Every now and again I get emails from parents commenting on something I’ve written on here. I love getting feedback, it’s nice to know people are reading and are getting something out of my blog. The post I get the most comments about is about mainstream versus special school. I went back to find it and found that Beth was only 10 at the time of my writing, it was way back in October 2009 and Beth was still in grade four. It certainly wasn’t the first time I had thought about high school, I had started looking when Beth was in grade two or three, it’s amazing how many years I spent stressing over what the hell we were going to do.

There are conflicting opinions on what choice to make with high school. Some readers told me that mainstream school was the best option, that their child regressed when changed to a special school. Others were (and are) in the same situation that I was in then, deliberating which type of school would suit their child. It’s such a hard decision to make. There are pros and cons for both and it all depends on the individual school and the individual child.

I can only go by my own experience which has for the most part been extremely positive. Our special school has already taught Beth more independance, she’s happy to go there and she seems popular amongst her peers. Socially she seems to be getting there. She does like her own company and often spends her lunchtimes by herself but lately she has been telling me of playing with friends and has now joined the choir with a couple of them. And it’s only half way through term two of her first year. I know it’s definitely the place for Beth, for independance and for self confidence. This of course is not to say that it would necessarily work for somebody elses child.

In our case there has been sacrifices made too. I drive up to three hours a day most days, by the time I drop Bill and Bridie off at primary school, drive Beth another half and hour and then get home it’s usually a good 90 minutes. Then I have to leave at 2pm to do it all over again. I rarely get to spend time at Bill and Bridie’s school because I’m not there most of the time. The driving means that unless I am lucky enough to find a job near Beth’s school (and then only for five hours a day) there is no way I could work and make it worthwhile. I haven’t had a situation where myself or one of the other kids are sick yet, touch wood. This however was my decision, I chose to send Beth to a school that we are not zoned for. I could have sent her somewhere else and she could have caught the bus but she would have been travelling for over three hours a day on that bus and I didn’t like the school. My gut told me to go where we are and I’ve never regretted it. But it does tie me to the driving for the next six years.

These are the things that parents have to weigh up. It does matter how it effects you as a parent. I am lucky enough that at this stage we can just get by without me working. Many parents don’t have that luxury. Does your child have good social interaction with mainstream kids? My Beth did to a certain point but not on ‘their level’. One of my readers was worried that their son may regress in this area as he does have good social skills. This is something that has to be weighed up too. Perhaps dual schooling might work, perhaps you could trial this in the later primary school years if your special school is a prep to 12 school? Sometimes sadly there is not a choice, if your child doesn’t get funding or his or her iq is above 70. I find this ridiculous, that funding is not based on behaviour and emotional age but instead on if they did well in their iq test. Lots of these kids are good at memorizing patterns or may be bright in another area but can’t read or write or in Beth’s case will walk out in front of a car. My personal opinion is that if the choice is there, if you can choose between high school and special school, it’s not going to hurt you to look at your options. That way you can make an informed decision rather than assuming something that may not be true. You may be pleasantly surprised, and if one doesn’t work out at least you know a little about the other if you end up having to go down that path.

The other thing I noticed when reading the post from all those years ago was how far Beth has come. We hadn’t even looked at special schools at that stage, it was just me thinking out loud. It was about me worrying about how Beth would cope with getting her period (no worries at all) and how I was thinking even then that home schooling might be the only option we had. We even looked at repeating Beth in grade five to give me an extra year, either with home schooling or if the autism specific high school in our area that was planned wouldn’t be ready in time. (By the way, it’s still not ready and never would be for us). I’m so happy that we’re out the other side, that I know where Beth will be for the next five and a half years and that she’s where she should be. She’s doing better all the time and I’m so proud of her. It’s time to relax and enjoy the next couple of years before I start stressing about work options and housing and all the other stresses about being the mum of an autistic adult – nooooooooo!

About Sarah

Mother of an autistic child wanting to write about my personal experiences
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