Sunday, 4 November 2012

Autism and mainstream schooling - do they really mix?

Today, I'm nervous. 

We've had a wonderful half term, filled with autumnal family walks, sibling happiness and harmony (mostly, but let's not get carried away and pretend it's all perfect round here....!), a baking day, play dates, an amazing trip to Moshi HQ, fireworks and swimming - twice. Sasha has been extra happy and on top form all week. We've shared cuddles and giggles (or 'the jokes', as Sasha likes to call them).

Later I have to tell her that tomorrow will be Monday, and that means Back To School.

I'm not sure how she will take this news, if I'm honest. Hence the nerves. I'm genuinely relieved that Sasha doesn't appear to hate school - a place where she is expected to conform and do as she is told constantly. I always thought it was going to be the hardest thing in the world, getting her out of the front door and into the car every morning. I thank my lucky stars daily that it hasn't come to that. Yet.

Last year, there was a boy in Sasha's class with autism. He had the added difficulty of less language/communication and was also diabetic, and so at the end of that school year the decision was taken to move him to 'Special' School. These are also known as MLD schools - that stands for Moderate Learning Difficulty. I did take a look around that school myself before we started Sasha in Reception, but the level of learning is well behind what Sasha needs, and the school was full of boys with maybe one or two girls. Sadly there are no BBNC (Bright But Non-Conforming) schools, which is probably where Sasha would fit in best.

The past half term was 8 weeks long, and it showed for all the children. They were getting tired and grumpy towards the end of it, desperately in need of their break from learning. Sasha is no different in that respect, and I could tell it was time for her teacher to have a break too!

Sasha started her first term in Year 1 off very well, thanks to some careful planning from the school and a lovely teacher who was ready to listen and help. She was given a floor space at the front of class, where she can feel involved and will actually listen better, and a peg at the end of the row, away from all the bumping and jostling that goes on in the morning. Earlier on than I expected, Sasha was happy to enter the classroom independently, once she had been loaded up with all her belongings. All was relatively calm.

Then 'little things' started to creep in. The spelling test was the first stumbling block - Sasha's refusal to write being the main problem. This was dealt with well, and Sasha is taken aside to a quiet space to spell her words to support staff or on the ipad, which works well for her. She can spell, luckily. We're happy with how her reading ability has developed - she will now read road signs out loud to us, although only of her own accord. I've tried asking her to read books or signs to us at home, but she generally refuses.

She can actually write her name perfectly well, but she seems to have developed a fear of trying any other words. The fact they are taught in joined up/cursive writing is probably not so helpful for Sasha - it makes the barrier slightly higher to jump.

Sadly Sasha was poorly and at home on the day I should have been having a consultation with her teacher to see how her learning in class has been going. I'm looking forward to that rearranged meeting sometime in the next couple of weeks. I'm dreading it in equal measure.

Towards the end of the half term, I was getting more and more reports back of general unhappiness and refusal to join in with class activities. As I've offered to help out in the classroom one afternoon a week, I did get to see some of this for myself. I'm not sure whether me being there is actually making things worse though, as Sasha clearly wants to be with me towards the end of the day when she is getting tired. I may have to reconsider this, which is a shame. I do know however, that she has been equally difficult on days when I've not been there. I've often been first in line to collect her at 310pm, but she has refused to leave the classroom and was to be found sitting in a corner sulking or upset about something or other.

I'm worried that a) the teachers don't really know why she's upset, or b) that they cannot, or will not make allowances for her to keep her happy. It's all a downwards spiral from there.

This next half term is probably the worst of the whole school year as far as ASD and I are concerned. The children are straight away thrown into the excitement of looking forward to Christmas, and with that comes 'festive' events and assemblies, and lots of rehearsals for the Nativity/Christmas play. Oh joy.

There is probably nothing I've enjoyed more than watching Tamsin in her school plays, but it's a whole different kettle of fish when it comes to Sasha's turn. I sit and hope that she will join in - if she does (very occasionally), I'm delighted, but I'm still on the edge of my seat waiting to see if it leads to confusion or a meltdown. Generally, I'm reminded in various ways of how different she is, and I have to admit that can be tough.

Tough also, for the teacher who has 29 other children in the class to mould into model students. I don't know how they explain away Sasha's non-participation, or even if the other children question it yet... but they will. Then what? At what point does it become breaking point? I'm scared for the future for Sasha, sitting here in the knowledge that there is no real school alternative for her. We just HAVE to make this work.


  1. This sounds all too familiar. I feel your pain, I really do. I was flicking through B's home/school book today and it makes for depressing reading. Like you, I think there is a level of schooling that is missing and as a result our children are shoved into an environment that cannot and does not suit them.
    One thing that gives me hope is my own school. I have seen a number of children on the spectrum join us in Year 7 looking utterly lost and unable to cope. Yet often they leave us in Year 11 and they have come so, so far. I can think of many young people who have really coped well and enter adulthood more prepared than would ever have seemed likely. I'm sure their journey there has had its share of troubles but ultimately they are alright. It's a long way off, but I'd say there was a good chance Sasha (and B) will get there too.
    Thanks for sharing this post. I'm sure it will help families who find themselves in similar situations.

    1. Thanks, it's nice to be given that hope for what may happen - no point dwelling on bad outcomes that far in the future! I guess having been through a huge disappointment with the private nursery, I just want to be prepared for the next step, whatever that may be, and have a plan B... (oh and I'm a poet and didn't know it, ha ha!!)

  2. Gosh - reading your post brought back so many memories. I could easily have been reading about my own son. I dreaded the christmas play rehearsals! I wish there were schools that were geared towards bright children who didn't conform as that would be perfect for J too. Would love to hear about your trip to moshi HQ (we are all huge moshi fans in our family as you probably have guessed from our blog). The fab thing was that last year instead of a Christmas play, being homeschooled, we had the freedom to do this...enjoy.

    1. Here's the Moshi post link: :)

    2. Ooh thank you - will take a look. My boys are going to want to have a read too. X

  3. the you tube link doesn't seem to have linked - it is our version of Moshi Twistmas. Let's try the link may have to copy and paste it in.

    1. love the video - wish I had time to make up things like that! Homeschooling still scares me though, would involve a massive amount of headspace and forward planning from me!

    2. Thanks - glad you liked the video. Homeschool terrified me too but we were left with no choice in the end (long story and really shocking stuff happened that you wouldn't even believe was possible these days in schools but we found out the hard way that it is). It has actually been the best choice we made for Josh and I'm pretty sure our family would not be together right now if we had tried to persevere with the education system because every day was just so stressful. We still have difficult days and I'm going to put a blog post up later with dans permission which gives a glimpse into what it is like for him as a sibling of an ASD child. X

    3. That'll be great, I'll keep an eye out for that. It is tough on the siblings... x

  4. Hi Steph; pleased to hear you've had a good half term break. As for school though, I get your worries. As you know, we've gone through the trauma of school twice now. My aspergers daughter is bright but processing and reading difficulties became too much for her; she couldn't keep up with her peers and of course throw in her ASD and mainstream became a nightmare. Personally I think a lot more could have been done to support her earlier which could have prevented the problems she has now, ie one to one support.

    As for the MLD school, I agree with you; they do tend to be populated by boys and they are generally less academic. Saying that though, I do know some parents who have got their higher functioning kids into them because the other alternative (mainstream) was just not doable. For them, controlling their children's anxiety and developing their confidence & self esteem became more important than academic success. I guess it depends on the child.

    However, have you looked around an ASD school? Even if its out of area, I would recommend you take a look because they can be very different. My son's special school just takes children with ASD. It is very different from a MLD school; staff have a particular expertise in ASD and there are options for academic or vocational qualifications. I'm impressed with my son's school and personally feel we need more of them in the country. Mainstream is fine for the few who can cope but for most kids on the spectrum large schools (particularly secondary) are just too much for them to cope with.

    Saying that though there are a few mainstream schools that do aim to be autistic friendly. I heard of a story of a young man with HFA who got thrown out of special school for behaviour ssues. He was out of school for ages so the local authority worked with a local mainstream school to develop an individualised and ASD friendly learning plan for him. It worked and he's been able to access learning once again so it just goes to show that sometimes special schools don't always work for some children either.

    Whatever you do in the future, I wish you well but I understand the anguish you're going through.


    1. Thanks Deb. I'm not really trying to aim for high academic standards, but I do obviously want her to be helped to achieve the best she can. There aren't any ASD schools in county which is the first stumbling block, and then the ones I do know of all seem to be for more 'severe' cases (Radlett Lodge is not too far from us)... she's 'not that bad' is an annoying phrase I've heard all too often. But you're right, I prob do need to start going investigating more school options...

  5. I have two boys with asd, one sort of likes school the other used to have a meltdown at the mere mention of it. Teachers don't seem to understand but it does get better with time. My lads we're lost in the system for years but now my eldest is 16 and in college and doing very well, he's come along way from the days when a meltdown would take over the entire morning. I belive children with asd just need a but of extra time learning lifes lessons but thy do find there own way sooner or latter. X

    1. Thanks Liz, glad things seem to have worked well for your eldest, and I expect you never thought they'd turn out that way?! So it's nice to be reminded there's always hope and change :)


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