Been to Heatherwood

Well today was the day that we went and checked out Heatherwood. Paul met myself and my friend Amanda there. My first impression was about how close it was to Springvale Road. It’s not really an issue anymore; though Beth doesn’t have any sense of traffic danger she doesn’t tend to wander off as much as when we were looking at primary school.

It’s an excellent school and just what Beth needs. I do have a bit of a battle to sort out within myself however. We went into a meeting to start with to discuss what happens during transitions and during schooling. The emphasis is really there on getting these kids independant. When I told the lady showing us around that our aide from Primary School was willing to come along to transition mornings I was told that she was welcome to come and see the school but she wouldn’t be allowed to go into the classroom. Beth wont have a one on one aide when there, therefore it’s not good for her to have one for the transitions. When asked if parent participation is wanted I was told that no, in fact parents aren’t wanted at the school at all. What teenager wants their parent at their high school?

 In my head this all makes sense and I realise that it’s the best place for Beth. My heart has the problem of not wanting to cut the umbilical cord however. I can’t help but think that (to start with at least) Beth will hate the place. If she’s anxious or upset about something in particular now in class her aide can take her for a walk or sit with her and read. I didn’t really think about this until driving home and realised I should have asked what happens if they have a meltdown in class. What sort of punishments and consequences do they get? How will she cope without having that one on one aide time that she has come to rely on?

It’s quite a distance too which once again is my issue. Even if Beth is on the bus it wont bother her much, if she’s playing on her dsi she’s oblivious to the time.Mind you, she has to be in charge of her dsi, it’s up to her to put it and keep it in her bag. That worries me a bit. And I  hate the thought of her being so far away. The traffic was horrid going there, I’m become spoilt, living in an area that doesn’t have city traffic. There is another school in Dandenong that is similar so I’m thinking I’ll check them out too, just in case. I could even drive her there in the mornings as it’s an easy drive. Of course I’ll have to weigh it up if the school doesn’t offer as much as Heatherwood.

On the plus side it has great facilities. The woodworking shed is fabulous, they have dune buggies to teach them how to drive, they have industrial kitchens to learn. The 3 bedroom house has cooking facilities also and they are taught simple tasks such as matching socks as well as more difficult tasks such as cleaning bathrooms and making their own doctors appointments. There is a mechanic’s workshop, lawn mowers and a canteen run by the kids. We met some of the kids in the kitchen and they really seem happy. I know Beth would fit in and eventually love it. The year seven and eight classes are similar to primary school too. This means that other than the speciality subjects all of their classes would be in the same classroom with the same teacher.

I asked about the use of laptops as at primary Beth has been using one quite a bit. I was told that yes, they do have them in the computer room, but they didn’t encourage the use of them in the normal classrooms, they expected them to write. I guess I agree with this, while they are used in mainstream high school to modify the curriculum, Heatherwood has a modified curriculum anyway. I do have to learn to let them assess Beth in their own way too. When explaining the classrooms before going in we were told the first one was for the more dependant children. I said that Beth was fairly dependant, she has a full time aide after all. When looking around the classroom though I noticed that it was quite similar to a junior school classroom in primary school. We were then told that kids who were in there had problems with reading and writing. Beth is an excellent reader and I could have done her a disservice by getting her put into a class of kids less functioning than her, thus not challenging her which she needs.

All in all it was a positive visit. Paul seemed quite taken by it and Amanda seemed quite keen too. I know it’s the best place for Beth. She needs to learn not to lean on me all the time and she can learn how to be independant. She can do work experience and volunteer work, she can study to be whatever she wants to be. There’s support there for her that I would have to source independantly if she was at mainstream school. It’s just so scary, she’s only 12 for goodness sakes! Of course lots of these independant things wouldn’t start in year seven.

Basically if nothing else it has decided for me that mainstream high school isn’t for her. I’ll check out Emerson in Dandenong and if it’s not as good then Heatherwood is where she’ll be. I showed Beth the magazine and she quite likes the look of it. After we’ve decided between the two schools we’ll take Beth for a visit. I can’t believe it’s nearly June already, where has the time gone?

About Sarah

Mother of an autistic child wanting to write about my personal experiences
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4 Responses to Been to Heatherwood

  1. Su-Yin Johns says:

    Hi there, just wanted to say I’ve been reading your blog for a while and am so impressed by all that you do and achieve! I’m at the start of the process – my little girl is just 3, and is in preschool at Southern Autistic. I was so anxious at the start of the first term because she wasn’t even verbal yet, and I had never left her with anyone but close family. However the staff have been incredibly dedicated, professional, knowledgeable and effective. Everything they do, from the tiniest child to the oldest, is aimed at increasing independence and self-confidence. The support I’ve found amongst other mums and families has been an added bonus!
    Whichever school you choose, if you feel it’s not working you could always try something else – nothing is set in stone and you will always be the one who knows Beth best. Best wishes to you all on the big journey! xxSu

  2. Sarah says:

    Hi Su, thankyou so much for reading and writing to me. That’s fantastic about Southern Autistic, it sounds like a great program. We chose mainstream for primary school which has been fantastic but are noticing in the later years the big difference between her and the other kids. Teenage years are different too. I often wonder how it would have been if we had chosen a special school instead. The main thing is that you feel that your child is safe I believe and it sounds like you have that. You’re right too, I can always move Beth if it doesn’t seem to be working. I do believe it will be the best thing for her. Thanks again for your comment and for reading, it’s lovely to get such positive feedback. xx

  3. Bernice says:

    Hi Sarah,
    Good luck with choosing your school, I am a very hands on Granny an have just contacted a local school to enrol Jamie after being told by our first choice that ther was a problem with no buses in our town, this we knew about and were prepared to drive Jamie every day, our problem not the school plus a few othe rissues so we talk as a family and Jamie’s *team member* and cam up with Jamie is not wanted, so we ruled that school out !. It is very hard, I have already been there done that with Jamie’s elder sister now aged 24, oh boy the head ached, BUT I have learnt a lot over the years, go with your feeling, can only do what you think is best, we all make mistakes, love reading your Blog :-}, take care B

  4. Sarah says:

    thanks Bernice, yes it’s such a hard choice isn’t it? I don’t want to take it lightly and not just think about Beth’s autism as opposed to her ‘person’ if you know what I mean. I’m looking at Emerson on Tuesday which is closer. It means I would have to drive her but at least I would feel that I am having some part in her schooling. Heatherwood was great but I didn’t get the ‘feeling’ necessarily from it. Still, maybe it’s just me being overprotective! Thanks so much for reading! x

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