An Australian expert says disabled students are being misdiagnosed for school funding purposes.

In Australia, children with disabilities only receive additional government funding if they fall into a recognised disability category.

As a result, QUT Associate Professor Linda Graham says schools and parents become pressured to obtain the 'right' diagnosis for their child.

“The funding pressure flows from schools to parents and the doctors who assess children,” she said.

“Medical practitioners report being put under pressure from schools to provide an alternative diagnosis for children whose diagnosis doesn’t qualify them for funding support.

One example is that in many systems attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) falls outside the eligible funding box, whereas autism spectrum disorder (ASD) does not.

“Parents of children with dyslexia, speech/language difficulties, central auditory processing disorders, dyspraxia, and developmental disorders (not otherwise specified) report similar difficulty gaining support for their child,” Dr Graham said.

“It has led to doctor shopping, whereby parents visit multiple doctors to obtain a diagnosis for their child.

“This creates pressure to find a doctor or clinical psychologist who will agree that a child has a more ‘severe’ disability – a process called diagnostic substitution.”

Associate Professor Graham said diagnostic substitution can seem like a means to an end for desperate parents, but warned it could be a bad end for students.

“Ultimately, the problem is chronic underfunding of our schools and a lack of quality support for students with learning difficulties in regular classrooms,” she said.

“Although the current Federal government promised last year that the Gonski disability loadings would flow from 2016, this funding has been delayed.

“There are also concerns over the accuracy of the data on which the loadings were to be based.

“According to reports, some schools have identified as much as 25 per cent of their students with a disability, while others have identified as little as 2 per cent. Such discrepancies suggest a possible lack of procedural rigour and/or gaming of the system.

“But more money won’t necessarily lead to improved outcomes if it is going to be used for yet more teacher aide time, visuals, sensory vests, wobble chairs, and the like. The research evidence doesn’t support adhoc approaches but they are distressingly common on the ground.”

She urged improvement at the teaching front line through quality “differentiated classroom practice”.

“Classroom teachers need more time to plan, time to collaborate, time to engage in professional learning, and time to work individually with students who need a teacher’s expertise and guidance,” she said.

“Yet many teachers are still of the view that adjustments need only occur for 'verified' students. And so, the pressure to diagnose remains.”

Associate Professor Graham has called for a stable apolitical funding model that guarantees an adequate base resource standard regardless of where the child was educated but which provided additional funding for schools educating children experiencing disadvantage, including disability.