“ORS” is the acronym for a special type of education funding, allocated to children with special needs by the New Zealand Government. It stands for “Ongoing Resourcing Scheme.” The funding is allocated to individual students based on their level of need; they are either “high needs” or “very high needs.” ORS funding is a highly sought after thing, which carries a sort of mysterious quality within the special needs community; especially within the autism community, as parents try to figure out why one student got it but another child – seemingly the same or worse off – doesn’t receive it. Because of its desirability and “mysteriousness,” a fair few myths have built up around what is required to get ORS and what getting ORS actually means.
In this post I’m going to share some of the ORS myths I’ve encountered over the years, and try to explain why they are myths. As much as possible I have taken the exact wording of the myth from conversations, forum discussions, etc. Some of the myths I’ve had to summarise more generally, to capture the point more clearly or succinctly.
If you want to find out more about the ORS scheme generally, I have done a previous post introducing the scheme and what we went through to get our son’s application approved, that you may find useful (including links to helpful resources, I’ve noticed some of those links are now broken, I’ll fix those asap!).
Myth 1: An autistic child must know less than 12 words to qualify for ORS. This is quite simply, incorrect. It is true that communication issues are part of an ORS application for an autistic child (hardly surprising), but there are no such tight guidelines as to word numbers (neither officially nor informally). Submitting the number of words that an autistic child knows – whilst it may be relevant to the application – is not definitive of whether the application will be successful. The ORS applications are much more intensive and involved than this myth implies, and do not have simple cut-off points. This theme is repeated in the second myth:
Myth 2: An autistic child won’t receive ORS if they are toilet-trained at the time of the application. Again, this will be a relevant consideration to include on an ORS application, but it is not the magical cut-off point that some claim. Myths like Myth 1 and Myth 2 sadly feed the third myth, which is perhaps the most concerning one for me:
Myth 3: ORS funding is so important that an autistic child is better off not being taught skills early-on, so that they remain severe enough to qualify for ORS when they reach the age of 5. This is plain disturbing, and very messed-up reasoning. With adequate early intervention, it may indeed become the case that the child is so improved that they no longer require ORS. This is not a sad thing, it is an amazing achievement that should be celebrated. Many children cannot improve at that rate, no matter what interventions are attempted, and it is for those most needy of cases that ORS is required. More-over, the “myth” part of this claim is the notion that a child would be better off accessing ORS by remaining limited in skills, than they would be had the parents made every effort with the child from an early age. ORS is great, but it is not more important than a child’s actual and possible development. Neither is ORS the be-all-end-all of special needs education funding, which will bring me to Myth 4 in a second.
I just want to add about Myth 3 that I like to think no parent would ever hold back their child’s skills and development in the hope of getting more funding (quite putting aside the fact that funding rules might change before the child even reaches the relevant age anyway). As much as I want to believe a parent would never do such a thing, the serious tone and manner in which I have seen this myth appear time and again, in a variety of forums, does leave me concerned that at least some parents take it seriously as a suggestion and a possibility.
Myth 4: If your child doesn’t have a successful ORS application, they are unable to access any special needs funding through the school. ORS is a generous funding option, but it is not the only support system in place for special needs children in schools. Schools receive other pools of funding that they can allocate to children with special needs too, and from quick further research I can see other types of individualised funding that appear to be available to students in addition to that more general school funding.
Since my son does receive ORS within a special needs school environment, I am not as familiar with these alternative funding options, other than the fact that they do exist outside of ORS. This web-page is a good starting place for research into those options. (If anyone reading this knows more about those alternatives, I would love to hear about your knowledge and experiences with them.)
This brings us to the next myth, also about the significance of ORS funding:
Myth 5: No child can attend a special needs school without ORS funding. ORS funding does make it possible to attend a special needs school, but it is not true that every child who attends such a school, has had a successful ORS application. This is a myth I used to labour under personally, until speaking to a Board member at one such school. Apparently the Board can – and does – make exceptions sometimes so that high needs children who haven’t qualified for ORS, may still attend and benefit from the pooled funding and services available via a special needs school.
Myth 6: The condition of autism is not enough to receive ORS, an autistic child must have multiple medical conditions. Again, though this would raise the likelihood of a successful ORS application, it is not necessary: Language and social communication problems present in autism, can suffice.
Myth 7: A child must have a confirmed diagnosis to receive ORS funding. This is incorrect; indeed under Criterion 8 in the 2012 ORS guidelines (the criterion best suited to autistic children applying for ORS), it expressly states: “Most students who meet this criterion have a diagnosis of autism but some have another, or no, medical diagnosis.”
Myth 8: Only children with “very severe” autism qualify for ORS. I suppose the truth of this depends on what is meant by “very severe.” In most people’s minds that wording is going to conjure up the corner-rocking, self-harming, non-verbal autistic child (or something similar). In which case the myth is incorrect, as a brief meeting with my son and some of his autistic classmates, would quickly make clear.
Myth 9: An ORS application must be as negative as possible about the child’s abilities, and must only be negative. ORS applications are far more complex than that; they need to address the relevant criteria, but they should also express the ways in which the student can and does benefit from appropriate assistance. A wholly negative application is not only un-necessary, it is also potentially going to fall short of what the application is meant to achieve, and therefore be more likely to fail since it hasn’t provided all the information the assessors require. This may sound counter-intuitive since you’re meant to be presenting a case as to why your child so badly needs assistance, but it was advice I was given by the main person in charge of my son’s application, and our successful application was most definitely not wholly negative.
There are a few other confusions about ORS that fall short of what I’d call “myths.” Such as the idea that ORS can be taken away from a child who has already been receiving it for years (this was true until last year), and the idea that ORS funding comes in multiple tiers, the highest of which is known as “high” funding (in fact ORS comes in two tiers; high and very high, so the “high” funding category is actually the lowest of the two levels). These are easy mistakes to make, and haven’t gained the same sort of chinese-whispers momentum as the nine myths above.
I must make it clear that I am no expert on ORS and autism ORS applications. I have read the publicly available official documents and guides to ORS, I have spoken to various professionals in the area, and know a group of autistic children (including my own son) who have successfully applied for and received ORS. I am open as always to corrections if I have made any errors. I would also be interested to hear if you know of other myths that I haven’t covered; this could not possibly be an exhaustive list.
Yes, ORS is important. Yes, ORS is hard to get for many families of autistic children, and yes I do believe it should be more widely available. But it does not help if parents are faced with myths that further complicate (or often, pretend to simplify) the ORS process. I hope this post helps reduce the impact of those myths, for at least some New Zealand parents.