Working with school for your autistic child

Photo by Kelli Tungay on Unsplash

It’s a common scenario. You have a child who has been diagnosed as on the autistic spectrum and you want their school to provide additional support. Obtaining this support can be an incredibly frustrating process. Schools, facing increasing budget cuts, can struggle to provide the kind of support you would like for your child. Your child is struggling and you want strategies to be implemented but often they either aren’t agreed in the first place, or they are agreed but then not implemented consistently or at all.

I’ve experienced frustration obtaining support for Super Kid when he received his diagnosis of autism. I’ve cried angry tears as I watched him struggle and didn’t feel that he was being supported properly. I’ve been angry with our school’s SENCO, and his teachers but not known what to do.

Eventually I realised that raging at the SENCO, the school and the system was getting me nowhere. He still wasn’t being supported, and I was feeling angry and distrustful of the place I was entrusting his wellbeing to five days a week. I realised that if I couldn’t work with, and trust his school then I shouldn’t be sending him there at all.

So I approached the SENCO honestly. Explained how I was feeling at the broken promises and inconsistent strategies. I asked her to work with me. I wanted to be a team, working together to support him, not wasting my valuable energy fighting her and the school. I told her that I wanted her to be honest with me at all times. That if a strategy wasn’t possible, or a letter hadn’t been sent, I wanted her to tell me rather than making promises that couldn’t be achieved. Life isn’t perfect, and I just wanted us to be doing our very best within a system which is fundamentally broken.

After this meeting we developed a positive relationship. We became a team and that has been much more effective.

Today I’m sharing my tips for working with your child’s school to support them. I am not a professional, and I don’t claim to have all the answers, this is just information I have gathered on my own journey within the education system.

Working with school for your autistic child;

Document everything. Initially I was attending meetings without documenting agreed upon strategies and relying on the school to just do what had been agreed. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. Now I document everything agreed upon in meetings. That way I can monitor what strategies are being used, and when. Also worst case scenario, if the strategy isn’t being implemented as promised I have evidence of exactly what was agreed and when. This also means that I can monitor effectiveness of strategies and when we applied for our EHCP I had a history of what support had already been provided.

On that topic. My understanding of eligibility for EHCP is that it’s for children whose needs exceed the SEN budget that schools have to provide support for their SEN children. Meaning that if you have a history of strategies being implemented over a reasonable period of time, and your child is still struggling that is the point at which you can look to apply for top up funding and/or an EHCP. So basically if your child’s needs are above and beyond what can be provided by SEN funding in school then they will need an EHCP.

Meet regularly. I meet regularly with my two autistic children’s teachers and the school SENCO. This gives us time to discuss any problems, and strategies being tried. It also gives us time to assess the effectiveness of previously implemented strategies.

Be the expert on your child. Teachers will have training and experience of working with children on the autistic spectrum. That said every autistic child is an individual with an individual set of needs. Don’t be afraid to be the expert on your child. You know them better than anyone else, and have been working with them for the longest. Share information and strategies that work at home.

Research and share your findings. I research anything that might be helpful in working with my child and share that information with the school. I also share events and courses that might be relevant or helpful. For example I found this really useful information for teachers on the National Autistic Society website.

Be firm but polite. I find this one really hard when I’m feeling frustrated. It is tempting to go into school full guns blazing and make demands. But this isn’t fair or helpful. I believe that the people working with my children generally have their best interests at heart. They are people, with feelings and they deserve to be treated with respect. In addition I have found you get better results when being polite.

Ensure consistency between school and home. Autistic children need consistency. Therefore if a strategy is being used at school I will use a similar system at home. For example my daughter uses feelings fans at school and at home. We use similar sensory strategies and have similar expectations of behaviour. In addition to this if school are using a strategy I will discuss the strategy and prepare my child for it ahead of time. For example my daughter is currently using a visual checklist to help with the transition between school and home in the mornings. So each day I remind her that her goal is to successfully complete the checklist, and I emphasise how proud I, and her teacher, will be when she succeeds.