Where will my child go to school? This is a question every parent is faced with, and it can be an overwhelming time. Mainstream school, satellite/support class, special needs school, public, private, independent, or for some families, home schooling… there are many options to consider.
Support from professionals and from other parents can be so valuable during this period. Make sure you consult with the professionals who work with your child and talk to parents at the schools you are considering.
It’s so important that you are prepared for what can be a very demanding time.
Some golden rules and considerations when it comes to choosing a school:
Start early – Look into the different options available well ahead of time. Many metropolitan areas have “school expos,” where prospective families can consider a wide range of schools. Most schools have web sites and offer school tours on a periodic basis.
Waitlist – Put you name down on the waitlist of every school you are interested in. You never know which one will become available, and it’s good to keep you options open.
Do they want you? – Enrolling your child at school should not be a fight. Choose a school that wants to include your child and your family. It may not be always be smooth sailing, but the school should want to have your child as part of their community.
Culture – Make sure you meet the principal and other key players (e.g. the head of learning support), take a tour of the school and get a sense of what the school culture and environment is like.
Respect – Choose schools who will value and respect your child, their abilities and their differences.
Input – Consider schools who are willing to welcome parent / professional input when it comes to the best interests of your child.
Be positive – Be proactive and informed, but still positive and polite. People will always be more responsive if they are respected.
Your child’s rights – know your child’s rights and where to turn for help We have listed great resources below around this.
What are you doing? - a film about autism
In 2012, we created a valuable resource to help students better understand their peers on the autism spectrum.
The aim of the film was to educate school children about ASD so that they could accept their peers on the spectrum, understand why they behave in the ways they do and become moreaccepting and inclusive.
Our film ‘What are you doing?’, along with accompanying teaching materials, was distributed to every school in Australia, totalling over 10,000 copies nationwide.
Click here to watch the trailer
To watch the full film and find out more, click here
The school years can be divided into different stages:
Looking for a primary school
This can be such a challenging time. Many schools are simply not at all welcoming. You may be unsure as to whether a specialist school or a mainstream school will work best.
The Australian Autism Handbook has a great chapter called “Choosing the right school.” We highly recommend reading this before you begin the process.
See the below websites to search for all schools in Australia
Choosing a primary school for children with autism – Raising Children Network
Looking for a high school
Again there is the stress of looking for a school that will welcome your family and work with you to provide the best possible environment to support your teenager in the high school years.
The transition to high school is also often a stressful period for children. The change in environment, daily routine, academic structure and expectations is challenging for many students with autism.
Start planning and preparing early! With limited places and sometimes long waitlists it can take a long time to find the right school.
Some helpful resources:
Choosing a high school for children with autism – Raising Children Network
Transition from high school to adult life
Each state has a different system for transitioning young people from school into life beyond. Young people have enormously varied needs and so whilst one young woman may head to university with only a little support, another might go into a program which supports her higher needs.
You can find help and advice, aimed at young people with ASD and their parents too, on the Autism Launchpad website. www.autismlaunchpad.org.au
Educational advocacy & rights
We recognise that sometimes, even with the best mindset and investigation, it still might be a challenging process to find a school that best meets your child’s individual needs. There are some valuable sources for information and educational advocacy in case families need extra support and counsel.
Educational rights for children with disability – Raising Children Network
Inclusion Toolkit for Parents – All Means All
Bullying can have a horrible effect on its victims, and children and teens with special needs are at particular risk of being targeted.
Below are some valuable resources that can be leveraged by parents/carers, teachers, and young people themselves to help prevent and address bullying.
We appreciate that links alone cannot solve this crisis. It requires the commitment from families, communities, and schools — especially our schools — to insist upon a “No Tolerance” policy toward bullying while promoting an environment that is understanding and accepting of differences.
Bullying prevention for children with ASD – Dr. Debra Peplar
Bullying no way – Australian Government
Preventing bullying a guide for parents – Kidscape
Our top eight 'back to school' tips
Returning to school after the summer holiday break can often be a difficult transition for many children and teenagers on the autism spectrum. Starting a new class, or a new school, can cause anxiety and uncertainty. New teachers, unfamiliar environments, new curriculum can all be stressful and overwhelming for individuals on the spectrum. Here are our 8 top tips to help them prepare for a successful school year
- Start in advance – talk to your child about what to expect well before the school holidays are over.
- Countdown the days – have a calendar and mark off the days until school starts.
- Visit the school/Meet the teacher – if possible, visit the school/classroom before school re commences and meet your new teacher.
- Communication – help your child’s new teacher get to know them. Prepare a one page summary of your child for the teacher, describing their strengths, challenges, triggers and best methods of support.
- Practice – summer holidays are long and it’s easy to forget some of the skills they’ve already mastered! Practice social skills, playground etiquette, daily skills and communication to help make the start of the school year easier.
- Routine – establish a school routine and practice it before school recommences. Make sure you have a visual schedule of the routine for your child to follow.
- Anxiety – spend time talking with your child about how they are feeling. Answer any questions they have and discuss ways they can help manage their anxiety.
- Be organised – make sure you are organised and ready for the first day of school. The more prepared you are, the smoother it will be for your child.