The education system for school-aged children with autism

December 22, 2017

Rebecca Armstrong

When it comes to accessing supports in education for children with autism there are no clear and consistent pathways across the country writes Altogether Autism researcher Rebecca Armstrong.

THE AMOUNT of support a family may receive by way of education if their child is on the autism spectrum will vary across the country.

It depends on the severity of the needs of the child, the decile rating of the school, the availability of services and specialists, and the attitudes and priorities of the school.

The priorities of the Ministry of Education are to assist children to join in and learn alongside peers in an inclusive environment (Ministry of Education, 2010).

Establishing individual needs

If you feel like your child needs extra support or you have concerns regarding their progress it is recommended to discuss this with relevant people to get further advice. This may include your doctor, the teacher or principal, staff at the local Special Education Office, a Special Education needs coordinator if your school has one, your iwi health authority or the public health nurse. Once the kinds of needs are identified and discussed then the best types of supports may be identified (Ministry of Education, 2010).  There are a number of learning supports available through schools and the Ministry of Education (MOE).

What are the special education provisions?

Special Education use the words ‘moderate’, ‘high’ or ‘very high’ to categorise a  child’s needs and determine the  amount of funding that may  be allocated. Children with moderate to high needs (4 per cent of school aged children) are expected to be supported by their school using school based funding and services.

  • Special Education Grant – Schools receive a grant to support all their children with special education needs. The number of students on the roll and the decile rating determine the amount the school receives. Schools have the discretion to choose how their SEG grant is allocated.
  • Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour (RTLB) – RTLB are specialist teachers who work across a number of schools. They support schools to manage additional learning and behaviour needs of students. This usually includes supporting teachers to manage different learning requirements, implementing class or school wide strategies and /or work directly with the student or small groups of students. RTLB funding is calculated using the number of students on the roll and the decile of each school in a cluster. Your child’s classroom teacher would be the person to speak to about getting a RTLB support.
  • Moderate support for physical, hearing, vision – Your school can call on specialist teachers in the child’s area of need e.g. resource teachers: Vision. Physiotherapists and occupational therapists provide support if your child has a physical disability. The aim of this service aligns with the overall aim of assisting your child to join in and learn alongside peers – whatever that may look like.
  • Regional Health/Hospital Schools – A teacher from a health school can teach children when a child is too unwell to attend school, is in a health funded mental health programme or is returning back to their usual school after a period of absence.  It is available from year 0-13 in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. However, teachers are still available throughout the country.
  • Depending on your child’s needs you may also be able to get assistance through the MOE for transport to school, special equipment and modification/accommodations to school buildings (i.e. a fence built around the perimeter).

If children are classed as high needs or very high needs (less than 3% of school aged children) they may also  be eligible for services provided by the Ministry of Education, including:

  • The Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) – The government funds ORS and it is designed to provide specialist services for children with the highest needs.  There is very specific criterion to meet to qualify for ORS funding and generally only the children in the top one percent of high needs are funded. To qualify students must have ongoing extreme or severe difficulties in learning, hearing, vision, language use or communication.
  • School High Health Needs Fund – If your child has high health needs (e.g. epilepsy) this funding may be available for a teacher aide.
  • Severe Behaviour Service  (SBS) – This service is for students in years 1-10 whose main difficulties is their  behaviour which significantly impacts on their own or their peers’ learning  and safety. Schools apply for this service in consultation with parents. Referrals are made through your local Special Education Office. A psychologist or a specialist education advisor will provide support for the child, your family/whānau and your child’s teacher.
  • Intensive Wrap around Services – This is part of the SBS. A small number of children with high behaviour, social and/or learning needs may be eligible for this service.  Needs must be complex and challenging across environments. The idea of an IWS is to provide support at school, at home and in the community. Referral is made after consultation with school and parents or caregivers, by MOE Special Education staff, the RTLB or ORS fund-holding school.
  • Communication Service – This is to support children who experience difficulties with talking, listening and understanding language. This is usually focussed on children in their first three years at school. A speech and language therapist will assess the individual’s communication skills and identify the needs. They may work one on one with your child or train teachers and other support staff to identify and adapt classroom programmes to meet the child’s needs.

Individualised Education Plans

An individualised education plan is a collaborative process for addressing your child’s individual needs and how these will be met within the school environment.  It includes detailing individual roles and responsibilities and identifying strategies for addressing different specific needs such as those relating to learning and behaviour. They are living documents and are reviewed regularly to track progress and adapt criterion for success when necessary. A plan involves a team of people that support your child such as educators, teachers, specialists and ministry support team. The team includes family/whānau, peers, and friends. The child is also encouraged to be involved and provide input.

In summary there are a number of services offered through Special Education and schools. This is only a basic overview of what may be provided by schools or the MOE. It does not detail independent services. If you would like more information on these services or other supports available please contact Altogether Autism on 0800 273 463 or enter a request for personalised information on the Altogether Autism website.

If you would like to know how to apply for the funding or  if you are  unclear about any part of MOE’s service and have questions about the help your child or student may receive  please talk with staff at your local Special Education office, or call the Special Education information line on 0800 622 222.

Rebecca Armstrong, MAppPsy, is a researcher for Altogether Autism and Parent to Parent.

Useful Resources/links


Ministry of Education (2010). Services and support in special education for children at school: Information for parents and caregivers for children with special education needs. Retrieved from:


This article first appeared in the Altogether Autism Journal Issue 1, 2018.



Need More Information?

We are autism specialists and can provide you with trusted information for free. Our research and information team are available to answer any questions you have about autism.

Ask us a question