Preparing for school is a complex process when you have a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder and planning for the transition to school should start as early as possible.
Choosing a School for Your ASD Child
The first thing to do is to find out about the different schooling options available to students with an ASD. The following information sheets give details about the options and will help you with your decision:
Once you have decided on your chosen schooling option, make a list of preferred schools and get in touch with them to get a feel for each school. Here are some things to consider after that first contact call:
- Did you feel welcomed by a senior staff member?
- Did they readily accept your child’s right to attend their school?
- Were they aware of Autism Spectrum Disorder, or indicate that they were willing to learn?
- Did the staff member know about the process of applying for additional government funding to support your child’s learning?
- Are there other students with special needs attending the school?
- Did you get a sense that the school had an attitude of treating all students as individuals with individual needs?
A positive school environment is one where you and your child are made welcome, your concerns are addressed in a timely way, and the staff show a keen interest in learning about Autism Spectrum Disorders and how to teach your child.
Decide which schools you would like to visit and make an appointment with each. It is probably better not to take your child on these preliminary visits, as it may be too confusing for them. Try to visit on a typical school day, not a special ‘open day’. After your visits, here are a few more things to consider:
- Was the Principal positive? If not, it is unlikely they will enthusiastically support staff members
- Did the school offer you enrolment documents and details about the process of applying for any additional funding?
- Does the school seem prepared to be flexible to meet the needs of your child?
- Does the school have integration support staff?
- Did you feel that there was a productive ‘buzz’ about the place?
The following information sheets may be of assistance:
Enrolling in a School
Once you choose a school, you will need to enrol your child. The school might ask for details of your child’s diagnosis, and it might be useful at this stage to share any assessment reports with the school: this will help them to determine whether your child meets the criteria to apply for additional funding to assist the school in supporting their individual learning needs.
If you wish to enrol your child in an Autism Specific School, be sure to ask the school about the correct enrolment procedure. Often you might need to enrol in your local mainstream school so that the appropriate applications for funding can be made in order to determine your child’s eligibility to enrol in the Autism specific school.
Supporting the Student
Once the school has enrolled your child, it is important to ensure that the student has ongoing support.
In government schools, a Student Support Group (SSG) will be formed (previously known as a Program Support Group or PSG) to plan for your child’s program. Parents are members of the SSG and are able to have a supporter or advocate attend meetings with them. If only one parent is able to attend PSG meetings, a supporter or advocate is highly recommended. The SSG will complete an Educational Needs Questionnaire and application form for the Program for Students with Disabilities (PSD): this is only available to a small number of children with an ASD. The regional office usually advises schools of the decision just before the end of each school year. In the meantime, the SSG should prepare a school transition program. This should include input from your child’s early intervention program, if applicable.
In independent and catholic schools, there will be similar support programs for students: ask the school what they provide.
Note: we are not able to provide this type of advocacy support, but we do provide advice on other organisations that can. The Association for Children with a Disability
The bureaucracy involved in school enrolment can be complex: these are some of the hurdles you might meet:
- Assessment reports that are considered incomplete or out of date: you may be required to arrange further assessments, often at your own cost.
- Major staff changes may occur at the school: you may have to revisit your list of preferred schools.
- A Principal or regional officer may say that your child is not eligible for the Program for Students with Disabilities (PSD).
- Allocation of an inadequate amount of support funding, or no funding at all: the SSG can and should appeal an unacceptable funding decision. (Amaze has prepared an FAQ about school funding and support in Victorian Government schools, which you can access here.)
Helping the School Community to Help Your Child
There are many ways to help your child’s new school learn more about Autism Spectrum Disorder and to help your child. These could involve:
- Arranging for a teacher or clinician who knows your child to speak to the staff
- Arranging for an outreach teacher from an autism specialist school to provide training to the staff at your school
- Preparing an Autism Spectrum Disorder information package for the school
- Making an information book about your child
- Inviting the school to become a member of Autism Victoria trading as Amaze, and encouraging your child’s teacher to use our Autism Library, which includes great resources for schools, including books for children and adolescents.
It is important to remain positive and to appreciate the many demands placed on teachers and schools. A teacher may have previously taught a student with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, and whilst that may be very helpful, it does not mean that they are an expert as every child with ASD is different.
It will take time for the school to understand your child and you may find it useful to pass on a copy of the information sheet designed for teachers and teacher’s aides below.
Preparing your Child for School
Your child’s early intervention or kindergarten program will help with the transition to school. Here are some suggestions for things you can do:
- Arrange visits to the school and participate in short sessions or activities: start with time periods as short as five minutes and gradually increase these
- Prepare a Social Story or series of stories to help your child understand the routines and social situations at school
- Make a ‘School Scrapbook’: include photos of the buildings, classroom, canteen, toilets, playground and key staff members
- Prepare a calendar to count down the days (and intervening major events) before school starts
It is important to be aware of things that are important to your child, or that make your child anxious. Prepare a daily schedule or timetable to help reduce these anxieties. A colourful chart will show your child that lunchtime, toilet time and home time are part of the school day and will reduce any anxiety about learning the routine of the school day.
Ask the school to be aware of any particular obsession your child may have and to accommodate it. Include ‘chill out’ time where they can engage in their obsession. Your child needs to know these times (and conditions), so that they will more readily accept the boundaries that the school will impose.
Where to get more help
We provide a full range of Information Sheets about all aspects of ASD – these are updated regularly.