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Autism and Mainstream Schooling

December 5, 2020

As our second child turned three years old, he still wasn’t communicating. Nothing but the odd “Mama” and “Dada.” At the time, we thought that perhaps he would be a late starter—all kids’ development differs from one day to the
next after all.

Autism and Mainstream SchoolingAs time rolled on, family and friends always attempted to keep us positive by saying, “It’s all right, he’ll start talking
any day now.”

But as parents we knew something wasn’t quite right. My wife reluctantly admitted she had always known there was
something different about his behavior. For me, it was always harder to accept; we all want a mentally and physically healthy child, right?

When his speech finally did begin some six months later, he slurred, causing us to believe he may have been slightly deaf. This could have been the proof we needed of why he was so late in starting. We obviously knew he wasn’t completely deaf as he reacted to our voices, but when the hearing test was carried out, he passed without an issue.

My son was then referred to the CDC to track his development and finally had the autism diagnosis.

My wife and I wanted nothing but to try and keep normality in his life. Being around his own age group could be beneficial in his development. As junior school was on the horizon, some things had started to worry us. Issues of bullying in the playground and not having the attention of his teachers started to cause a considerable amount of concern. We fought to get him a full-time school assistant, in which we were successful.

However, due to lack of resources, the assistant inevitably started taking on added duties with the rest of the class. Our conscience began questioning whether our son would be suited to mainstream school, a balancing act weighing up the pros and cons for both.

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He’d made some good friends in school, but heartbreakingly, we knew these friends would outgrow him and he’d eventually become a hindrance. The fundamental fact was he still struggled to keep up with his peers in the learning environment. If we were to move him then we wanted him to enjoy his time there and come home with a smile on his face.

As a team made up of my wife, the teaching assistant, and myself, we decided to visit a few special schools with positive reputations. We initially visited three schools in the town to see which would suit our son. As he thrives in a quieter environment, it was imperative we found a calm, relaxed atmosphere. We found such an atmosphere at school number two on our list.

The small building is hidden behind a mainstream junior school, overlooking the countryside. The staff are all trained in working with special needs children, and with three teachers to each class of twelve children, our son would get some one-on-one time to learn. Not only that, but students progress through junior, secondary, and even sixth form at their own pace and learn at their individual and intellectual levels.

Over long and hard internal anguish, we decided to transfer him to this new school. No one can say for certain whether we made the right choice—who knows what path mainstream school would have taken him in. It hit my wife the hardest; no matter how much reassurance I gave her, it didn’t help the fact she questioned our decision to move him every day, and still does.

All we can say is that he appears to be a much happier child on a level playing field with his peers. He’s made new friends, as well as still being invited to parties from the kids at his former school. The new school enjoys great activities such as gardening in a small allotment on site, baking, weekly swimming, and themed days (this week it’s Roald Dahl).

The main thing I focus on is that he seems settled and content. His writing and reading are starting to develop. He has a new wave of creativity, wanting to draw and make masks of his favorite superheroes. I have no doubt moving schools has been the right choice for our son’s long-term future and wellbeing. No one can say whether it ultimately casts a shadow on him living a normal life, but when he gets off his transport bus with a smile on his face, that’s all we can ask for.

This article was featured in Issue 107 – Caring for Your Autism Family

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