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Childhood

Preparing for school is a complex process when you have an autistic child, and planning for the transition to school should start as early as possible.

Group of happy primary school children

The first thing to do is to find out about the different schooling options available to autistic students.

You can find a range of information sheets to help with your choice of school in the Resources section of this website.

Contacting schools

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?
  • Are they aware of autism, 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 and how to teach your child.

Visiting schools

Decide which schools you would like to visit and make an appointment with each. It’s better not to take your child on these preliminary visits, as it may be too confusing for them. Visit on a typical school day, not a special ‘open day’.

After your visits, here are some points to consider:

  • Was the Principal positive? If not, it’s unlikely they will enthusiastically support staff members.
  • Did the school offer you enrollment documents and details about the process of applying for any additional funding?
  • Does the school seem prepared to be flexible to meet your child’s needs?
  • Does the school have integration support staff?

You may also find the Questions to Ask Your School information sheet on the Resources page helpful.

Your child’s early intervention or kindergarten program will help with the transition to school.

Here are some suggestions for things you can do – talk to your child’s therapists about which ones are suitable for your child.

  • 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 script,or series of social scripts 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’s important to be aware of what’s important to your child, and what makes your child anxious. Prepare a daily schedule or timetable to help reduce these anxieties. For example, a colourful chart to show your child that lunchtime, toilet time and home time are part of the school day. This can 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.

Once you choose a school, you will need to enrol your child.

The school may 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 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. You may 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’s 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 your child under the Program for Students with Disabilities (PSD). This is only available to a small number of autistic children. 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: Amaze is not able to provide this type of advocacy support, but we do provide advice on other organisations that can. Call 1300 308 699 for more information.

The bureaucracy involved in school enrolment can be complex. Below 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.

Helping the school community to support your child

There are many ways to help your child’s new school learn more about autism and support your child. For example:

  • Arrange for a teacher or clinician who knows your child to speak to the staff.
  • Arrange for an outreach teacher from an autism specialist school to provide training to the staff at your school.
  • Prepare an autism information package for the school.
  • Make an information book about your child.

It is important to remain positive and try to understand the many demands placed on teachers and schools. A teacher may have previously taught an autistic student – but while that may be very helpful, it doesn’t mean that they are an expert, as every autistic person is unique.

It will take time for the school to understand your child. You may find it useful to share a link to Amaze’s Resources page, as many of our information sheets are designed for teachers and teacher’s aides.

For more information

If you’d like more information on autism and childhood, please contact the Amaze Autism Advisors on 1300 308 699, email info@amaze.org.au or use the webchat on this site. This service is open from 8am–7pm, Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays).

We also provide a range of information sheets about many aspects of autism – these are updated regularly. Check them out on the Resources page.

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