When The Mainstream Runs Dry - Autism And Schools Part 1

School through the years
Author's own
School through the years

Over four months ago I started a post that began charting the journey we’d had in choosing Joseph’s primary school. It wasn’t an easy post to write for two main reasons. The emotions that it brought to the surface about that starting point, almost six years ago but also because I knew where the completion of that journey would end.

Most posts, I can write within a few hours. The words drip feed into the computer whilst the emotion is still fresh, hoping that the reader understands every ounce of sentiment that compelled me to write.

This, I just couldn’t finish. It was work in progress but writing it made me face up to my demons and still it sits in my drafts with only a few paragraphs sitting on an almost blank page.

Now, recent events have forced me to write what I barely want to think about let alone put down in words.

Joseph has always been educated in a mainstream primary and there are a couple of reasons for that. When I had to select my preferences along with other parents whose children were born in that year, Joseph didn’t have a document called a Statement of Special Educational Needs. For those that don’t frequent the world of Special Educational Needs (SEN), it’s a little like a passport. In the simplest terms, it explains to educational providers what the diagnosis of your child is and how your child would be best supported in school with a variety of services. It also includes the name of the school that is best placed to educate your child. This is in a perfect world, obviously.

Because Joseph had only just received his official autism diagnosis, that document had not been written. It takes a huge amount of red tape to complete and because we had moved from one local authority to another, it wasn’t as simple as it should be. Without this document, Joseph went into the same pot as everyone else and I had to see which school would not only accommodate someone with autism, but Joseph specifically.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that the school we chose for Joseph (and appealed for) was not the one he has been educated at. The school that was allocated to us, had a very good OFSTED report and upon visiting, the children all seemed well behaved and well, uniform. How would my child with all his little idiosyncrasies fit into this small village school, that not only looked Victorian from the outside but appeared Victorian in their approach?

Not very well, as it transpired, and we had a whole host of problems in those first few years, where it seemed that the people there were not used to children who didn’t fit the typical mould. We were almost on our way out and throwing in the towel when a new team started. A new team whose ideals fell in line with what I wanted for Joseph: an inclusive immersive environment where he thrived. One where I wasn’t asked to accompany him on every school trip despite him having a 1:1 support. Not one where they would take the whole class on a trip without any mention to myself, in the hope that I wouldn’t find out about it and use the words ‘risk assessment’ as an excuse for inexcusable actions.

I’m not going to view everything through rose-tinted glasses and tell you we’ve had a perfect ride, we haven’t. There’s been times where we could have communicated more effectively and times when I have wondered whether I should have given up on the mainstream idea long ago, because I felt Joseph was out of his depth. Throughout it all, I’ve managed to keep the faith in my own beliefs but more importantly the visions and values that the school have held.

As time has progressed, the ultimate goal of him reaching the end of his primary years in a mainstream setting have been within reach. Everything appears to have slotted into place and we’re settled. The realisation of what a mainstream secondary would be like for someone like Joseph has been harder to accept.

Coming to terms with knowing that a specialist school is the most appropriate education setting for Joseph has been a hard slog. When I think I’ve got my head around it, I have thoughts I want to push from my mind. I’ve feared such a decision as to me, specialist education feels like someone has taken my last bit of hope that Joseph can be independent and successful. My perception of a specialist provision was probably skewed from what such a school would have been like when I was growing up.

So over the last six months, I have researched almost every school in the local authority (and neighbouring ones) in order to ensure that Joseph receives the most appropriate education going forward. In the main, it’s been a draining process where I’ve visited schools and come away completely distraught. Schools that I could never envisage Joseph being a part of and schools that I have felt are letting children down very badly.

The process doesn’t end once I have selected a school as it’s all down to whether they have places and whether the panel within the Local Authority feel the place is suitable for your child. One step at a time though and my thoughts were to select the school first.

I’ll be honest, we’re down to the final couple of schools but I don’t feel either are a perfect fit for him. They are not autism specialist schools but they are the best out of the ones I have seen.

continued in part 2...

Tina is mum to a 9 year old boy Joseph who has autism. She likes to give an honest (often sweary) account of their lives dealing with autism. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or directly through her blog.