Guest Author - Vicki McCarthy
Knowing where to educate your child with autism/Asperger syndrome is a tough call for parents, given that the choices are very limited with the decline in special education schools. More choices should be given, but unfortunately due to lack of funding and resources many parents find themselves dissatisfied with their child’s education.
Also due to the nature of autism/Asperger syndrome educators can fail to see the underlying difficulties a child has as they are not always physically evident. The child can appear to “cope” and very often they can be placed in an inappropriate educational setting. The implications for the child and their family can be devastating when they fail to receive an appropriate education which caters for their needs.
As a parent it is important to continually evaluate your child’s educational needs, as these can change as your child changes and as a parent it can seem like an immense task trying to stay on top of things.
So what choices are there?
• Mainstream/ public school is the most likely place a child who has autism/Asperger’s syndrome will be educated either with or without one-to-one support. When the right supports are in place and staff are trained in autism, then a child can receive a meaningful education. However more and more parents are finding that their child receives no additional support and that staff members are not always trained.
• Some mainstream educational establishments have autism/Asperger’s or communication and language bases attached to them thus allowing the child to gain “the best of both words.” They are able to spend part of their day with their neurotypical peers and the rest of the time with autism specialist teachers who may have a better understanding of the childs needs. There are many strategies that can be used within these specialist settings which are of great benefit to the children, but there aren’t enough places in these units to cope with the growing demand of children being diagnosed.
• Another alternative is a specialist autism school. Again these are few and far between and can be very difficult to gain admission to. Although the child may gain from specialist intervention for the duration of their school day, the downside may be that they have to travel several miles there and back each day or possibly have to become residential pupils, thus being away from their parents and family life, which may have a detrimental effect on their well-being.
• General Special Education schools can also be an option. This type of school accepts children with all different diagnosis and special needs. However the numbers are declining and many are being closed down – despite the increasing demand for more.
• Private schools may be an option for some children and can offer more choice as parents are not limited to what is being offered. However, this is largely dependent on their financial situation and the perfect school may not be a viable financial option. Whilst school districts will sometimes provide funding or perhaps partial funding there can be great difficulty in obtaining this.
• An increasing number of parents are choosing the option of home tuition. This is a great alternative when the child is too stressed or anxious within a school setting. There is concern however, that if the child is kept in isolation from their peer group then they may never learn how to interact socially. But many parents would argue that although their child with autism/Asperger' syndrome may appear to interact with other children in school it is not meaningful and therefore not really worthwhile interaction. Homeschooling can also put immense pressure on parents and again is dependent on family circumstances. When homeschooling does work it can be a valuable experience for both child and parent.
• Online education is becoming increasingly popular and there are growing numbers of websites that are catering for children with autism/Asperger’s syndrome. They offer curriculum based work and other enjoyable activities. This can tie in very nicely with the homeschooling option.
Deciding which schooling option is best for your child is no easy task, given the limited amount of choices available. However it is possible that your child will receive the education they deserve, best suited to their needs, thus allowing them to become an exceptional adult.