Super Kid is in his final year of primary school. He will start secondary school in September 2018 and as an autistic child choosing the right school for him is especially important. So that he can start secondary school with the right support in place, get the best start possible and hopefully have a happy and successful transition to the next stage of schooling.
We’ve spent the last few weeks viewing our local schools, both specialist and mainstream in order to find the right school for him. We’ve narrowed it down and found a school that we all liked (including Super Kid) and which appears to be in a position to meet his needs.
Having found this process tricky I thought I’d share what I’ve learned with you.
Choosing a secondary school for an autistic child;
We are in the process of getting an EHCP plan in place for Super Kid. In the UK an EHCP is for children aged 0-25 who are in education and have additional needs. The plan coordinates your child’s educational, health and social needs and sets out any additional support they may need.
An EHCP is needed if despite school making efforts to identify, assess and meet the special educational need the child still doesn’t make expected progress in one or more of these areas.
Super Kid has been well supported by his primary school, but despite this support he still experiences significant difficulty in some areas and therefore needs this plan. It’s also important for us because it enables us to access secondary schools which otherwise wouldn’t be possible due to catchment areas and other specifications for application. We will be able to approach our chosen school and ask them to take him if they feel they can meet his needs.
I would recommend anyone in a similar position to start looking at applying for an EHCP towards the end of year five, or at the start of year six. My hope is that this will ensure that he starts an appropriate school with the right support in place for a successful transition.
You can apply for an EHCP either via school or if that isn’t possible you can apply personally. Either way I would recommend getting support for this process. Contact the NAS for information on what kind of support is available in your area.
Visit schools and meet SENCO;
I visited most of the schools when Super Kid was in year five and narrowed the choices down. Then at the start of year six we have taken Super Kid to visit the shortlisted schools.
I made sure I spoke to the SENCO (person in charge of coordinating the care of children with additional needs) at each school. I would recommend taking a list of the kind of support you think your child will need and asking the SENCO whether and how they can meet those specific needs. I would also ask how they manage the transition from primary school, and be looking for lots of additional support around this.
Finally ask how they will communicate with you about your child’s needs to ensure that lines of communication are open and easy.
On my visits and meetings with SENCOs I found I instinctively knew which SENCOs seemed most passionate and invested in meeting my child’s needs. I also think it’s important to trust those instincts because you will have to work with this professional throughout your child’s secondary education. It’s obviously most ideal if this relationship is one of trust and respect.
Consider the environment;
When visiting local schools I paid attention to the environment and considered how the environment would feel in relation to my sons sensory processing needs.
If you can visit during school hours this will give you a real feel for how noise travels through the school at busy times. Also pay attention to lighting, lay out of classrooms, uniform, and outdoor spaces.
If you have any concerns about any of these aspects speak to the SENCO and ask if there are any accommodations that can be made to help your child in these areas.
Consider the school’s focus;
Some of the schools we visited talked a lot about the importance of exam results, others talked about meeting individual child’s needs, and acknowledged that the traditional exam route wasn’t the best route for every child. This is reassuring as it shows flexibility and a consideration for individual children.
Some schools have a particular subject area that they are known for. For example one local school is a maths, and science school, another has a strong focus on music and maths. Consider your child’s strengths in relation to this.
Communicate with your child;
I promised Super Kid that we would take his preference into consideration when choosing which schools to apply for. This reassured him and helped him to feel in control which is often important for autistic children. As such his preference of school has definitely influenced our choices.
If your child is non verbal this is obviously more difficult, but it’s still possible to get a feel for which schools they feel most comfortable visiting. If taking them to visit would be too stressful for them, perhaps you could take photographs around each school to show them afterwards.
Consider the journey to school;
If your child will attend specialist provision in area then transport is often provided. If not then consider how your child will cope with travelling to your chosen school. Is it on an easy bus route? Would you be able to take them if necessary?
I hope this has been helpful. If you have any further tips on choosing a secondary for your autistic child, or any questions then leave me a comment. Comments are always appreciated and I try to respond to them all.