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Teen with disability touches politician’s hearts

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NSW Labor leader Chris Minns, at left, meets religious leaders during a meeting with the Shadow Cabinet in Sydney on 7 November. Photo: Jack Begbie
NSW Labor leader Chris Minns, at left, meets religious leaders during a meeting with the Shadow Cabinet in Sydney on 7 November. Photo: Jack Begbie

A 16-year-old teenager who appealed to Premier Dominic Perrottet and Opposition Leader Chris Minns to do more for people with hidden disabilities, says he is one of many who slip through the cracks of government and education services.

Matthew, a member of the Hope Group at Holy Name parish, Wahroonga, attended Mr Perrottet’s 22 February meeting with faith leaders at the Park Royal in Parramatta and submitted a question which evidently touched the leader’s heart.

The following week Mr Minns said he also was saddened by the young man’s obvious distress.

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“It is as if because I am a young person with a disability I have no voice,” he wrote.

“What are your policies to meet the support needs of an increasing number of people with invisible disabilities?

“Will there be a ‘no wrong door’ policy for people with disabilities to raise their concerns with NSW government departs …”

Matthew said the NSW government and its services need to improve the way they treat people with disability, especially those with invisible disabilities, that he has experienced discrimination and had concerns dismissed when he tried to raise them with the relevant government departments.

“We’ve made a lot of progress but clearly more needs to be done,” he said.

“Will there be a ‘no wrong door’ policy for people with disabilities to raise their concerns with NSW government departs … across communities and justice, education, health, customer services etc.

“Every improvement will save lives.”

Premier Dominic Perrottet speaks at the 2023 NSW Faith Communities forum, hosted by multi-faith leaders in Parramatta. Photo: NSW Jewish Board of Deputies
Premier Dominic Perrottet speaks at the 2023 NSW Faith Communities forum, hosted by multi-faith leaders in Parramatta. Photo: NSW Jewish Board of Deputies

Matthew told The Catholic Weekly that he is on the autism spectrum and has ADHD and functional neurological disorder, a condition which can cause him to collapse without warning and be unable to speak.

He suffers from anxiety and depression as well as post-traumatic stress disorder which he says is the result of experiencing extreme school bullying.

His mother explained that Matthew’s learning support needs evade categorisation in the NSW education system.

Without an intellectual disability he didn’t qualify for a special school and he didn’t fit the categories for many support classes. He’s currently being homeschooled.

At more than six feet tall, Matthew is often mistaken for an adult and he has been left lying alone on the ground after collapsing in public while the police, not an ambulance, were called to attend.

“But the main thing is that I want to feel and be safe … nobody should ever have to have to go through what I’ve been through.”

He has also encountered difficulties having his support needs taken into account by local transport authorities.

Matthew would like a person-centred approach to social services that frees those needing help from having to repeat their story and being turned away many times until they find the help they need.

“But the main thing is that I want to feel and be safe,” he said.

“And nobody should ever have to have to go through what I’ve been through.

“I could see when they read out my question, that they realised they couldn’t talk like a politician anymore, they went, ‘I have to answer it as a human being … I have to answer it properly’.”

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