by Romany Wood-Robinson, Parent
My youngest son is able bodied, able minded, and undoubtedly autistic.
He’s a charismatic, warm hearted young man and beset with anxieties.
There’s something about being very able intellectually and physically that disguises disability – it would be easier to issue him with a walking stick and an eye patch… “He doesn’t look autistic” (yeah, but he makes a great pirate!)
Our aim is to get through the school system in one piece.
Once he leaves this incredibly disabling environment, he’ll mostly be fine.
But having to conform to teacher’s agendas, follow anxiety making exam timetables and expectations is awful.
He’s 15 and in Year 10 now.
And like a lot of able autistic people, has had a difficult school life.
Early on he spent a lot of time outside classrooms (he didn’t mind, it was much quieter than the classroom)
By Year 1 he was part-time with a threat of exclusion.
By Year 2 we’d received a diagnosis but the school couldn’t understand this disobedient clever child and he left at lunchtimes (this was a privilege, eating lunch in the park!).
In Year 3 he had support and experienced teachers – or so I thought…
“children like your son shouldn’t be in school” (Yes, that was the experienced teacher talking!)
Soon he was on a part-time timetable again and I’d found a school who actively wanted to support him.
By then, we were exhausted and my boy started the new school for 3 hours per day, with targets set at 3 minutes apart.
It took eighteen months for him, and the school, to cope full-time, but by Year 5, age 10, he was there!
That school was amazing.
They saw my son as an individual with anxieties and sought to work with him.
They saw to it that everyone in the school understood my son, and knew how to work with him – and they did this for every child there.
Then came transition into secondary school. The learning support people are lovely, but an eight form entry mainstream secondary school is disabling for most people at some time in their school careers.
I can’t say it’s easy; we’ve just had a period of exclusions and reached a crisis point.
This is a common pattern. As parents, we know what our young people need and mostly, our young people can articulate this.
But it requires the school to listen and be diligent.
Too often schools and other well-meaning bodies talk about ‘training and reasonable adjustments’. That’s not good enough.
To support young people with disabilities, an holistic approach is needed AND unreasonable adjustments.
If my son had been able to use a wiki, he could have expressed his anxieties at a time, place and pace that suited him
So what are these unreasonable adjustments?
My son can get up and leave the class whenever the noise gets too much. He goes to sit at an agreed spot until he’s ready to go back to class (about ten minutes).
He asks that no-one talks to him as this increases his anxiety.
In the past, friendly staff tried to talk to him and the stress would magnify – he’d explode and be in trouble.
I’m hoping that as he takes up building his own wiki, we will see more positive change.
The wiki will help him find more creative flexible ways to express what he needs.
He will have been listened to.