be able to hear from you and talk to you about Mitch's capacity and the things that he liked doing when he wasn't at school, and you really wanted that to build into the way in which the school was supporting him. There was a gap there wasn't there? 

MS LANGCAKE: My concern was he is an alternative communicator. If you want to know something specific about Mitch, the obvious person to ask is his mother. You know, “Can Mitch ride a bike?”  I sent the note, “Yes, Mitch can ride a bike”. And then it was ignored. So, you know, but there was   there wasn't that asking. You know, there wasn't that seeking of information from us. It felt like, "We know what we are doing and this is the decision we've made and Mitch is a part of this program and that's it." 

It wasn't   it wasn't tailored to him. It wasn't   it was like, yeah, presumed that Mitch couldn't ride a bike, and even though we had presented that information it was not acted upon. 

MS EASTMAN: So, Commissioners, it's 2.37 now. We break for just a short break this afternoon, and then we will come back and we are going to look at school curriculum. 

CHAIR: Yes. Let's take 12 and a half minutes and we will come back at 2.50. 

MS EASTMAN: 2.50 thank you.



CHAIR: Yes. Thank you for returning. Yes, Ms Eastman. 

MS EASTMAN: So, Commissioners, we are now at the high school stage. And, Commissioners, if you are following along with the statement, I'm at around page 15, paragraph 71. So, Kim, when Mitch started school, the high school was part of a trial for what was described as One Plan, or what's your   what was your understanding of One Plan back at that point in time? 

MS LANGCAKE: A document to shape accommodations and curriculum for anyone in a   with special needs within that disability stream. 

MS EASTMAN: Was it sort of   was it your understanding it was intended to be a negotiated education plan that was specific for Mitch? 

MS LANGCAKE: I believed it was, yeah, that we sat down and discussed the specifics around what would work best for Mitch 

MS EASTMAN: And was that a process of working through One Plan, of having parents working with the school? 

MS LANGCAKE: One meeting to discuss the One Plan with the principal of the Disability Unit. 

MS EASTMAN: So one meeting, but not an ongoing process. 

MS LANGCAKE: No, and it felt like it was backwards in that we were doing at the end of each year, rather than the start. Which I gathered shaped the following year, but it wasn't reviewed regularly and it was quite a big document at the start. Like, it covered every accommodation. It felt like it was a Bible for every accommodation and every student rather than a   whereas we had come from year 7 with a two page negotiated education plan with very simple goals, to a   quite a big volume Bible document which didn't really speak a lot about Mitch. 

MS EASTMAN: If the purpose of this, to your understanding, was to identify the adjustments and the supports that he needed, how were you in a position   I'm not being critical, but how were you in a position to know what those adjustments and supports might be in a high school setting, particularly if the One Plan trial was just being rolled out and you had no experience for Mitch in high school? 

MS LANGCAKE: We didn't really know what we were doing with it. I do remember seeing the first One Plan that we had done and really the only thing we added to it was that we wanted Mitch to do a birthday card for his grandfather for - in October, and we wanted, I think, a Mother's Day card or something like that. That was the only real thing we added to it. It was a pretty overwhelming document to sort of get your head around 

MS EASTMAN: I think you have described in a statement of there being a template type document that set out that identification of the adjustments or supports. But it also had something that helped describe what Mitch's disabilities were, and that had to be documented as well. Is this an example of the description of Mitch having an intellectual disability in the severe range coming in to the planning? 

MS LANGCAKE: I just remember the autism and the intellectual disability being ticked on it. I don't   I'm pretty sure by the time we got to the end of year 11, the final One Plan meeting we did was pretty much the same document with all that same information in it with maybe a tailored statement on the end of the back page that we contributed. It wasn't   it didn't feel like it was a working document that had much purpose, from my perspective. 

MS EASTMAN: Do you have any recollection as to whether or not the One Plan process looks specifically at - communication supports in education? 

MS LANGCAKE: I just remember being quite overwhelmed about it being all the curriculum focused in there, not remembering it having a lot of specific comment around how Proloquo2Go was being applied for that curriculum. 

MS EASTMAN: So, again, was it your experience that there was a disconnect in supporting Mitch in developing his communication skills, particularly with the new technologies and the planning in relation to what he could achieve with respect to the curriculum? 

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah, it felt like there was a very big gap between what tools we were trying to implement to make   because communication underpinned everything, and in reviewing a lot of Mitch's, like, the to and fro documentations between me and school, the school and myself, it seemed like there was a lot of focus on the difficulties with Mitch, but not getting back to the underlying communication being the frustration for him. Like, if there was a behaviour presenting I would quite often read it as he actually doesn't have any way to tell you what he's frustrated by and why he's acting out in that way, but you're not giving him the opportunity to give you that either. 

MS EASTMAN: Looking back   so, again, I know I'm taking you a little bit front and then back. But looking back, and the One Plan process, do you think, with the benefit of hindsight, addressing those communication issues very early on at the start of high school should have been the priority focus? 

MS LANGCAKE: For a child that's non-verbal and can't express those points specifically, and the experience I have now with my youngest son, a strategy around how we will do this more specifically for him rather than all the detail of every tool that's going to be available, a simpler One Plan more specific would have been much more useful for us. 

MS EASTMAN: Again, sticking at the end of school, by the end of high school, Mitch can't sign his own name. He does not have basic reading and writing. 


MS EASTMAN: He does not have the skills to hold a pen or even a digital pencil. And you don't know whether achieving basic reading, writing and the capacity to use a pen, be it digital or otherwise, was ever a goal for Mitch when he started high school. Is that right? 

MS LANGCAKE: Those simple goals weren't a part of that One Plan, no. 

MS EASTMAN: Again, with the benefit of hindsight, do you see basic reading and writing, signing your name and being able at least to hold a pen as being part of the tools to build communication? 

MS LANGCAKE: It all connects to using the visuals, to using the assistive technology, the   you know, the ability to demonstrate maybe spelling of a word to match a visual would have led to that communication device being more useable for him. I think the building blocks were missed in those initial   in that planning. I think the end goals of the curriculum were probably placed first and rather than   it was sort of working backwards rather than working forwards from a very basic communication level. 

MS EASTMAN: What do you feel he has achieved in terms of meeting the goals from One Plan and the curriculum by the time he finished school? 

MS LANGCAKE: He attended and was pleasant in his attendance. He enjoyed all the social interaction and being around   there were some key teachers that he loved having time with. But academically, no, I don't think Mitch achieved very much at all. 

MS EASTMAN: You have said that there were some highlights of his time in the Disability Unit and one was the zoo. Why was that a highlight? 

MS LANGCAKE: There were some key players. There was one young male teacher who was very interested and engaged with the Proloquo, and a lot of communication between him and us in the communication books around strategy and, you know, changing between core screens and, you know, wanting to work with that team environment with the speechy as well. So there were key players who   and I think that teacher in particular had a very keen interest in assistive technology and was younger and wanted to, you know, work in that space. 

There was other teachers that were more around, you know, life skills and socialising and being in that space with them at school. Yeah, and like I said, the swimming was an amazing thing. But there's not a lot of   not a lot of great that I take from his journey. We made the decision to move schools for year 12 based on that. 

MS EASTMAN: I will come to that. One of the issues you've also raised is you expected that there may be more focus on life skills. The Royal Commission has heard that for children and young people who only have the opportunity of education in the segregated settings, sometimes there is too much emphasis on life skills at the expense of other areas, for example, curriculum, literacy, numeracy; those sorts of things. 

For you, life skills was something that you expected would be part of the way in which Mitch was able to learn at his school in high school. Why was it important for you in terms of a focus on life skills, particularly life skills, to assist him for the transition from school and into whatever life was going to hold him after school? 

MS LANGCAKE: Well, I think when you've got a child that is very deplete of, you know, major communication, you know, it comes down to what can they do to make their life meaningful. So for him to be now functioning as a 20 year old, we are very focused on   and we always look forward. We always look forward to life after school. You know, a step closer to leaving home is a motto we use a lot. And life skills have always been important for us, more so when we knew Mitch would not be academic. 

So, yeah, it was important for us for him to, you know, even to be able to   there were times when he would actually jump on the public transport to go to school and to have that encouraged as a part of his school journey, which was difficult. You know. And he's not straightforward. He's not an obvious person that can do those things without supports around him. But we found them. We found, you know, the neighbour that would go on the bus with him and she was at the same school. 

It was   the frustrating part was the school wasn't open to that outside thinking from us, that we want this to be a focus and something that we work on. But there always just seemed to be the barrier because no one else is doing this, so why do you want to do this?  Whereas, we wanted him to have skills that would transfer past school. You know, there's a long life after year 12. 

MS EASTMAN: Mitch became an NDIS participant when he was about 14 years old. Can I ask you about what it meant for Mitch and also in terms of supports generally with your family. By this stage, you've got the little fellas as well. 

MS LANGCAKE: Our young children as well, yes. 

MS EASTMAN: What   what difference did the NDIS make in terms of Mitch and his schooling? 

MS LANGCAKE: I don't think it actually did much for school. It meant we could engage speech and OT, and we did find some great local providers. But it meant they were working separate. They were seeing Mitch out of school. We did inquire about how those allied health could become a part of a team meeting and it was incredibly difficult. We understood that therapy couldn't happen at school because if we had 10 different speechies and 10 different OTs coming in, it would be chaos. 

But at the same time, we weren't really supported with the strategy and the work that they were doing to be incorporated into a team meeting or planning either. So it was   it was disconnected. But it did   NDIS gave us the funding to engage those people directly to work one on one with Mitch, whereas before that, we had   we had had a good OT through Disability SA, which was part of NDIS funding. 

But we hadn't had speech and they were supporting all our work around using the assistive technology. So it did give us supports to go and do learning around modelling, how to use that device better, how to incorporate that in day to day life better, but then it never   it felt like it didn't transfer to the education space. 

MS EASTMAN: I think it's a case, wasn't it, that when Mitch first became an NDIS participant, the case manager you had, you describe as amazing. Because the case manager looked at the family dynamic, thought about what was needed and tried to take a holistic approach as to what supports did Mitch need but not disconnected from the family. 


MS EASTMAN: Is that right? 

MS LANGCAKE: He saw us with the two younger siblings in the mix. So Mitch was 10 when they were   when they were born. And he saw us, I think, unravelling a little bit and his actually, you know, conversation was, "If we don't get you in quickly, I can see you are going to need more than just support for Mitch." So, yeah, he saw, wisely, a family that was under a fair bit of pressure and got us in earlier than other kids his age. 

MS EASTMAN: Do you feel that the way in which the case manager worked with your family was a model that could have assisted in terms of working with a family from a school perspective?  Or were they sort of quite different issues? 

MS LANGCAKE: He was based with Disability SA, so, yes, he could have had a key sort of role as an intermediary between, you know, the OT that was provided there, himself as the case manager and the school. But that was not something that was   you know, that wasn't   that team approach wasn't on the table. 

CHAIR: Just to be clear about the timing, this is happening when Mitch is about 10. 


CHAIR: But I thought you said the case manager was from Disability SA? 

MS LANGCAKE: It's around   so my   so he was 10 when his siblings were born. So, no, he would have been a bit later. It would have been when he was 14 that we got the plan, but he would have been engaged with Disability SA for a couple of years. So around 12, they would have engaged with him. 

CHAIR: So with Disability SA, is that pre his participation in NDIS. 

MS LANGCAKE: Yes. It was in that bucket funding phase. 

CHAIR: And did you have the same experience with   once the NDIS came in? 

MS LANGCAKE: We didn't have a case manager approach then because we were directly engaging OT and speechy, as   I was engaging them as his nominee. 

CHAIR: Okay. Thank you. 

MS EASTMAN: I want to now move to that period of time where you're starting to look at the transition for Mitch from school to life after school. So the NDIS is in place by this point in time, and you're starting to focus on the educational outcomes for Mitch and the planning for the next steps. So we're at that point in time. You remember going to a group   parent group meeting at the high school around July 2018 and you were   and you asked, "What's the plan for students who would soon be finishing year 12?"  What happened at that meeting? 

MS LANGCAKE: So we were still connected with the high school, and Mitch was in year 11. And there were parents there who had year 12 students and they were seeking services. They were looking in Adelaide. They were looking in different places. They were trying to connect with, you know, whether it be employment support options or there was really only one disability employment provider in our town. So they were   you know, the questions were being asked around what happened there. What   how suitable it was. 

And so we   one other mum was a bit of a key player around, “Can we all get together as parents, can we use the space at the school”, and that was supported by the school and we used the commercial kitchen area to meet. And the principal of the unit attended, and I think we had one meeting in   on site, maybe two meetings on site, and then we kind of just resorted to email after that. And in that meeting, it opened with the principal showcasing a project that the unit was doing around social interaction with robotics. You know, one was a   looked like a man and one was a seal and how the kids interacted with these robots. And it was part of a CSIRO study. 

So that was discussed, probably for a good 10, 15 minutes and then we all got to meet the robot and the seal. And   but as parents, our key drivers, what can we do around how we transition our children out of school, which is what we were all about meeting for. And I interjected at the   probably 15 minutes in and said, you know, "Thanks for the talk about the project, but we were all concerned about where our kids are going after school and is there any opportunity that, as the principal of this unit who knows these children from the four to five-year journey you've had with them, that you can give us any direction around what options are available [redacted] or what you think could go." 

It was basically replied with, "None of your children are suitable for the provider that was the disability support in town" and that was the only one. And which I then led to, "Well, is there any opportunity for parents to have a one on one discussion with you around what you think could be a transition for these children?"  Which was, you know, yeah, basically. 

MS EASTMAN: You were quite bothered, weren't you, by the   or sort of annoyed, worried by the fact that   to be told these kids were not even going to be suitable   

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah, none of your kids are suitable.

MS EASTMAN:   to work for the disability employer. So that was a local ADE, was it, disability   old fashioned sheltered workshop. Australian Disability Enterprise.

MS LANGCAKE: Yes, they were make - yes. We were basically told point blank, "None of your children are suitable for there" and that was it. And I was like, "Well, would you be available for a conversation for us to meet with you to talk about our kids individually?"  And it wasn't really encouraged. It was, well, you know, if you   it was never offered. I got out of the picture with the school at the end of year 11 because we chose for Mitch to go to year 12 elsewhere because I could not really maintain a good communication with the principal at that   after that point. I was very frustrated. 

MS EASTMAN: I will get to taking Mitch out at this point to a new school. But the fact that Mitch was an NDIS participant, and you were aware that the NDIS had a plan to support school leavers   


MS EASTMAN:   was there any suggestion either at the school or at the NDIS level about Mitch having the opportunity to do any work experience or have any opportunity to think about what work he might want to do in the future? 

MS LANGCAKE: So in year 11, no, it was   really, his funding was just being used for OT, speech, allied health. And even in the following year, we didn't have school   they used to   you know, have a school leaver funding line. We didn't have that. We didn't receive that until after he had finished school. And I did find a little glitch with the NDIS in that, in that I did provide a complaint to the NDIS stating all these kids should have a plan that does not   our timing was unfortunate, and his plan finished in December, I think, and it took until January for us to get a new plan. 

So he actually came out of school with no plan in place, which meant he   you know, we couldn't actually engage services. It was not real clear about how we would do that without a new plan in place. I now know a little different that we could have, but there wasn't   you know, there wasn't guidance around that and we certainly didn't have that school leaver funding specifically in place. 

MS EASTMAN: You thought by September 2018 that the school, as part of the One Plan programming, should have some very clear planning and pathways for Mitch in terms of finishing school and what might be the options for him. So you were quite frustrated, weren't you, that this just was not included or even open for discussion. That was your recollection. 

MS LANGCAKE: Our One Plan meeting at the end of 2018 was really just that curriculum focus. Still the same template. I remember just being incredibly frustrated and literally being in the meeting for probably three minutes, having an argument around communication with the principal, and just signing it off very hastily and left the room. I was not going to   you know, and my comment was, "I will do everything for him to not be at this school next year." 

MS EASTMAN: When you got Mitch's end of year report   and you have extracted what it says in the statement. I will just read this to you, Commissioners. It's paragraph 80. The report said this: 

"Mitch is a pleasure to teach. He has worked steadily throughout the year with some pleasing results. He has produced digital posters across the learning areas with intensive one to one support from the SSOs. Mitch  has earned 785 merit points. Well done!  We wish him all the best for 2019." 

Now, pausing there, parents might go, that's not a bad outcome. 


MS EASTMAN: But that was not your reaction to receiving this report. What was it that caused you some further frustration? 

MS LANGCAKE: Well, it was all in the shadows of the bike, you know, the non communication and the bike project. It was   we had already communicated that we had full intention for Mitch to be at another school. We didn't have the go ahead for him until the   like, the day before school went back, but I was hellbent determined for him to have a great year 12. And I honestly feel they were glad to see the back end of us. The back end of me in particular. Mitch in himself was not a   you know, he was a pretty pleasant lad at school, doing the best he could, but mum was asking a lot of questions and was frustrated by the whole communication in particular. 

MS EASTMAN: Do you feel that the relationship between yourself and your family and the school had deteriorated over time?  Was that your perception? 

MS LANGCAKE: Oh, it was   in re reading the communication books, it was always very strained in the communication between us because I would ask questions like, "Where is the risk assessment, then, that you completed for that?  Are you telling me this is the outcome?  Where is what happened in between?"  There was lots of toing and froing around, "You will now pick up Mitch from this point. You will drop Mitch up from this point. You will go to this SSO office and pick him up. It's because of an incident, ABC." 

But we never got all the information around, okay, what else was happening, and I would be the parent to say, "Well, what happened prior to that?  What communication opportunity did he have to tell you he needed to go to the toilet, for example, but wasn't."  You know, like, I was just very frustrated around the lack of information, the lack of collaboration we had. And it just escalated by the end of year 11. 

MS EASTMAN: When you read the whole of your statement, you can see the language that you use in your statement as to when the relationship is working well, whether it's Pathways, whether it's with a particular teacher, or whether it's a particular part of Mitch's experience that there were   that a good working relationship seems to be a very important element of supporting Mitch. What's your reflections on the importance of those relationships? 

MS LANGCAKE: Yes. It's the team. If you don't have a team around a   someone with special needs, you are never going to get anywhere near the results you're after. Because a team brings different thinking. It brings the collaboration. It brings, "Hey, we tried this and it worked." You know, and then, "How does that translate to what you're doing?"  And I now see that in my younger son in meetings we have around him. And it's   it's the bringing everyone on the bus. 

It's that having everyone's different expertise, their different successes with your key person that all can feed together to make a totally different approach. Like, Mitch was   I feel like Mitch was in a silo at school that didn't connect to the rest of other parts of his life until we moved him to the other school, which really highlighted the difference. 

MS EASTMAN: All right. Well, let's turn to that. So in 2019, you make the decision to transfer Mitch out of the school that he had been at for some time into a new high school in year 12, and he attended what you describe as an Inclusive Education Centre at the new school. Tell us about this school and what was it that was different in the way in which the school was sort of structured or its approach. 

MS LANGCAKE: So it was similar in that it had two basic classes within   so, like, a senior and a junior class within a public school. But it was the next   it was the town next door. So a 45 minute distance away. 

MS EASTMAN: Any buses or taxis   

MS LANGCAKE: No, we were transporting the younger sibling, so it just became a part of the dynamic. And we pretty much used that as our argument to get him changed out of zone. You know, the fact that Mitch   you know, we had the opportunity for him to attend in a different town. I had heard great things about this school. I, you know, visited and had a tour and it looked, you know, quite different. Very open communication with us from the get-go.

A very young dynamic teacher who, on day one   had never met Mitch before. We had literally got the approval letter of the   it was Australia Day long weekend and the school was starting on the Tuesday. And we had got the communication that Mitch had the go ahead to go, and I knew that we wouldn't get it until the day before. So it was all systems go first day. We turned up to the office, did the paperwork, and met his class teacher that he didn't engage until the classroom until the next day. 

And from day one, they would meet me at the gate and say, "What does this mean?  What does it mean when he's doing this?  What does it mean if he's trying to   if he's making this sound or this gesture." Like, they were really   they were overwhelmed, that they had never probably   they said, "We have never had anyone turn up for year 12. You know, all of our kids have gone from year 8 to year 11 with us and then we do year 12. This is a whole different thing." 

And it's like, "Yeah, I know, but ask as many questions as you want."  So I would get phone calls during the day, "What do you think?  What about if we try this?"  And they did sensory accommodation like the wiggle stool and those sorts things from the get go. They showed us his classroom, which space he would be in which teacher and you know, these are the kids that he will be in here with. They were very   it was quite a small tailored class, had quite a lot of community connection options which the other school didn't have. 

So making coffee one day a week at the public library and that community connection thinking. It was   it was just   for me, it was a part of the grief and loss I think I needed to do for Mitch's   for the journey we had had. 

MS EASTMAN: Why was that? 

MS LANGCAKE: And that was, yeah, important to do 

MS EASTMAN: Why was it important to sort of recognise for yourself that grief and the loss? 

MS LANGCAKE: Because I felt we hadn't given him the best opportunity at the local school. Even though at the start we thought we had a great opportunity there, over that four years, it showed that it really didn't meet our expectations and we felt that we had been let down. 

CHAIR: Were all the students in these two classes students with disability? 


CHAIR: And are you aware of what the eligibility criteria were for a student to be admitted to this program? 

MS LANGCAKE: As far as I'm aware, there had to be a diagnosis and there had to be a psychological assessment done by the Education Department for eligibility criteria. 

CHAIR: Were the students in these two classes selected in any particular way?  Or was it just   it just happened this was a better school than the other one that you experienced? 

MS LANGCAKE: Selection panel. They all went through the selection panel. We did receive a letter that advised that the selection panel had met and that he did meet the criteria and that there was a spot. 

MS EASTMAN: Just for that year that Mitch was at the Inclusive Education Centre, what were the changes that you saw in him? 

MS LANGCAKE: The cheeky Mitch came out a lot more. They found that, that there was a very, you know, cheeky character that they   the peer connection. You know, at the end of the year, every   at the end of every year we made chutney. Mitch has built his cooking skills up over the years and he can chop   chop and cook, you know, lead and follow. And Mitch, every year would make chutney. And we would take chutney to school for the teachers. 

And so we turned up at the end of year 12 with a basket of chutney. And actually, you know, they'd leave a bit earlier, so end of November he finished, and I think we went back in the first couple of weeks of December with chutney. And we walked in and there was this warm, "Yay, Mitch."  You know, like, the teachers   all of the   that were still there, it was this lovely, you know, final farewell for Mitch, which I had never seen that before. 

Like, you actually - you couldn't get a step in at the other school. You weren't allowed into those spaces, whereas in year 12, Mitch was having some seizures so I did have to go to the school occasionally and pick him up. And there was one occasion where he had split an eyelid and we had to go to the hospital. And, you know, you were welcome in to wherever he was, into that space, like, to get the bag from the locker and you know, pick him up. It wasn't like that at the other school. You weren't allowed in. It felt very us and them, whereas the new school was not like that at all. 

MS EASTMAN: With the new school, was there enough time to work on the transitions from school to life after school in terms of employment or other options for Mitch? 

MS LANGCAKE: There wasn't   I don't remember a significant transition at all. Our NDIS plan funding was quite unfortunate as well. I did a lot of research, visiting a couple of day options providers in [redacted] I went to their facilities, took Mitch along for a couple of morning trial sessions. We looked at what programs were available, what providers were around. I don't believe school did that. I think that sat with the parents very much. And we didn't find a lot. 

He did do some of that program in the start of the following year, so there was some connection, that we did have some win there. But I do remember signing a piece of paper on the last day that said I had things in place. Like, it was asking me to say I had things in place for Mitch. 

MS EASTMAN: Why did you have to sign that? 

MS LANGCAKE: I don't know. It was in the car park. It was a piece of paper that was   that Mitch's teacher said to me, "I know, Kim, that you probably can't honestly sign this but I need you to sign this to say you've got something in place for Mitch."  It was like, "Well, you know I don't as well, but here, I'm signing it to finish this off for you."  It was just   it just felt like we were in a bit of a   you know, a bit of a bad luck case that our plan ended when it did. 

We didn't get a new plan straightaway. We didn't get school leaver funding. He's   Mitch is not the type of kid that's going to go into a supported employment option anyway but it meant we were kind of floundering a bit for longer than we need. 

MS EASTMAN: Well, Mitch did go to schoolies, didn't he? 

MS LANGCAKE: Yes, he went to schoolies. 

MS EASTMAN: So you took him. What was that experience like? 

MS LANGCAKE: No, we went   we did our own schoolies in Bali. It was our first overseas trip together and he shone. He loved it. 

MS EASTMAN: So got a taste for sort of exploring the world. 

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah, he was   it was   for me, the Bali trip was the ultimate, "Let's celebrate you finishing school."  And he got to drink beer for the first time. And the thing I take away from Bali is he would walk down the street like a normal tourist and   because the average tourist doesn't engage verbally with hawkers when they come out. So he would just walk down the street and he looked like a normal Joe. People didn't respond differently when he didn't talk to them. So for him Bali was   he looked like a normal dude. 

MS EASTMAN: After you got back from the schoolies with him, and you were into, I assume, the summer holidays, what happens for Mitch after he leaves school? 

MS LANGCAKE: He had a little bit of a run of holidays because we had core funding from NDIS. So I sent him away on quite a few trips because we didn't have anything in place. And, eventually, it got to the point where you have been on holidays for so long, you actually forgotten that you do need to get up and do the washing. You know. I remember being quite – “you are going to   it's not holiday mode anymore”. 

MS EASTMAN: So he was just being a teenager. 

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah, yeah. He was loving it. He was like, "I'm just going to kick back and keep this going. Party mode."  So eventually, yeah, we connected him with a day options provider and so he started doing some day options. And we were still travelling. So it was in the neighbouring town where he had finished high school. So we would drop him off and pick him up when we were doing the school run with the other kids. 

And that was partially successful, but in that adult world where adult behaviour   you know, there was some dynamics with other participants that was problematic, so we found it wasn't the perfect fit. And then we moved more into   well, actually the blessing of COVID was that one on one support became that normal. I kind of had a mindset that   may have just been me, that when someone was one on one funded, it actually meant they had exceptional difficulties that you had to support. 

But with COVID coming around, with all those day options falling away from providers, you had to do one on one to have any   you had to do one on one support to have any engagement in the community at all. So we ran with a local provider that was just starting up, got on board with her in her very infancy, and they had, you know quite a few different staff and we just engaged him with different staff to have his days filled doing all sorts of things. One on one engaged. 

MS EASTMAN: Has the one on one made a difference for him? 

MS LANGCAKE: Mitch is still in that phase now. So Mitch has 5.5 days a week supported in basically 9 until 3, the same sort of school window. The 9 until 3, keeping busy and it's varied between bike riding, immersion therapy, cooking. I've got a big focus on   I don't want to look at Mitch and see a 21 year old toddler. I want him to contribute to our family. So he cooks a meal twice a week for everyone to enjoy together. 

He does his own shopping. He does his own laundry. He does all of that supported. He's responsible for all his own   you know, I don't want to be changing your bed. I don't want to be picking up your stuff from the chemist. You know, you do all of that stuff with your supports. It's about him being independent with support. 

MS EASTMAN: What about sort of friendship groups of his aged peers and engagement in community?  What opportunities are there for Mitch? 

MS LANGCAKE: Because that whole peer group from school didn't really have a   there was no, like, real connect with transition for any of them. We have reconnected Mitch with a few of his peers through social one on one supports, through, you know, meeting each other at the pool one afternoon a week during summer. Started some, like, the cooking idea that maybe he could connect with a couple of others from his peer group from school. 

We are very slowly working on that from the ground up because we don't have any providers or programs running in our town that does that at the moment. So we are looking to build that from ground up, basically. And we've just started with some   yeah, they started at the pool at the end of last year and reconnecting with some peers from school. 

MS EASTMAN: Knowing Mitch as you do, what do you say he sees the future for himself? 

MS LANGCAKE: Oh, I don't know that he looks forward. He lives very much in the moment. I think if there's busyness, gross motor, big sensory satisfaction going on, a great meal, and his bed and his favourite movie, he's happy. You know. Mitch   Mitch interacts differently with different supports. So a successful support relationship for Mitch means he's happy when they turn up. He's not ducking off to be in his room away from them during the shift. He's engaged for the whole six hours. 

That, to me, says, "I'm enjoying being with this person. I'm enjoying what we do." I do gauge it very much on Mitch's engagement with the person as to whether we keep this relationship going with this support or whether we find someone else. Yeah, he's   he's well supported by a   quite a big range of people and they all bring their own interests and capabilities, and we tap into that as well to make a new   make skill   build skills for Mitch. 

So while one person is great around cooking, another is very physical and is bike riding and you know, doing big swimming with him, and another is, you know, bringing some   a whole different, you know, skill set. So we change it up a fair bit. 

MS EASTMAN: And for you and the family, are you also in the moment and just living in the moment?  Or do you have in the back of your mind what's the future for Mitch? 

MS LANGCAKE: For me. I've   I think I've learnt not to try and do the big picture planning too far down the track. One question I get asked a lot is what   what will Mitch do in the long run. And I quite often reply to parents, "Well, do you have children?"  "Yeah."  "Do you have a crystal ball?  Do you know what yours are going to do?"  I don't know what he's going to do. I hope   I know, my mum has this amazing dream that one day they will tap into his brain and it will be like, Stephen Hawking and we will know what he's thinking. 

Oh, my God, wouldn't than amazing. I just think there will be a lot of, "Mum, you can rack off" that will come out when he does that. "Will you just leave me alone."  Who knows. Who knows what the future will bring with this technology and, you know, neural therapy and all the rest of it. But our goal is just to have a happy, healthy kids who have great   as good as mental health we can give them and to be drug free. You know, like, if they can have that life, with a great family around them   I don't know when they are going to move out of home. 

I think I used to probably have a aspiration for him living independently. That's kind of on the backburner now because he does have siblings who are so much younger. So they are going to be around for a lot longer yet and they all have a lovely interaction as siblings, so why even bother changing that if we don't have to. 

MS EASTMAN: You wanted to share Mitch's experiences with the Royal Commission, partly because you are in a situation for your younger children seeing what's different   


MS EASTMAN:   to what occurred with Mitch. And I think, as you said today and you've said in your statement, is that reflection on Mitch's experience for you is one of grief and loss and you feel that very heavily. Is that right? 


MS EASTMAN: So you wanted to sort of share that. But you're a fairly optimistic person, one might say, reading your statement. 

MS LANGCAKE: Oh, yeah.

MS EASTMAN: I don't mean that in any pejorative way at all. But you have really focused on what needs to happen. And sharing your experiences is an opportunity to say to other parents out there, "This is what we learnt. This is what you should expect for the future." So can I ask you to tell the Royal Commissioners   and, Commissioners, this is in the statement   but, Kim, what would you like to share with the Royal Commissioners about, as you've described it, your hopes and your suggestions for change. 

MS LANGCAKE: So the journey of being involved in the Royal Commission is it has made a big shift for me from just focusing on Mitch's journey to what I would like for the bigger picture, and having the younger siblings also means I'm very focused on where we will be in the next 10 years with them. In 2009, I attended the Autism Pacific   Asia Pacific Autism Conference. It was the first one in Australia, and I listened to a plethora of speeches. Plethora   it went five days between all different, you know, professionals, parent, everything. Just overwhelmed with information. 

And one of the key things I took away from that was a mum standing up and saying, "Get everyone on your bus. Just get everyone on your bus and drive the bus and get them to share their information and their therapy and their whole knowledge. Because I can't be a speechy, an OT, a mum, a physio. I can't be everything. I can, you know, love them to the cows come home, but I can't bring all those skills." 

So I took that to heart and, for me, if I can   from an education perspective, if every child with a One Plan could have a team meeting once a term, to shape the One Plan, not for the One Plan to exist on its own, but to have that team meeting   and virtually works brilliantly. We have been doing this with our younger son. If you can bring a team meeting once a term with whoever is in your team to share, it brings everyone's work so much better together that the pressure comes off the parent by probably 50 per cent because I'm not sharing that information 10 ways. I'm having everyone come together and do the strategy together. And then school can ask the question of the OT and the speechy around, "Hey, Kim said we are doing this, and this and this and we put this little thing in place. How does that work?"  Take the pressure off the parent by having that information share and an amazing dynamic once a term. 

And then that feeds that plan for the school as well, not just from a parent perspective. Because I know that when I was overwhelmed, there would be a hundred things that I would forget to take into that One Plan meeting, even if I was taking it home and writing on it. There's not that collaboration from one parent or two parents like you would get in a team. So I would love to see a team meeting for every person that's involved around those kids once a term. 

I would love to see a transition of about 18 months for anyone with special needs in the education   so coming in half way through year 11 into year 12, because they   most of these people will have an NDIS plan now and they do have people engaged and they do have core funding that they can engage, whether it be an employment provider, a day option, one on one supports. Whatever it is that's floating their boat that's of interest for these people, how you can tap into that to step them out into the world. 

So, you know, I would love to see one day a week by the end of year 11 where they are engaged with a provider outside of the school. And then by the end of year 12, they would have a comfort space of, "I do this Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. I know that this is what I'm going to be doing the day that school finishes. I have three days planned out and I really enjoy A, B and C." So it doesn't sit all on the parents to then   they walk away from school to then go, "Now what? " And to see these, you know   they fall in a hole. Everyone does, and thenit falls on the parents. 

MS EASTMAN: Do you feel for your younger children that the options for them into the future may be greater options than available   than are available to Mitch? 

MS LANGCAKE: They are coming through with NDIS in place. They are coming through with parents that have done it once. They are coming through with a team approach once a term. It's a very different space for his younger siblings than what it was for him. Yeah, their outcome is going to be very different because   well, they are not Mitch, but they have a different team around them to what Mitch did. And even if school then isn't the be all and end all and the perfect model, it doesn't matter because it's robust around them,  it's not all hinged on the education provider. And one thing that's rung through just sitting in the last two days has been grief and loss. If we can support families around grief and loss, consistently, across education and every setting, I think you would see families that are, you know, that are more robust. You know. It's a huge part of being a parent. 

MS EASTMAN: Kim, thank you very much for sharing Mitch's story. 

MS LANGCAKE: You are welcome. 

MS EASTMAN: And your family's story and sharing with the Royal Commission a lot of very sort of personal information about the experiences in your family and we are very grateful for your evidence today. 

MS LANGCAKE: You're welcome. 

MS EASTMAN: The Commissioners, though, may have some questions for you. 


CHAIR: Yes, thank you very much. Do you mind if I ask my colleagues if they have any questions? 


CHAIR: Can I start with Commissioner Mason. Do you have any questions for Kim? 

COMMISSIONER MASON: Yes. Thank you very much, Kim, for your evidence this afternoon. I did have a question about the team approach. Who's on the bus. I've heard someone say, "Who are the people in your neighbourhood?" 


COMMISSIONER MASON: And you have answered the question. You've given detailed information in your statement. Because I was really interested that when you talked about Mitch you said, "We need X for us. It did not work for us."  And that there's not a barrier with the school gate; it's actually still an extension of the life of the family. So I just want to say thank you. 

MS LANGCAKE: You're welcome. 

COMMISSIONER MASON: Yes, and best wishes to Mitch and your family. 

MS LANGCAKE: He's doing well. 

COMMISSIONER MASON: Yeah, thank you. 

CHAIR: Commissioner Galbally, do you have any questions for Kim? 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thank you very much for your evidence. I really feel for your grief and loss, and just in thinking about what you might have expected from the two   the special school and the special unit, you might have expected that they were specialist, you know, in disability. So would you have expected that they might even have had cutting edge technology for communication, seeing as a lot of the children would have had communication needs and you wouldn't have had to have researched it, much less that they didn't support that communication technology in the ways that you outlined. Would you have expected that they might have been absolutely expert and specialists? 

MS LANGCAKE: No, not at all, because I   I think we always knew we were a little bit, you know, asking the question and ground breaking with what we wanted. There were no other kids wandering in with an iPad. There were no other kids with a GoTalk 9 that I saw at the   you know, in primary school. You know, I don't know of any other kids   there were other   you know, alternative communicators at the high school but I don't remember us ever having, you know, conversations around how many were using that sort of assistive technology. 

It really just was our conversations all the time at school. I don't know what others were doing. But, no, I don't expect   I don't think I expected them to be experts, but I wanted them to be team players. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: You wanted them to use it when you discovered it. And as far as the One Plan went, you might have expected that, in a specialised way, they would have done individual planning that would have brought all of Mitch's strengths out and also stretched him. You wanted him to be stretched by this specialist place that he went to. 

MS LANGCAKE: I wanted more collaboration in that One Plan rather than a massive document that just felt like it had too much information but not enough around specific strategy for Mitch. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: And you might have expected that they might have had high expectations of his riding a bike and had some two wheelers for bikes, as they're a specialist school. You might have expected that. 

MS LANGCAKE: I just wanted them to read the communication book and to see that he had a   he could ride a bike rather than presume he couldn't. Like, they underestimated him on the bike. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Yes. Anyway, I mean I guess the other area was the co location with the main school. You might have expected that there was a little interaction between the schools to have enriched Mitch and introduced him to the outside world. 

MS LANGCAKE: I think   because I had friends who had students within the high school and, you know, even those young men were saying it feels like they're in a cage. It feels like, you know, that they   we don't get to connect with the kids in the Disability Unit. And, you know, they knew Mitch out of school, but there was no connection with Mitch in school. You know, they would have   you know, who knows what adventures they could have got up to if he spent a bit of time with them on the oval at lunchtime, but, yeah, that wasn't encouraged. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Yeah. Thank you, and also I'm so glad that he sounds like he's doing pretty well now. 

MS LANGCAKE: Got a very    

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: And the younger children are. That's terrific. 

MS LANGCAKE: Yes, they are all good. 

CHAIR: I was struck, like Commissioner Galbally, by your paragraph 103 where you say that: 

"The ultimate results of Mitch's school years is grief and loss for me as a parent to then have to reconcile. Mitch cannot relive those years or regain the potential that has been lost." 

It's a very powerful statement, if I may say so. Your evidence has been extraordinarily thoughtful and helpful. I would like to ask you this question, which perhaps puts you in a counterfactual world. That's an expression that lawyers use. We live in a world now and your family, fortunately, has benefitted from the NDIS. If we put ourselves in 2022 and if there were to be a family that had a child like Mitch, born now or perhaps a couple of years ago, what would you say would be the   the advice, if asked, you would give to the parents of that child, for that child to have the best chance of developing to his or her full potential? 

How would you see this working?  I know you've said some of the things to that effect in your last few paragraphs, but I just wondered if you might like to put yourself in that position so that we can get, perhaps, a supplement to the benefit of your experience. 

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah, so a child born now is going to have a lot of, you know, early development, developmental team approach around them which, you know, is not what Mitch had. So that is the gift that the NDIS brings. It brings a   you know, they acknowledge that early development   crucial, is needed around these kids. And for that to continue irrespective of where the setting is. So find a   you know, and I would think, I would hope that the preschools and schools now take that developmental approach for the early learning on board, whereas that wasn't around. 

Yeah, it's the team. It's the bus. It's having   you know, it's having a school and a early learning centre and whoever it is that's around your kids that you need around your kids to survive. It's having them all sharing the same information and having, you know   and if you need someone to be, you know, a case manager or that kind of role, finding that person as well in the mix, because there aren't   not every parent is up to being the advocate of strength or   you know. 

And I'm   consider myself a very strong person but there are times when I've said some pretty, you know, bad things around, you know, I don't know that I can make it. I don't want to see any parents in that position. 

CHAIR: No. I can understand that completely, if I may say so. I want to thank you for giving your evidence. I think you are a very strong person, if I'm allowed to say that. 


CHAIR: And like Commissioner Mason and Commissioner Galbally, I'm so pleased that Mitch has got the benefit of those extra years and your obvious love and support from you and your family. And we wish you and him and the rest of your family all the best for the future. 

MS LANGCAKE: Yeah. They say they choose you. Yeah. He's gorgeous. We love him. 

CHAIR: I'm sure you do. Thank you very much. 

MS LANGCAKE: You're welcome. 

MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Kim, and thank you, Commissioners. And that concludes the evidence for this afternoon. So if we could adjourn now and then resume at 10 o'clock tomorrow. 

CHAIR: We will do that. We will adjourn until 10. Thanks.