Mainstream school versus Special School

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.  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. 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. 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.

About Sarah

Mother of an autistic child wanting to write about my personal experiences
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39 Responses to Mainstream school versus Special School

  1. Sam says:

    Thankyou, Thankyou, Thankyou for writing this!! This has truly helped me!
    I have a son who is going to be in Primary school next year, and im currently touring schools to get an idea of whats best for him, and im still unsure if I should go mainstream or Special school. My gut instinct has said “mainstream” because he does well copying the other children, and learns “their” ways to emotional reactions etc too..

  2. Sarah says:

    I’m so pleased that I could help Samantha, please feel free to contact me if I can be of any help. Good luck!

  3. Carmen says:

    I am struggling as to where our 5 year old fits in…. So many conflicting messages. He Is mildly autistic with development delay but does pick up things from peers. We tried irabina but was definitely the wrong setting for him so changed to bialla. Any help from you would be really appreciates 🙂

  4. Sarah says:

    Hi Carmen. We went to Irabina while Beth was in kinder and found them terrific though I did feel at times that one style fits all which it shouldn’t be. We attend a place called Sensational Kids which is in Ormond. They have a hollistic approach and have a team of specialists who all liase with each other. We do speech therapy and occupational therapy and have done a social skills group there too. If you get the fachsia funding you can use that there. I have a friend with a 5 year old and she takes her daughter to the social skills playgroups there. While your son is in his kinder year I would be doing as much therapy as possible while I had the funding available. Even if you just did Sensational Kids and kinder it would be worth your while. We didn’t discover it until 2 years ago and it’s made such a difference in our lives. They use a floortime philosophy and get down to the kids level to teach them. Good luck with everything. Where abouts are you? I run an autism support group from Selby Community House so if you need somewhere to come to talk or even to get information you’re welcome to join us.

  5. mamafog says:

    I’m in the US, but I really appreciate your post. Many people seem to tell me that inclusion is the only way to go, but you explained my concerns perfectly. It is kind of comforting and kind of scary that this is a worldwide concern for special needs parents.

    I’m glad my daughter has another year and a half of preschool.

  6. Sarah says:

    I’m glad I could be of help. It’s such a scary propect isn’t it? It’s such a shame that our kids can’t get the education that we as parents want, whether it be in a mainstream setting or a special needs one. Our kids have just as much right to a safe and happy education as other children, unfortunately we have to battle for them and we don’t always win. I hope you find what you want for your daughter xxx

  7. Carmen says:

    Hi Sarah, sorry it has taken so long to reply, I’d lost the blog lol.
    After many ups and downs over the past few months, we have reluctantly chosen a special school for our 5yr old. Mainstream were firstly enthusiastic and then not so once he’d attended their prep orientation days… husband and I were a little upset to say the least.
    I still have my reservations re special school, although they were wonderful to us when we met them up at VSSS. There were a few niggling bits eg toiling hourly ( which our 5 yr old doesn’t need), the once every week trip to the shops excursion (again which I have a little trouble with as our boy is excellent when shopping etc) this worries me as he will learn other habits of others. My biggest concern is the school camp…..why at 5yrs old? No mainstream school does this until the child is much older……..they informed us it was for respite reasons, not for us I don’t think. Sorry to harp on, I’m still up and down about everything, we just want what’s best for him.
    I am in the Vermont south area and it would be lovely to meet up. My email address is
    Thanks again

  8. Miranda says:

    Hi, I live in Queensland and my 4 1/2 autistic son has just started prep at school. Last year he attended Autism Queensland school 3days a week. We went to orientation to the catholic school we chose at the end of last year and received positive feedback and promises of care and attention to Dominic’s needs. Unfortunately since starting prep every afternoon all we are told is that our son is taking up time with his needs or he is leaving the classroom and they can’t manage to keep an eye on him. They now say that as they move into a more structured class setting and away from play based settings, he won’t cope doing the work. I am more than frustrated as I wanted my son in the special school as they provide the programs and education needed for him, but was convinced by teachers and family that mainstream was the best for him. It feels like the teacher does not even want him in the class. I have made enquires about special school but they to are making it difficult. If anyone has any suggestions I would love to hear them. Thank you

  9. Sarah says:

    hi Miranda, we are in Victoria so not sure about the system in Queensland. I am friends on Facebook with a lady called Mary West who runs Camp Autism. I can ask her if she knows anything if you like? She may be able to steer you in the right direction.

  10. Sarah says:

    hi Miranda, me again! if you’d like to send me a private message I can give you somebody’s email address. my email is

  11. Michael says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. Our Daughter is not Autistic, but has a genetic condition that I forgot the name of long ago. Basically she has been very slow at developing, both academically & socially.

    We made the decision to send her to a mainstream catholic primary school and I think to this day it was the right choice, she had a great group of friends, including a “bff” that did everything with her, both at school and at home. Her friend was what you would call “gifted” very high grades, exceptional singer and pianist. Their time together really brought out the best in my Daughter socially, in fact no one that knew us realised that she had issues. However her academic skills were still way behind (in grade 6 she was still barely at grade 2 level).

    Then we made what I think was our biggest mistake. We took her out of the Catholic system and put her into a special school for High School. Her social and behavioural skills have gone backwards, we cannot get her to understand basic behaviour patterns expected of her in real life. We have had several visits to the school to complain about the behaviour of some of the boys to her (yes I’m talking sexual advances), to which you can see that the boys do not understand what they did was wrong. The kids around the neighbourhood who have always been great with her are now starting to shun her as she is becoming too much for them to cope with. She will get a crush on a boy in the blink of an eye, ask him out, get rejected, but continue to chase after him causing the kids to think that she is “crazy”. Basically the kids at her school act this way and don’t get in trouble so it must be acceptable behaviour.

    On top of all of this, I don’t believe that her academic skills have improved any more than they would have in mainstream (catholic). We had a great opportunity with the Catholic High School here, in that it was brand new, she would have been starting in year 7 and there was going to be no other grades, and it was only going to increase in size year by year, so she would have been with her friends from the PS as they moved across as well and there was no older kids.

    My girl is 16 now and moving into a VCAL school next year, but we are really worrying about her behaviour and thought processes, we are pretty much at our wits end.

    In my opinion if you start them in mainstream, keep them there, as long as the school has the resources to work with our kids, why not. Because at the end of the day, when these kids are grown up, we want them to live “mainstream” lives, so why segregate them at school?

    Good luck with your choice, and I hope you have more success than we did.

  12. Sarah says:

    thanks for your feedback Michael, sorry, I’ve only just seen this in the comments section! So far so good with Beth, she’s loving her school and wouldn’t have coped well with mainstream High School. They are very strict where she is going so bad behaviour is quickly dealt with. I’m sorry that your daughter has had problems with her special school, I guess it depends on the individual and also the school that she is going to. It wouldn’t suit all kids, I’m just lucky that it suits mine! Good luck

  13. Bronwyn says:

    Hi Sarah,
    I have read with great interest yours and other parents comments. I am in Caroline Springs and quite confused about what is best for my son. Kayne is 10 today and has aspergers. We have a family history of the full ASD spectrum so I have known since he was 4 that he has spergers but was only able to recently get the “Tick” for diagnosis after conflicting paediatricians opinions. He is in mainstream school in grade 4 but functioning at grade 1 – 2. I asked the school to keep him down last year but they said it would be worse for him socially and allowed HIM to make the decision!
    I know that I must move him at the end of the year in order for him to be able to move on from here. Currently he only does work for me and does very little to nothing for anyone else. I do not know whether I just change to a new mainstream school, repeat grade 4 and hope for the best or place him in a special school. Any advice on either would be greatly appreciated. My concern with a special school is as per Michael above. That his social skills would go backward when this is an area he doesn’t have too many issues in.
    I am willing to relocate my family (I have a 15 year old child without ASD) anywhere in order to support Kayne. Having a 22 year old nephew with aspergers and an uncle who’s autism is so strong that he is in special care, I know how important it is to get it right NOW!
    Please share your advice on schools with me.
    Thank you kindly.

  14. Sarah says:

    hi Bronwyn, it’s a difficult decision to make isn’t it? Does he qualify for a special school? He’d need speech and iq scores of under 70 to qualify. Beth didn’t have her iq under 70 in her earlier years but it had reduced by the time we got to high school. I have heard of psychologists asking the parents which side of 70 they wanted the score to be on but that’s only if they’ve got something like 72 that can be fudged a little. Moving Beth to special school for highschool has been a godsend. She loves the school and she’s come along so well. In hindsight it was in about grade 4 that the gap started to widen between her and her peers in mainstream and if you do have a choice to go to special school I probably would be looking at it now or even dual schooling. In our case our school is a prep to 12 so if you could find a similar one you could transition him slowly in his primary years so that he would be ready to go there to high school full time. If he or you isn’t particularly happy in his current school then I would look at it now. Of course each child is different and some readers have told me just the opposite but in our case it’s been fantastic for Beth. Good luck with it all and let me know how you go. xx

  15. Vanessa says:

    Hi Sarah, I was just wondering if you are still running the Autism support group in Selby? I’m in Emerald and have a autistic son who will be starting school next year. Would love to talk to some other parents..

  16. Sarah says:

    hi Vanessa, yes the next one is on Monday 4th of June at 9.30am. We run them from Selby Community House. I will put you on to our hags mailing list if you like, then I can email you with the other girls when we do something. Cheers

  17. Vanessa says:

    That sounds great. My email address is
    Thanks for that.

  18. Karen says:

    I have been reading this thread with great interest and empathy. I am a Special Education teacher working within the Catholic sector and i have had many children on the spectrum move through our school. Many who would not qualify for funding in Special Schools do extremely well. If the school has a good support program, these children can definitely get the most out of the mainstream system, depending on their particular strengths and weaknesses.
    For those that do qualify, IQ is probably not the biggest inhibitor (below 70 IQ). In my experience, some students with borderline IQ’s manage quite well. The greatest dificulty ASD face is challenging behaviours. The less compliance they have, the greater the difficulty for a teacher in meeting their needs without detracting from teaching other students.
    Please know that it is not through lack of commitment or care that a teacher would generally advise you that it wasn’t working out. In a classroom of 26 or so students, ther will be many other (hidden) needs that a teacher must also address. This in the current climate of results driven education, can mean the teacher is under enormous pressure to ensure students have maximum time on task. If one student requires constant supervision and management, you can appreciate the onerous task. You also need to consider how much assistance (in real terms) a school is offering. Many of these students would benefit most from intensive language therapy, occupational therapy, a satellite classroom as a sanctuary to go to when they are over-loaded. Many of these services are not available in mainstream schools. There needs to be massive investment so that these facilities are in place for your children in all schools. We have managed a very high needs student who also came from Irabina, but the road has been challenging for everyone. The relationships you establish with core staff are critical as you will need honest dialogue almost daily to ensure all parties are on the same page.
    Finally there is the issue that you have identified in your conversations. Sometimes the sense being with other people who get you is the over-riding factor. I have often found students on the spectrum are drawn to each other and it is for this reason. Their quirky interests, their unusual behaviuor patterns, their ‘my way or the highway attitude’ can leave them feeling isolated and like they have a problem. Once they find souls who get them, the world is a better place. We all want to be accpeted for who we are.
    I hope this may be helpful to those of you facing the very difficult decision: mainsteam or special
    I wish you well

  19. Patricia Wingard says:

    Hi Sarah
    My son is eight on the autism spectrum and classed as having a global delay, I am at that crossroad now keep him at special school or send him to mainstream. He is a child who mimics behavior, a loner, I worked so hard with early intervention felt that special school was the way to go, I am just returning to the workforce part time and have noticed a significant progress with his social skills and speech since he has been with mainstream kids in after school care! I am torn as I am scared to death about bullying, he has no road sense his current school has the best security I was mstarting to look at autistic only schools but any of the areas they are I cannot afford to rent there being a single mum restricts you significantly twice the amount to live in these areas. I am heart broken that I can’t offer my son the best he has not really had any real scoring and I’m told he broad spectrum he is doing well enough at school but mimics the behavior of kids with various disabilities. His speech is delayed but give him the laptop and watch him go he will google his pet fascination which is washing machines lol. Ask him to say mum and forget it but give him google and he will type in fisher and paykel washing machine problems then watch you tube demos of it for hours if you let him he has so much untapped potential and I worry that special special may be holding him back I am a out to take him to a psychologists for some updated assessments of our own as he hasn’t been assessed since pre school. I am torn autistic only, special or mainstream school how on earth do we get through the minefield. It’s so tough trying to make the call on your own too. Would appreciate any input thank you Trish.

  20. Sarah says:

    hi Trish, thanks for writing. My experience with our special school has been a positive one for high school and I’m glad I made the choice to send Beth there but each child is an individual and what works for some may not work for others. I think if I was in your situation I would think about dual schooling. Usually the special school has the majority of the time so often a child will go to their special school 3 days a week and mainstream 2 days a week. This way you can see how he goes in mainstream without completely leaving his special school. Like your son my Beth has no road sense and that was a big factor in where to send her to school. I didn’t have the option of autism specific schooling, the only local one is primary only. In the end I was glad to send her to special school as not all the kids have a disability so that role modelling is still there. I get what you’re saying about the computer, Bethie is obsessed with Disney and knows every fact about it but one on one conversation can be limited. I guess he could always do something with washing machines when he grows up, don’t know how to channel a Disney obsession! Thanks for reading! Please let me know how you go. Cheers, Sarah x

  21. Sarah says:

    hi Karen, thanks for writing. Yes I agree, IQ is not the biggest inhibitor, something I find frustrating when we’ve gone for funding. Often kids with a lower IQ but are better at socialising and behaviour are more able to fit in to mainstream school where as someone who has a higher than 70 IQ may be behaviourally challenged and has no social skills. It’d ridiculous that often just because kids have a particular strength which shoots their IQ up over 70 therefore don’t quality for a special school where it would clearly be the best place for them.
    It’s good to get the perspective of a teacher also. I agree that the teacher is under a lot of pressure through no fault of their own, whether it be teaching under or non funded children to not having the resources available to them to help these kids. As a parent of 2 kids not on the spectrum I see how they can be affected by this also in the classroom.
    I don’t know if you’ve read on in my blog or not but we’ve now been lucky enough to be attending a special school for Beth’s high school years for the last 5 months. She loves it and has settled in much better than we anticipated seeing as she knew nobody and it’s a good half an hour away. We chose a school that we were not zoned for so I have to drive 3 hours a day including my other kids dropoffs and pickups but I’m so happy that we chose this particular school as Beth has come along in leaps and bounds. She has expectations put on her and has stepped up and shown that she can do what’s expected. I loved her primary school years in mainstream but high school is a whole new kettle of fish, academically and socially. Add to that peer pressure hormones and generally teenager behaviour and as far as she’s concerned special school is where she needs to be. Other friends on the other hand have started their kids in mainstream high schools with no issues. As I’ve said, it’s different for each individual. We’re just lucky that we’ve found the right school for our Beth. Thanks so much for reading and writing, Cheers, Sarah x

  22. Vin says:

    Hi I am in the Western suburbs and my son was recently diagnosed in April and he is currently doing prep at 6 years. I sent him to a great little mainstream school and we have not begun therapies however the progress in him has been great he is behind however but he isn’t coming in last. He loves technology, computers, games ipads etc. I worry a lot however that his language is quite basic. I worry about this compliancy they tend to have which can be too trusting. When you came up with your concerns about sexual abuse I felt that way too and it tears me apart to even think our angels can be taken advantage off children are vulnerable but autistic ones even more so. I gave him advice and warnings etc on what is acceptable touching and what is not, personal space etc but sometimes I wonder if he comprehends what I am saying he maybe just nodding and saying yes without fully comprehending. The friend thing is also hard alot of people genuinely like him describing him as happy, kind and gentle but because regular people constantly need to be reassured of relationships they don’t have that constant reassurance from an autistic person so those people who can will naturally have preference. I talked to my family who are Christian and I am as well and they reject the whole idea of autism because it is a label of limits if you take away that label there is a child who is capable of potential a theory of which I was annoyed with at first because I thought they didn’t understand. However I think what they are trying to say that if there is love what else is there the world just wants to bring people down society etc. The only formula is love then everything else should fall into place. It hasn’t been easy it was really hard at first but I know him so well now and we have the best relationship and good routine. In the end my family has offered to home school him to hopefully bring him up to par and well see either way most importantly I know that he will be taught with the utmost love and devotion while I work for a little to get on our feet. I truly feel honored that they love him so much like we all love our children. I am optimistic in the end when I look at my child I see perfection and I want the best for him. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. My child has already given me the gift of selflessness and patience abundance. Children are so beautiful my whole world revolves around him and it is beautiful.

  23. Sarah says:

    hello there, thanks for writing. I haven’t spoken to somebody who has chosen to not accept their diagnosis of autism so I write with interest and I hope that you keep me informed as to how your son is going. It’s lovely that you have the option to home school him through your family. I guess that the only thing I would say is that I don’t necessarily agree that the label of autism is limiting, I would say that it gives you the opportunity to make his learning as unlimited as other children. Children with autism learn differently to neurotypical children and the benefit of the label is to find people who can teach them in that way. If a child is deaf we do not teach them the same as a hearing child as they will not necessarily learn that way, I think it is the same for a child with autism. We need to learn how they need to learn to give them the full benefit of what is out there, otherwise I believe they may not reach their full potential. It sounds like you are happy with how things are going for your son though and I wish you well for the future. And yes, love means more than anything in our journey doesn’t it?

  24. Vin says:

    Hi Sarah I prattled on abit because I was just so excited about your article you touched on some really important issues. Its so good to know you’ve been there and I have scoured articles on Autism to make sense of it. I have come to accept my son’s diagnosis but my immediate family rebuke the word Autism and mind you don’t really know what it is anyway. I changed my mind in the end to stick with the school that he has been going to over home schooling with my family simply because they do not understand but love my son despite however I was conflicted. They believe in the scripture the power of words hold life and death so if you say positive words of life over your child in faith your child will reach their full potential. I believe this as well however like I said it wasn’t easy I had a quiet period of mourning and because it is not an obvious physical disability autism doesn’t exist to my family. This was another reason why I couldn’t go through with the home schooling whereas the school accepts this, has pledged support and focused on his strengths what he can do. I am awaiting next year for the school to recieve funding for an aide its just a matter of waiting so far I am pleased with his progress. At the moment I am looking at different therapies music, Rick Collingwood’s autism cd’s, sport, diet such as increasing omega 3’s, gluten free etc. Once I go through these therapies I would love to share my insight with others like you have. I hope your darling Beth is going well since your last blog take care and God Bless.

  25. Tracey says:

    Hi, my Son is starting Primary School next year. We were on the waiting list for an autistic specific school for so long that we settled into the idea of sending Cooper to mainstream however we have just been offered a position at Aspect – a special school for autistic children. The local school has been so great, his big sister attends the school and Cooper has thoroughly enjoyed the “Kinderschool” program they run. He is advanced socially and has good communication skills. His friends for preschool are going to the local school and it seems as though he would excel there.I guess we (my husband and I) are torn as we don’t know whether academically Cooper would struggle as well as being “accepted” with his quirky movements and ways about him. Any experiences or suggestions would help.

  26. Sarah says:

    hi Tracey, thanks so much for reading and writing. It’s great that you’re spoilt for choice for schools for your son. Is there any way he can dual school? Sometimes kids go to mainstream two days a week and special school three days a week. My Beth was the same as your Cooper and loved her mainstream kindergarten as well as primary school. It was about grade four that the gap between her and the other kids in her class started to widen and I think it was about then that I wished that I had sent her to special school. She’s in a special high school and she’s finally starting to thrive there. I didn’t realise how much a special school has to offer in terms of teaching them independance and social skills, also a totally different way of teaching academics which I love. Of course every child is different and it’s great that your Cooper already has good social and communication skills. I would at least go to Aspect and have a look, even taking Cooper along with you to see what he thinks. I wish I’d looked more thoroughly at the time when we started Primary School, thinking that being in a mainstream school would make Beth more ‘normal.’ It is an individual decision for both you and your husband and a very hard one, I wish you much luck. Please keep me updated with what you’d decide, I’d love to know how you go. Cheers, Sarah

  27. Kristine says:

    Hi Sarah,

    How are you? I read your blog with great interest and hope and would love to join the HAGS in Selby. I couldn’t get into your website. I am in Lysterfield and have a high functioning ASD son who is going to be 10 soon grade 4 and in a mainstream but it is an open learning school which is fantastic. I am getting stressed about finding him a mainstream high school that would not overwhelm him the nearest Rowville Secondary is too big. He is a very happy good natured boy who just loves anything IT especially games and having a dad who is a games developer helps 🙂 he went to Early interventation which is really good and I wish there was a transition year school between primary and secondary for our kids. I am more scared of him being bullied then anything else as he would not tell me and just withdraw. Would you or anyone reading your blog know of any mainstream high schools in the area I am willing to drive? . I really appreciate any input. Eastern Ranges school formerly of wantirna heights would have been ideal but his IQ is higher then 70 and he was non verbal then, now he is very verbal and social but emotionaly probaby about 7 years old. Please do let me know more about HAGS as well. Thanks. Cheers Kristine

  28. Sarah says:

    Hi Kristine, thanks so much for your email. I will put the feelers out about high school. We have ended up at Emerson Special School which is in Dandenong so probably not too far for you. How far above 70 is your son’s IQ? It may be that it has gone down by the time he has his year 6/7 review if you were wanting to look at Emerson. It might even be worth going to check it out and ask the staff, they are excellent there. I couldn’t recommend them highly enough. It’s a horrible time isn’t it? I was quite ill with stress by the end of Beth’s grade 6 year, I even contemplated home schooling if we couldn’t get her in to Emerson.

    We’d love to have you come along to a HAGS meeting. Are you free this Wednesday? We are meeting at Earthly Pleasures in Belgrave at 9.30am and new members are always welcome. I’ll private message you my mobile phone number and also put you on to our HAGS mailing list so that you will know when our meetings and get togethers are. Thanks for reading!

  29. Kristine says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for the invite but I can’t make it for this wednesday but would certainly love to go to the next one. My friend Priscilla whom you may know actually and I went to Emerson last year and they said both of our kids is too high functioning. Thanks for putting your feelers out any high school that supports progressive learning where it is not so structured and flexible. Mainstream structured large high schools is going to be out. Hope to see you at the next HAGS meeting.


  30. Priya says:

    Dear Sarah, I have a five year old girl with autism, and I read this thread feeling for every one of you. I have never felt so grateful to be among people who understand and feel the same. I faced the problem of choosing catholic versus state school, when looking for a public school for my girl. Amount of funding being high in state school was the reason I chose to go ahead with it. She is starting school next year and we are in the process of applying for funding. Still I beat myself on ‘did I really make therightdecision on to chose state over catholic, because ai hear people say catholic school kids are generally better behaved so less incidents of bullying’ . Well I am not familiar of either catholic or state system in here, I am a migrant (and a non catholic), But I have come across in the web many daunting stories of bullying occurring for ASD kids in schools, and I feel fearful. I feel for the pain you felt for your girl and I am happy to see that you feel that you madetherifht decision for her. I wish I could feel that way, but only time will tell. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  31. Sarah says:

    hello there, I’m sorry, I must have missed your comment and have just gone in to answer another and found it! Sorry about that! The main reason we chose a state school for Beth is that the Catholic system doesn’t have anywhere near the amount of funding that the state system does. Which sucks as we should be able to school our children wherever we please and it’s not that easy. We chose a lovely little country style school which we loved. She is now at a special high school. I think in hindsight I would have moved her to special school at about grade 4 when the gap really began to show between her and her peers. I also realise that at special school they teach them to be so much more independant. When Beth started high school her teacher told me that Beth expected her to do everything for her, when I explained that she had a fulltime aide at primary school the teacher commented that it was common for mainstream schoolkids to be like this, they had someone to do everything for them. Speaking with other parents whose kids went through special school from the start, their kids do so much more for themselves. But of course you can only do what you know at the time. Does your daughter qualify for special school at all? It would be something to think about. I wouldn’t even look at that age because I thought that being in mainstream would make Beth more normal but in fact it did the opposite. Good luck with it all, it’s a scary time! x

  32. Nikita says:

    Hi Sarah and all the parents,
    What a fantastic read! Thank you all for sharing your stories. My son who turns 4 at the end of the year was diagnosed last year with ASD but i had already knew something was different about him as i also have a 7yr old daughter who is amazing with him. And i am now looking into more intensive speech as i think this is were we need to work on. But also behavioural too. Looking up kinder programs is how i came across to your blog! I am petrified at this point of time as i know he needs more work, at the daycare we are at is no longer doing me good, my son gets upset and started playing up at the beginning of the year( but i did mention not to break rountines) And it is due to the lack of staff expierences with asd. And i do feel sorry for the staff! Sometimes i just want to stay home with my little man and try and do it my way! I was orginally from the eastern suburbs but moved to the western suburbs of melbourne but my family is still down that way. My son aiden is a very sensory child and very affectionate! A very extremely easy going young man. I came across ABA programs and was just wanting some advice. Its been a crazy adventure and we as a family are holding up well!! im very dedicated to him to get the best as possible so he is able to have a great start to life independently. I too would want him to join his sister in mainstream school too but am thinking about keeping him back for another year of kinder. Any ideas or recommendations would be great. Keep it up parents! Our children are the future

    Kind regards


  33. Sarah says:

    Hi Nikita, thanks so much for writing! I haven’t had experience in ABA therapy but I have friends that have. A friend and I are just in the process of starting up an information website and you tube videos and one of the things we are wanting to do is have parental input as to who we should interview. ABA therapy is one of the things we’d like to know more about as it’s quite well known and it would be great to get more information to share with other parents. Head over to facebook and look up JAS CHAT (Jo and Sarah’s Crazy, Honest Autism Talk) and write on there, that’s more a community type of page where other parents can write on. And that way you can register your interest in what you want to know about. Our you tube channel is also JAS CHAT and it wont be long before we’ve got our website up and running so parents can ask us anything on there too. This blog is more about experiences that I’ve had with my gorgeous girl, this particular post has had a lot of interest over the years though! My Beth is in year 10 this year (At special school) so it’s been a few years since I wrote it. It’s a yucky time I think, the looking at school options, especially the pre school years as it’s so literally ‘in your face’. Good luck with it all, and as I said, head on to our facebook page and other parents may be able to answer your questions too. Cheers xx

  34. Sharon says:

    Thank you for this post i have a 5 year old asd who has just finished 4 year old kinda in mainstream has gone really well but was very overwhelmed at times. She has been accepted into a Austim school from this year but I have been worried that her social skills will go backwards so will trial it for 12 months. But speaking about other issues you have raised makes me think that we should just stay there. We have a older aspergus daughter aged 19 that didn’t go well at school was bullied and now doesn’t leave the house so very scary times.

  35. Sarah says:

    hi Sharon, I wrote this a few years ago. Beth is now going in to the equivalent of year 11 at a special school in Dandenong. It’s been fantastic for her, I actually wish that I had put her into special school to start with. I always thought that having her in mainstream school would make her more ‘normal’ but in fact it did the opposite. It was wonderful for the first few years, don’t get me wrong, but in about grade 4 things started changing. Kids were pairing off and the things Beth did weren’t what all little kids did, she was quite annoying to others. And playdates pretty much stopped. Now she’s in a really supported environment but hasn’t particularly made friends because she’s used to being with more ‘normal’ kids so it’s a bit catch 22! I have lots of friends who went to special school straight up and their kids have done wonderfully well. Much more independent and social. Having said that Beth is doing really well and does enjoy school more now that she’s a senior. She’s doing cooking for a vcal subject this year so is looking forward to that. Each child is different so you have to do what is right for yours. Good luck with it all!

  36. Jane says:

    I found this blog tonight, and have been totally glued to it, from start to finish ! thank you so much for all sharing your experiences with your wonderful, quirky , loving kids. I’m currently at that point of needing to make the decision for High School next year, ( Special or Mainstream ), in South East QLD……the pro’s and con’s of both constantly swirling around in my head each day, and the clock ticking closer to the end of year. My daughter is 11 and has Dyspraxia, very happy gorgeous soul, but years behind at Primary School, and so I too, worry about the being vunerable to school…perhaps I should visit both options with her, ( I’ve only been by myself ) , and see what she thinks too..
    Thanks again for sharing – I so very much feel better after finding this blog tonight..knowing we are all in the same situation 🙂

  37. Sarah says:

    hi Jane, thanks so much for not only commenting but reading and enjoying my blog! My Beth is 18 now and it’s been a bumpy road. The school we chose was special school and by all accounts is an excellent school but unfortunately Beth doesn’t enjoy it at all and, now in her last year, goes only 2 days a week, and even that is a bit of a challenge! I found that because she had had a one on one aide at mainstream primary school she was used to the help that she constantly got. Also the kids tending to pander to her needs a bit. So she goes to this school that expects her to do things for herself and she hates it. And the kids because they won’t do what she wants! She still considers her only friends to be the ones she had in primary school and for her 18th birthday had nobody from her high school at all, but lots of family and friends . It’s such a personal decision too, one friend who did an integration aide course to be with her son in primary school and ended up having to home school sent her son to Beth’s one and he’s now thriving. Others have done the same, mainstream primary and special high, and their kids have done really well. I’m now at the other end and still have that dilemma. Beth will never be an independent adult but she doesn’t really like other special needs kids! She’s very aware of her autism and doesn’t have an issue with that so I’ve sort of been able to talk about her strengths and how others don’t have the same strengths, and her things such as crossing the road that she has problems with, and their issues. I think there is the issue of lumping her in with others, does it mean I think she is like them? Which of course in many ways she is but she doesn’t like that! See if you qualify first as there is a fairly strict criteria, then perhaps ask the school if your daughter can do a few trial days. Beth did several until she started at her school. She actually liked it to start with but once there was a problem she never let it go! Good luck with your journey and please let me know how you go x

  38. Jo says:

    Hi Sarah,
    My name is Jo and I’ve never written to a website before. I have a 13 yr old girl who was diagnosed with high functioning autism last year. She is assessed as having normal range average intelligence with some particular abilities in processing speed and reading and cognition. We have always schooled her through private education in the Christian Independent sector and though we had problems with making and keeping friends, she was able and happy enough to achieve academically. In Jan this year at her request ( read relentless insistence) we agreed to allow her to attend weekly boarding at a local school with equestrian studies on the curriculum. You guessed it, special interest is horses and we may live in a regional area but are truely suburban dwellers. This started a downward spiral with our previously happy and coping child after multiple episodes of physical bullying which resulted in several hospital visits. The most distressing issue though was the lack of supervision and duty of care particularly in the boarding house where she was exposed to kids from difficult backgrounds such as abandonment and fostering and the justice system. These kids bullied but taught her how to use social media in the middle of the night to discuss self harming and suicide and other dark topics she had no prior knowledge of. We managed to extract her with her agreement after two terms having been the victim of an online stalker / ? Predator who demanded she meet with him or he’d come to the boarding house! The local police became involved and the. The child protection officers and finally our daughter asked to come home and we were there in a heartbeat. She has never recovered and is attending a private school locally but too anxious and angry and oppositional to achieve academically. I recently watched a documentary about girls with autism and I really think she has a subset diagnosis of pathalogical demand avoidance. We are struggling and her situation just seems to be getting worse despite so much talking with psychologists and mental health workers and psychiatrists and paediatricians. Yesterday I was called to the hospital after she Sought help from school for escalating self harm. We were unaware and it was devastating. She wants to be home schooled but we don’t feel it’s an option for us. Has anyone else trodden this road and can offer suggestions for improving her life and ours. I fear for her future despite her supposed normal intelligence. What is to become of her, I don’t know how to help anymore

  39. Sarah says:

    hi Jo, I’m so sorry, I’ve only just seen this comment. That must be so hard for you! How is your daughter going now? It also doesn’t help that she is in the crux of puberty, a time when people on the spectrum can develop depression or other issues due to their fluctuating hormones. I hope things are going better for you now

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