Behaviour Matters

Posts tagged ‘mainstream’

Can mainstream education meet the needs of children with Autism

Autism in mainstream schools is becoming quite popular both with parents and schools. Many parents want their child to entre the local mainstream primary school for many reasons
• It is local so makes life a little easier in the mornings
• Their child goes to school with his/her peers
• Socialising is good for the child with autism
• Many parents want to see their child as ‘normal’
• With no diagnosis mainstream is the obvious choice
• School say they understand and parents are content
• Even with a diagnosis schools say they understand as they have had children previously with the condition.
• Schools reassure parents that staff members are trained and if necessary they will bring in more support.

The list will go on, but I am sure if you are an Autism parent you will recognise some of the points above. Some of the feelings and expectations you had before your child started his or her new school.

From many of the stories and experiences I have had over just the past 18 months the reality of a child with Autism in mainstream schools is very different to that promised or expected. I do realise that many schools are excellent and support children extremely well; their training is up to date and relevant and has been delivered with both the needs of the child and the needs of the school in mind. I am also aware that the stories I hear may not be the norm and my experiences are usually at the extreme. Never the less they are real and they are happening in the British education system now.

Taking each point individually.

• It is local so makes life a little easier in the mornings

Where this may be true as any autism parent will tell you mornings are difficult no matter what time you get up or how organised you are. If the child is young they will inevitably lose something (this is partly normal for any child in primary school). They you add in changes in routines due to weather or clocks changing, unusual sleep patterns and uniforms and mornings are busy, being local may remove some stress but having a taxi to collect your child and take them to the school gate can be a blessing.

• Their child goes to school with his/her peers

The child with Autism may not be aware of their peers, so is it important they go to school with them? I know many parents will still want this and I can understand it, but really it should be more about what the child needs.

• Socialising is good for the child with autism

I cannot disagree that socialising is good for all children, but it is important to remember that if your child with Autism is falling behind in their education they will notice and this could have a negative impact on their social skills and their education. Socialising with children of similar ability and who may act in a similar way may have a much more beneficial affect on your child.

• Many parents want to see their child as ‘normal’

This point may be controversial. First there is the question of ‘normal’. Then there is acceptance on the part of the parent. Every parent I speak to loves their child unconditionally; they see the child they have as normal for them. This is all you can ask for.

• With no diagnosis mainstream is the obvious choice

If your child with Autism is your first child and you have no other children to compare them with you may not see that they are different, you enrol them into the local school as this is the most natural thing to do. You may have noticed that your child is a little different to others but you consider this to be individuality. As a parent you have developed strategies that work and assume all parents are doing the same thing.

• School say they understand and parents are content

At the pre-enrolment stage you may discuss your concerns with the teachers, they say that they understand and you believe them, why would you not. This is their job they understand children and know how to cope with them.

• Even with a diagnosis schools say they understand as they have had children previously with the condition.

The school explain that they have had many children with Autism previously and they understand the differences and difficulties they may face. This may be true. You as a parent take this on board and believe they will do the best for your child. You have discussed your concerns and explained your child’s difficulties and the school are happy to accept him/her.

• Schools reassure parents that staff members are trained and if necessary they will bring in more support.

Another controversial point here, based on my experience. The school will accept any child onto the school roll, begin the school year with minimal extra support if any until they get top a point of realisation that they cannot cope, and then get in the extra support. Many parents need to fight for this and it can take a long time, during which time the child is not achieving goals or enjoying school. The long term effects of this can be very negative for parents and children.

In reality, over the last 18 months I have witnessed or hear of children being permanently excluded due to behaviour that teachers cannot cope with (or maybe don’t understand), children being locked in cupboards as a way of coping with behaviour, schools wanting the child to change to fit the school system, children either refusing to use school toilets causing constipation or being sent home in soiled nappies as no one can get close enough to him to change him. I find this all unacceptable. Then while I was writing this I have found a tweet that made me smile and remember the good practice out there. One parent has sent me a tweet saying how excellent the mainstream school her son attends has excelled at welcoming her child even changing the curriculum for him. So there is good practice out there.

So don’t be afraid to shout and complain and fight for your child, it is a difficult road, but very worthwhile. You may be tired and feel you are fighting a loosing battle but you need to keep fighting. There are many others out there fighting the same fight, both parents and organisations.