Onscreen text: General factors
Sharon (mother of 2 children, including 1 autistic child): The school that we’ve selected for Peter came highly recommended from our family services coordinator, who was a psychologist as well. And the fact that we’ve also chosen a school that is visible to him every day – the school’s up the road, and he goes past and he goes [waving] ‘Bye school!’ you know, and does all that kind of stuff. So giving something that is familiar to his environment, highly structured, good integration, aide support.
Joanne (mother of 4 children, including 1 autistic child): If you go to a public school you have your aides funded. If you go to a Catholic primary school or an independent primary school, you don’t have the funding for those aides. So, umm, it didn’t narrow down our options too much because there are so many good public schools in the area that we live and it was just a matter of finding the right public school.
Marita (mother of 2 autistic children): When we were looking at schools for my oldest daughter, we looked at a lot in the area with a view to, hopefully, her younger sister coming to that school as well. And the school we ended up choosing, it’s on an intersection of two quite busy streets. They’ve got big fences all around and the gates are locked during the day. So for a kid who wanders off, that was a really big... I just looked at it and went, ‘Oh, I love this’ [laughs]. And the whole building is insulated, so it’s soundproofed, because they’re on the corner of a busy street. So when you’ve got a kid who’s really sensitive to noise... We just walked in and you couldn’t actually hear the cars going by outside, there was no distractions, and that was kind of... Quite aside from the fact that the staff were lovely and the principal was really nice, we just went ‘Wow, the physical environment of this school is perfectly suited for us.’
Sharon: Factors such as sensory factors, flexible moving spaces, things like that – they’re things that we have to be very, very conscious of. Soft lighting, you know, not overly colourful, you know, all those kinds of things. Some things that deter Peter but you can’t go in and start changing everything. You just need to be conscious and ‘Oh, we need to be aware of that; what strategy can we put in place to help support those kinds of things?’
Alison (mother of 2 children, including 1 with Asperger’s): We decided on the same school that Eryl goes to. The classes were a little smaller, there was more individual – maybe not individual attention – but they wanted the parents to be quite involved. So, I wanted to be around, and to be able to be at school and do things that... just to keep in touch and see what was going on. Also, with the smaller school, there was no trying out for anything. So if he wanted to be in the choir, he wanted to be in the cricket team, he wanted to be in the music group, then you were. And so I wanted him to be able to try different things without having to try out or miss out because even back then, there was very limited things that he would want to do. So that way he had the opportunity just to give things a go without there being that pressure on him to succeed or fail.
Shannon (father of 4 children, including 3 autistic children): Well we needed a school that was understanding. Understand us and Dominic and actually learn to grow with him. And find out what his needs are, and sort of work with that and be approachable. The school he’s in now, we can ring them up and say ‘We’re not quite happy about such-and-such, you know, can we change it or do something?’ And they’re willing to do anything. In some ways we sort of left it a bit up to Dominic because he’s a very good judge of character.
And some schools we went into he didn’t take to. But the school he’s in now, he took to straight away.
Marie (mother of 2 children, including 1 autistic child): We say ‘What do you think about the school?’ and if he has a good feel about it, he tends to do well there.
Onscreen text: Factors to consider: Mainstream or specialist schools
Joanne: Xalie and Flynn both attend different schools at the moment. Flynn is higher functioning academically. He is what they call ‘high functioning autism’, verging on Asperger’s, which is where he’s heading. Xalie is more classic autism, so her speech is not as strong as Flynn’s and her academic skills are also not as strong as Flynn’s. He goes to a mainstream school five days a week. He has an aide for fifteen hours. My daughter goes to what they call a base room, so she is technically enrolled at the special developmental school but attends a mainstream primary school in a base room scenario. There’s six children in the class, there’s a teacher and an aide. And she gets integration with the mainstream children, various days a week. So the benefits are: the teaching in a small environment – the primary teaching – but being able to play in the playground with the children who are typically developing, and integrating into their classrooms for some time of that week.
Sharon: Putting Peter into kinder, into mainstream kinder was a really positive move for us.
Rachel (mother of 4 children, including 3 autistic children): We sent him to an autism-specific program. For him it really was not the right choice for him – to go to that autism school. I think at the school they had mostly kids who were at the higher functioning end of the spectrum but a lot of them had different quirks and different symptoms of their autism that Dominic had never seen before. And he did it and he liked it, or it was just a habit and I think, yeah, for him, it’s better for him to be in a mainstream school. But for other kids that’s probably the best place for them. I think it depends.
Onscreen text: Factors to consider: Siblings
Joanne: Flynn attends the same primary school as his older brother Bryce and the consideration that had to be made was: What impact would this play on Bryce, having his brother, who is obviously not typically developing, at his school? Would it be stressful for Bryce? Would he feel he has to be there for him? And this was discussed with the school, umm, we had parent support group meetings and we’d have those every term.
It’s never been a real issue; Flynn has gone off and made his own friends. He sometimes seeks Bryce out at school, but it hasn’t been a concern.
Jane (mother of 2 children, including 1 with Asperger’s): Dominic starts school next year and we have been wondering whether to put him in – because the school Julian goes to is not our closest school – umm, we were wondering whether we should put Dominic in a different school. But then, I think, they have a lovely relationship at times. At times, it’s very difficult. And we thought it’s probably best if Dominic goes to the same school. They may go to different high schools – that’s quite a possibility. But at this stage, they’ll both be at the same primary school.
Peter (father of 2 children, including 1 with Asperger’s): Having Eryl and Ellis at the same school was important for us because we thought she could provide some stability for him and look out for him, basically. And as it turned out, that was a good thing for him, and a not-so- good thing for her, because his behaviour reflected badly on her and she copped some flack about being related to the strange kid and all that sort of stuff. But overall, I think it was a good decision.
Jane: Dominic is very caring and looks out for his older brother, even though there’s quite an age difference. And also, Dominic is used to the school, and he’s used to going there every day and he’s a very cruisey little boy, so he tends to cope with anything. And I think it might be nice for Julian to have a little brother at school as well.
Onscreen text: Factors to consider: Home schooling
Marita: We home schooled one day a week, on a Friday. Annie would go to mainstream school, Monday to Thursday, and on Friday she had the day off to home school, because she just could not cope. She was just overwhelmed by the social interaction of school.
So I went, until emotionally she’s stable, it’s more important for Annie to be at home. Now, for Annie, she’s gifted, so it was probably OK, she’s not falling behind her peers, so we just chose to home school.
Rachel: By Friday, he was falling asleep in class, because there’s so much going on in their heads: they’re listening to the teacher, they’re doing their work, they’re looking at the fan, they’re noticing all that stuff that’s different over there... and he’s just worn out. So, we took him out on Wednesdays, and that really has helped him cope with it, having that sort of, you know, reboot of hump day, to get over the rest.
Alison: I’ve got some friends with children who have Asperger’s, and they just love the home schooling and wouldn’t do it any other way. Personally, it would be detrimental to do it for Ellis, because Ellis doesn’t go to school to learn academic things; he’s going to learn no matter what. He goes to school to learn how to deal with day-to-day life, and develop some life skills and some social skills.
Marie: Home schooling: I feel very guilty about it in a way, but I needed a break – a psychological break – from Sam, and to have him the whole day at home, you know, home schooling him... I thought it was a good thing for him to go and mix with the general population, to see how they behave and what the rules are.
Marita: Annie’s emotionally now very happy, and she’s actually made a couple of good friends at school, which made a huge difference to where she’s at. So she’s full-time school this year, but we do have the option that if things go downhill again, then we can have some time off, back at home, and reassess as we go along.