School

Whilst the above scenario seems amusing, can you imagine the trouble a child would get into if the conversation were carried out with a teacher rather than a parent? Undoubtedly there are some teachers who may indeed understand an autistic child's way of thinking, however I am certain that there are far more who don't and would be forgiven for thinking that a child was merely being cheeky.

All parents with an autistic child at any place on the spectrum know far too well the difficulties that arise when trying to find appropriate education for our children. To be fair, most professionals working with children on the autistic spectrum know how hard these children are to place. The nature of autism is that the children have an uneven profile and so whilst a child may have limited communication they may not have learning difficulties at all or may indeed have problems in one area but be way above average in another. Autism is pervasive and school is one place that causes stress for the children, parents and teachers alike.

Whatever school a child is placed in and however much they appear to enjoy it, school is a stressful experience for all children and even more so for those that are different in any way. Most of you parents reading this will have experienced your own particular battle with the education system in order for your child to be understood and properly provided for. I have written a bit about advocacy in Chapter 5, included useful websites at the back of the book and there are many books written on educational issues, so all I am going to say about the subject is to arm yourself with information and to fight for your child's rights.

At a recent conference about challenging behaviour, Rita Jordan was speaking to teachers and professionals and I was delighted to hear her reiterate something which I know a lot of parents would agree with and have been saying worldwide for a long time. I cannot remember her exact quote but she commented that it is not only children who disrupt the class and the teachers who present challenging behaviour, but also the ones who are withdrawn from school by their parents because they are unhappy, the ones who sit quietly in class and pick their nails till they bleed or the ones who contain all their emotions, only to explode the minute they cross their front door at home. How true that is!

Ben is flexi schooled and so attends a special school on a part time basis and I teach him at home for the rest ofthe time. More and more parents of children of all colours of the autistic spectrum, often after several years of battle for understanding and support for their child, are choosing to home educate their autistic children, believing that it is impossible to fit a 'square peg in a round hole' (Andrea Stephenson 2001).

For us, flexi schooling works very well although, as with most autistic children, Ben is situational. What he does at school is strictly for school and what he does at home is for home. At school Ben doesn't strip his clothes off, doesn't flap his hands, doesn't spin around and doesn't throw massive tantrums...he saves those exclusively for me! How many parents of children on the autistic spectrum have heard "We don't see any of those behaviours at school"? Even children on the more severe end of the autistic spectrum often behave in a very different way at school to at home. Many autistic children also learn to contain themselves at school, often enduring many difficult situations or trying to run an 'emulator' and do what is expected of them. How many people have been to a party or a meeting with people who they don't really get along with, and managed to smile sweetly throughout? How many of you have then gone home only to flop on the couch and want leaving alone or gone home in a foul mood and snapped at other members of the family? How much more are our autistic children likely to feel this way after spending five days a week at school and trying hard to make sense of the world and pretend to be normal?

There are many ways in which schools can make life easier for our autistic children (and therefore for themselves). Autistic children are visual learners. Wherever a child is on the autistic spectrum, they will benefit from information being given to them clearly both verbally and preferably backed up by something visual. The use ofPECS, PCS and Social Stories (see Useful Websites) are invaluable in presenting information clearly, helping the child to make choices and generally taking the stress out ofprocessing the information presented to them. This not only makes their life easier at school but also reduces the amount of fallout experienced at home. A school following a TEACCH (see Therapies and interventions at the end of the chapter) approach and providing a child with their own workstation and structured environment is far more likely to provide an environment conducive to learning than a chaotic and unstructured environment.

Autism

Autism

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