Some Autistic children cope in mainstream schools but there are so many children with Autism and children with Sensory Processing Disorder stuck in the wrong educational environment.
The problem starts with the majority of children receiving a diagnosis too late, or finding it too hard without the support of a school to get an EHC Plan in time to specify a school environment their child needs to be in.
For some, the process of getting an EHC Plan after starting school can take literally years. The reason being that in order for the school to apply, they have to prove they are spending thousands of extra pounds on the child in question. This means they have to spend the money to get the money.
This often leaves children unsupported in mainstream environments that might not suit them, causing years of stress and heartache for both the parents and the child.
Some schools are more understanding than others and many will make reasonable adjustments for these children to help them cope. The issues come when the environment is the problem. When there are too many people, the lights are wrong, there aren’t enough staff to meet the child’s needs or the playground is too busy.
A child may end up having measures put in place. They may stay inside by themselves at lunch time, eat in their own room to avoid the dining room. They might be excused from assembly and PE and Music. They might work in the corridor or take breaks from lessons or wear ear defenders all day. Yes their needs may be being met but is it ideal? Would they not be better off somewhere else?
A large majority of children in this position aren’t happy. The environmental stress builds up through the day and they become overwhelmed. Often getting in trouble and even refusing school due to their anxieties. The parents end up under tremendous stress, they have to get their distressed child to school every day. They have to deal with the meltdowns every night. They are called into school, told their child is badly behaved, face meeting after meeting and are often called upon to take the child home or keep them home for a large portion of the day.
There are other alternatives. There are mainstream schools with Autism units attached where the children’s needs are well cared for and they are supported well, spending time in both the unit and the classroom.
There are specialist schools just for Autistic children, giving a more understanding and calmer, especially adapted environment.
There are other specialist schools who also cater for children with Autism that have small class sizes and high teacher to pupil ratios.
But all of these options require the school to be named on an EHC Plan and that requires getting one for the child in the first place!
So there are many children stuck in mainstream waiting to be able to apply for EHC Plans for which they may have to go through an appeal process to get. Or fighting a decision to name their current school on their EHC Plan because the current school is “meeting their needs”.
For each of these children there is a parent at home worrying every day, crying secret tears at night and wondering if the environment their child is in is so damaging that they would be better off at home.
We have been in this position. My son was in a mainstream Primary school with thirty children in his class. He has ASD and SPD and struggles with crowds, noise, understanding social situations, artificial lights and takes everything literally. Due to waiting lists it took years to get him a diagnosis and when he was eventually diagnosed at the age of nine, it then took two years to get an EHC Plan. When he eventually got the plan he was in year six and even though I had been fighting to move him out of mainstream they named his school because it was already “meeting his needs”.
Were they meeting his needs? After he was diagnosed they were trying. They made adjustments and put measures in place but these measures were inconsistent. He needed one to one support all through school and only got this in year six. He was allowed to arrive at school five minutes early so he didn’t have to walk into a crowded room. He was allowed to leave five minutes early so he didn’t have to walk out with everyone. He wasn’t allowed outside at dinner time. He ate in a small room because he couldn’t cope with the dining room. He did not change for PE, didn’t do music and sat in the corridor for assembly. He was sent home at times and he missed school trips.
Was he happy? Did he like school? No. He hated it. He refused to go every morning. He was constantly upset. He had meltdowns at school, was bullied, got in trouble all the time for “bad behaviour” such as headbutting walls. He googled how to kill himself on the school computers and ended up being a “persistent absentee” for missing a day a week to see a Psychologist because he was suicidal.
So yes, the school made provisions but because of the environment, my son was never going to cope there despite them “meeting his needs”. Primary school was, in short, an absolute nightmare for us.
I didn’t actually manage to get him out of mainstream until he went into year seven and that was after an extensive battle with the council assessment team, to try and get him into the school he is at now. They wanted to put him into a behavioural school which could “meet his needs” by him staying at home and doing one maths and one English assignment a week online. I fought all the way to appeal to get him into his current school.
Now he is in a class of seven children with three teachers, in a school with forty pupils. The classrooms have large windows which let natural light in. There are three family style dining rooms where teachers and a small number of pupils eat together. They do lessons, go to forest school once a week and have very clear rules and a great reward system in place. Learning is as much focussed on social and life skills as it is on academic subjects and therapy is available when needed. This school 100% meets my sons needs as it is the right environment for him. He is happy, calm, well behaved and learning!
I so very often hear upset parents, at their wits end because their child is not happy or understood at school, despite being told a school is able to meet their child’s needs. I feel that all children deserve to be in a school that properly meets their needs by providing the right environment and education for the individual child. I feel that if adjustments need to be put in place to the extent that a child is effectively excluded from the general life of the school then that school probably is not meeting the needs of that child. I might get shouted at for saying this but school places should be allocated more on the actual needs of children, rather than the amount of funding available. At the end of the day, the right school place can make a massive difference to a child’s mental health and to their future!
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