Before Beth started going to kindergarten and we were at Irabina Early Childhood Intervention one day a week I had decided that Special School was for her. I hated the thought of her sitting on the sidelines, not knowing how to join in and not having any friends. Irabina convinced me to wait until she had done mainstream kindergarten and even kinder was a scary proposition for me. I resisted 3 year old kinder and as in Australia we don’t get any funding for 3 year old anyway the decision was pretty much taken out of our hands.
I went to look at Tecoma kinder cos it was a local one and because my niece and nephew had been there. Meeting the teacher Emma, I knew I had made the right choice. She made me feel so welcome and said that though she hadn’t had an autistic child in the kindergarten before she would welcome the chance to teach one, it would be a wonderful learning experience for her. I booked Beth in straight away.
Beth absolutely loved kinder. There were a few issues she had but all in all she loved it. In fact she hated going to Irabina. Once she had been with so called “normal” kids she just flourished and they were really good with her. When at Irabina everybody had issues so it was overwhelming for her. Still, we continued on there as it was all we had for her “autistic” side and decided that mainstream was indeed for her after all.
I went to several schools and found it very disheartening. One was across the road from a milk bar and when asked if Beth would be supervised during lunchtimes was told “maybe she wouldn’t run off if she was playing with her friends.” “There’s a bloody big picture of an icecream in that window” I wanted to shout but silently ruled them off the list. (I still can’t understand why primary schools are nearly always built on main roads.) Catholic and Private schools were out as the funding was about 10% of what public schools could get.
When we went to Menzies Creek it was like when I first when to look at Tecoma Kinder. I only went there because it was off of the main road, I had never heard of it before! Glen was the Principal at the time and Tanya was the Vice Principal (now our wonderful Principal) and when I told them that Beth runs off was told that that was great because we can apply for more aide time due to danger. Woohoo, that’s what I wanted to hear! As I’ve mentioned before it has been a wonderful school, so warm and welcoming and all the kids in the whole school not just aware and looking out for my Beth but also for each other.
Last week I was reading Melbourne’s Child magazine and came across an article written by a Principal of a Special School. It really hit a nerve as now that Beth is is grade 4 I am already assessing (and have been for probably about 2 years now) what path to take with Beth for high school. To tell you the truth the whole idea scares the crap out of me! It’s bad enough for any “normal” teenagers, let alone one with special needs. There were no autism specific high schools around and the mainstream schools are all so big. I did look at one school that was smaller and a bit of an eclectic mix of individuals which I had initially loved but then when Tanya kindly offered to come with me to my next appointment to ask about the academic side of things we found that usually their “special needs” students go on to do life skills at tafe in years 11 and 12. In other words they didn’t really cater for them in the later years. That’s fine if that’s the choice, don’t get me wrong, but the whole point I wanted to send Beth to a mainstream school was so that she could get an education, I want to aim as high as we can, not set the bar low a good 6 or 7 years before it’s going to happen.
In this article it speaks about how many parents believe that all schools should have integration units and that there should be no special schools at all. That special children will learn appropriate behaviours only when around “normal” children.Others are quite accepting of special schools and appreciate the comfort they can get knowing that their child is like others that are like them. It goes on to say that as the child gets older in a mainstream setting often it is more obvious that they are not like the other children and so often feel left out by their peers. Beth is now 10, most of her friends have made their best friends so invites are usually reserved for them, and birthday parties are no longer for the whole grade so only a select few get invited. It’s often painful to see when she realises that she hasn’t been invited as she doesn’t understand the choices that have to be made, she just sees that it’s her friend and therefore she should be invited. I understand that i’s difficult for parents too because I know they’re not sure how to deal with Beth, and truly I really do get that but it doesn’t make it any easier.Â Don’t get me wrong, Beth has some lovely friends at school, they are just wonderful with her but as she gets older it just gets a bit harder.
At a special school the kids can be at ease with each other and make friends with others like them. We went to our first party with just autistic kids a couple of years ago when I met my friend Dom in the park with her daughter Chantelle. We were on the list for our companion dog Minka and they had their companion dog Zia with them so we got chatting. Actually I was trying to recruit her to the HAGS group! (of which she has now joined.) She kindly invited us to Chantelle’s party and it was the first time I had seen Beth interact with other auties. (When she had been at Irabina she was non verbal.) She called them silly names and they just answered to them! It was great, they all just did their own thing and nobody cared how silly they might have been at times. The Principal in the article was saying that after being in her job for a few months she saw how happy and accepting these kids can be, I really think we can all learn a lot from the way they are. If Beth is excited about getting to school she’ll run and jump and make funny noises whilst going in. Sometimes I’ll do it too, just to show how much fun it is!
There is talk about one of our local autistic primary schools expanding into a high school which would be fantastic. The only 2 issues are whether it will cater for the higher functioning kids as the primary school does not, and if it will be done in time for Beth to start high school. It is ridiculous that numbers rule whether a child is eligible for a special school but unfortunately that’s the system. Beth has no intellectual disability yet she could run out in front of a car or go with a strange man just because. I have a friend whose son climbs on roofs and used to run away down the middle of the road from school but because his intelligence is too high he doesn’t qualify for special needs. It’s pathetic really.
The statistics are that 80% of autistic girls are sexually abused. That’s right 80%. Unbelievable isn’t it? After much soul searching I have now decided that if Beth does qualify for the special needs high school but it’ll be more than 2 years then I will home school her for the interim.Â Tanya has also suggested that we could repeat grade 5 if we need to if it’s only an extra year which I think is a terrific idea as it will give her a chance to get up to speed with her peers. Mind you if it’s only 2 years then I’ll probably just send her on. I’m dreading the teenage years with periods, sex and temptations with drugs and drink. Beth is so compliant, I like to think that I could teach her but I’m not so naive to think that she wouldn’t be taken in by somebody who offers to be her best friend if she would take this pill, or be her boyfriend if she would do other unspeakable things.Â And hopefully we’ll have one up on the queues waiting to get into the school because she’s a girl and there’s not many autistic girls so they’ll want their numbers up. If we don’t qualify I’ll use the fact that she’s a girl in our defence, that and the vulnerability.
And if that doesn’t work looks like I’ll be home schooling. I know that wouldn’t be the choice for many people but I believe we have to make the choice that is right for our own individual children and I feel so relieved that I have made it. Hopefully it wont come to that but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.