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If you have a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), choosing a secondary school might come down to your local school options and how these different schools can support your child’s needs.

Secondary school options for children with autism spectrum disorder

There are different secondary school options in Australia. They include:

  • government schools, also called public or state schools
  • private schools, which include religious and independent schools
  • home-schooling and distance education.

There are also some schools that cater specifically for children and teenagers with additional needs. These schools might be government schools or private schools, with criteria to determine who can go to them.

Some schools are for children with intellectual disability, which can include some children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Others are specialist schools for children with ASD.

Different schools have different approaches to supporting children with ASD. For example, some government schools have a developmental program for children with additional needs. These children attend special classes specific to their needs and attend some mainstream classes as well.

Things to consider when choosing a secondary school for your child with autism spectrum disorder

Most families have to think about cost and location when they’re deciding on secondary schools for their children. As a parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you might also want to find out about the specific support, resources and programs that different schools can offer your child.

Here are some questions you can ask the schools you’re considering. Some questions might be more important to you than others.

School statistics, policies, expectations and attitudes

  • How many students with ASD and additional needs does the school have? What types of additional needs do children at the school have?
  • What policies does the school have to support students with additional needs?
  • What does the school expect from students with additional needs? For example, what is the school attendance policy for students with additional needs?
  • Is there a positive and accepting attitude towards diversity in the school community?
  • What’s the school’s bullying policy, and how is it enforced?
  • What’s the school’s policy for allowing external professionals like therapists and clinicians to advise staff and/or participate in programs?

Resources and practical support for students

  • What resources and facilities are available for students with ASD and additional needs? For example, are there independent study rooms, or rooms with fluorescent lights turned off?
  • What types of support services and wellbeing, pastoral care or peer mentoring programs does the school have?
  • Does the school have a staff member experienced in working with students with ASD who can be your child’s main contact?
  • Will teachers help students with ASD self-manage, so students can get the most out of classroom and other activities? For example, if a student uses a timer to focus on specific activities, would the teachers support this? 
  • How does the school monitor students leaving the school grounds at the end of the day? For example, do teachers supervise students at the school gates or students getting on to school or public buses?

Communication

  • How does the school communicate with parents about their children with additional needs? Is this through the children – for example, sending notes home? Or does the school talk directly with parents or use support staff like psychologists or social workers?
  • How do teaching staff share information with each other about how students with additional needs handle different situations and tasks?

Curricular and extracurricular activities

  • Are students with additional needs fully included in all curricular and co-curricular programs (school clubs, student council and so on), wherever possible? Are there alternatives or adjustments made for students with additional needs?
  • Does the school give children with additional needs the chance to do work experience?
  • What does the school offer during free times at school? For example, are there any clubs and extracurricular activities like walking groups, book clubs, gardening or music programs?

Sensory processing issues and needs
Is the school willing to cater for the sensory needs of children with ASD by:

  • allowing regular movement breaks when needed?
  • adjusting the lighting, heating or cooling in classrooms, or cutting down background noise from air conditioners, ceiling fans or other noisy sources?
  • seating students in classroom areas that are most likely to reduce the students’ social anxiety?
  • limiting physical contact, if children don’t like being touched?
  • putting colourful artwork and other bright objects in places where they’re less likely to distract or overwhelm students with ASD?
  • encouraging students to use coping strategies like listening to music on headphones, bringing comfort items into the classroom, or doodling.

Visiting secondary schools you’re interested in

All secondary schools have open days to show off school grounds, classrooms, facilities and programs.

You can also make private appointments to visit the school or schools you’re interested in. These visits can give you the chance to:

  • talk to school staff in detail about how the schools put their policies into practice
  • look into support programs
  • meet the staff who run support programs. 

Video Choosing high schools for teenagers with autism spectrum disorder

If you’re choosing a high school for your teenage child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it’s good to know what options are available and what you want your child to get out of high school.

In this short video, experts explain high school options and parents talk about how they chose high schools for their children with ASD. They suggest some questions you could ask when you’re visiting schools.

Services and school support options vary around Australia, so contacting your state or territory education department is a good starting point.

 
Regardless of your friends’ opinions or the school’s reputation, you need to be happy that the school matches your family’s values and your child’s learning preferences, and that it’s the one that will give your child the most opportunities to do well in her areas of interest.
 
 
 
  • Last updated or reviewed 01-06-2017
  • Acknowledgements This article was developed in collaboration with Sarah and Tim Chan, Donna Williams and Akash Temple.