Education can make a real difference for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) (The National Autistic Society, 2014). Your child with ASD has the right to the same educational opportunities as all other children (Raising Children Network, 2013). Preparing for school is a complex process when you have a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder and planning for the transition to school should start as early as possible (Autism Victoria, 2015).
The following will help you with your planning:
There are various options to the type of school you would want your child to enrol in. Mainstream schools (regular private and public), international schools, special schools and home-schooling are some of the types of schools for you to choose from.
The first thing to think about is what you want for your child and what is best for his needs.
The next step is finding out how and where you can access the schooling you think will be best. It is a good idea to start looking for a school early, to give you and your child plenty of time to get ready for starting school.
You can also think about whether the school has access to specialist teaching and services such as psychology, speech and language or occupational therapy. Will it give your child the chance to socialise with children who don’t have ASD, and to take part in extracurricular activities such as music or sports?
Once you have decided on your chosen schooling option, make a list of preferred schools and get in touch with them to get a feel for each school. Here are some things to consider after that first contact call:
- Did you feel welcomed by a senior staff member?
- Did they readily accept your child’s right to attend their school?
- Were they aware of Autism Spectrum Disorder, or indicate that they were willing to learn?
- Are there other students with special needs attending the school?
- Did you get a sense that the school had an attitude of treating all students as individuals with individual needs?
A positive school environment is one where you and your child are made welcome, your concerns are addressed in a timely way, and the staff show a keen interest in learning about Autism Spectrum Disorder and how to teach your child.
Make appointments with the schools you want to visit. Here are some pointers to help assess the school’s suitability:
- Try to speak to the class teachers and the teacher aides, as well as the principal. This will help you see how open they are to two-way communication.
- If possible, talk to parents of children with ASD or other special needs at the school. You could ask them about their experience of talking with teachers and other staff and how well the school has handled any concerns they’ve had.
- Ask about how children’s progress is evaluated. This will give you an idea of how well the school adapts to the changing needs of children with ASD as they grow and develop.
- Ask how the school responds to children’s varying needs. Not all children with ASD need the same style of teaching.
- Ask to see some examples of how the school does its education plans for children with special needs. This can help you see how relevant it would be for your child. Also ask how often the plans are evaluated and updated.
- Try to have a look at the playground at lunch or break time. This will give you an idea of the way other students behave.
Here is a list a questions to ask the school during your visit:
- What assistance will be provided in the playground?
- Is the school prepared to be flexible to meet the needs of your child?
- How does the school address the issue of bullying?
- How will you communicate regularly with the teacher?
- What support is there for transition time?
- What behaviour management approaches does the school use?
Amaze (Autism Victoria) (2015), Starting School – the Primary School Years, retrieved from http://www.amaze.org.au/discover/about-autism-spectrum-disorder/starting-school-the-primary-school-years/
Amaze (Autism Victoria) (2015), Information Sheet: Questions to Ask Schools, retrieved from http://www.amaze.org.au/uploads/2011/08/Fact-Sheet-Questions-to-ask-schools-Dec-20141.pdf
Raising Children Network (2013), Choosing a primary school for children with autism spectrum disorder, retrieved from http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/autism_spectrum_disorder_primary_school.html/context/1367