Primary school options for children with autism spectrum disorder
All children in Australia over the age of six have to go to school, and your child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) might have a range of primary school options.
Many children with ASD go to mainstream primary schools – that is, regular public and private schools for typically developing children. Your child might get additional support at a mainstream school, like specialist teachers, aides, training or resources, if your child meets the criteria used by your state or territory education department.
The Education Standards in the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 set out the education rights of students with disabilities and say how schools must help students with disabilities.
Specialist units within mainstream schools
Some mainstream primary schools have classes specifically for students with ASD. This means your child could have some lessons in a mainstream class and get more specialist teaching and support in a specialist class.
Special schools are for children with special educational needs. Some cater for children with a range of needs like intellectual or physical disability. Others are specifically for students with ASD. In some states, children can split their week between special schools and mainstream schools. A few special schools offer boarding facilities. To go to a special school, your child will need to meet the school’s criteria.
Private or independent schools
These can be mainstream or special schools. They’re independent of state education authorities, but they still have to follow relevant laws on education rights, disability and discrimination.
All children have the legal right to home-schooling. Families choose to home-school children for different reasons, including distance from suitable schools, religious or cultural values, or their children’s particular academic or behaviour needs. If you choose this option you’ll need to follow certain requirements from your state or territory education department.
Children with ASD who are home-schooled need the chance to learn and practise their communication and social skills with children of a similar age through other types of activities.
Things to consider when choosing a primary school
The first thing to think about is what you want for your child and what’s best for your child’s needs.
The next step is finding out how and where you can access the schooling you think will be best. It’s a good idea to start looking for a school early, to give you and your child plenty of time to get ready for starting school.
Being able to talk with school staff about your child’s needs is important. When you’re looking at different schools, easy communication can be a good sign of whether a school will be right for your child. You need to be confident that you can talk to staff any time you have a concern and that they’ll be happy to listen.
When you’re choosing a school, you can also think about whether the school has access to specialist teaching and services like psychology, speech therapy and occupational therapy.
Other things to consider include whether the school will give your child the chance to socialise with children who don’t have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and to take part in extracurricular activities like music or sports.
Visiting primary schools you’re interested in
You’ll probably visit the school or schools you’re interested in well before you enrol your child. These tips can help you assess a school’s suitability when you visit:
- Try to speak to class teachers and teacher aides, as well as the principal. This will help you see how open the staff are to two-way communication.
- If possible, talk to parents of children with ASD or other additional needs at the school. You could ask them about their experiences of talking with teachers and other staff and how well the school has handled any concerns they’ve had. Your local ASD parent support group could help you meet other parents from the school.
- Ask about how children’s progress is evaluated. This will give you an idea of how well the school adapts to the changing needs of children with ASD as they grow and develop.
- Ask how the school responds to children’s varying needs. Not all children with ASD need the same style of teaching.
- Ask to see some examples of how the school does its education plans for children with additional needs. This can help you see how relevant it would be for your child. Also ask how often the plans are evaluated and updated.
- Try to look at the playground at lunch or break time. This will give you an idea of the way other students behave. Ask whether there are structured activities for children at lunch and other breaks.
What the school will need from you
If you’re thinking of enrolling your child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at the local government school, you need to contact the school well before the enrolment date. Non-government schools might have waiting lists or need you to enrol well in advance.
The school will need diagnostic and developmental assessments of your child to build an individual education plan. The school will also want to know about any additional funding or specialist resources that have been allocated to your child. The school might need to prepare an application for additional funding.
Much of this information will come from your early intervention provider or kindergarten teacher, but it’s always best to check.
You can also contribute to your child’s individual plan.
State and territory education links
Australian Capital Territory
- ACT Government Education Directorate – School Education
- ACT Government Education Directorate – Disability Education
- Catholic Education Archdiocese of Canberra & Goulburn
- Association of Independent Schools of the ACT
New South Wales
- NSW Education – Parents
- NSW Department of Education – Disability, learning and support
- Catholic Education Commission NSW
- Association of Independent Schools of NSW
- NT Government – Education and learning
- NT Government – About special education and disability
- Catholic Education Office of the Northern Territory
- Association of Independent Schools NT
- Queensland Department of Education and Training – Parents and carers
- Queensland Department of Education and Training – Every student with disability succeeding
- Queensland Catholic Education Commission
- Independent Schools Queensland
- SA Department for Education and Child Development – Your child’s education
- SA Department for Education and Child Development – Children with disability and special needs
- Catholic Education South Australia
- Association of Independent Schools of South Australia
- Tasmanian Department of Education – Overview: schools and colleges
- Tasmanian Department of Education – Specialist Services
- Tasmanian Catholic Education Office
- Independent Schools Tasmania
- Victorian Department of Education and Training
- Victorian Department of Education and Training – Autism
- Catholic Education Commission of Victoria
- Independent Schools Victoria
- WA Department of Education
- WA Department of Education – Children with special learning needs
- Catholic Education Western Australia
- Association of Independent Schools of Western Australia