All through primary school I felt like I was fighting a battle for my son. A battle to get the school to make reasonable adjustments to help my son access an education, his legal and human right.
Why then was it such a battle? Both my son and I were told on a frequent basis that the school or teacher could not be seen as making special allowances for my son. That it wasn’t fair on the other children. That all children had to be treated equally so to make an adjustment for my son that looked like special treatment would make the other children and parents sad.
Now I have to say here that I was not asking for my son to be able to sit and watch TV all day or eat sweets when no one else could. I was asking for things like allowing me to physically take my son to his classroom and hand him over to the TA, or letting him go inside at lunch time if the playground became too much for him and allowing him supervised breaks from the classroom if he got too stressed.
So this begs the question, what is equality and treating all children equally? I would like to argue that equality is not treating all children the same, but treating all children with fairness and non-discrimination. Giving all children the means to access their education so they all have the same chance to achieve.
Schools have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments for children with disabilities. If a school had a child in a wheelchair, I expect they would arrange for that child’s class to be in a downstairs room for the year or arrange for them to use a lift. Yet if a child is autistic it would be seen as a nuisance to make such an adjustment, even though that adjustment might actually really help the child access their education, by enabling them to access the classroom more easily, without having to tackle crowded staircases.
Unfortunately far too often parents of Autistic children are receiving negative replies when asking for reasonable adjustments to be made for their child in school. They are often met with excuses as to why measures can not be put in place. Sometimes even, measures put in place are suddenly taken away because the child should have “grown out of it” or should have “got used to it”. This leaves children confused and stressed and parents feeling like they are in a constant battle with the school or teacher.
All too often the child is seen as the problem, instead of their environment. Schools expect children with hidden disabilities to be able to cope without the school having to adjust, but for most children with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorders the environment needs to be changed in order for them to cope.
Just like you would expect a classroom to be rearranged to accommodate a wheelchair, you should expect a learning environment to be changed to accommodate an Autistic child.
These children and their parents should be treated with more understanding. The parents/carers know their child’s needs and the suggestions they make will not only help their child to access their education but will indirectly help the other children in the class, who would be distracted by the results of not making reasonable adjustments for autistic children.
Schools need to start making more reasonable adjustments for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Sensory Processing Disorders. Only when they do this, will they be treating these children with equality.
Simple adjustments such as allowing children breaks from the classroom, excusing them from assemblies or finding them somewhere quieter to eat. Keeping their TA the same, allowing them to know in advance who their teacher will be the following year, letting them enter the classroom five minutes early or to go inside at playtimes, should not be seen as special treatment, so much as measures put in place to enable those children to access their education.
Some other great examples of reasonable, simple and cost effective things teachers can implement in their classrooms to make them more inclusive for children with Autism can be found in this article.
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