As a parent of a child with special education needs and also the chairman of a support group for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, I can honestly say I have come across the best and worst of special education and the attitude of those who should know better towards our most vulnerable children.
Let me start with the worst. Where was this found? In a church school surprisingly. Christian people who should have known better treated a child with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the most appalling manner.
This family had three children. The older two went through the school with no problem. They were high achievers and well-liked among staff and students. The parents enjoyed a good relationship with all the staff and support was mutual.
However, the third child was diagnosed with an ASD and everything changed. The parents, quite rightly, assumed this school would offer their child support, understanding and care. The school did say it would be difficult to find a one-to-one support worker, which was what this child needed. However, a local outreach special needs unit offered to place a member of their staff full-time with the child until the school could find proper help. This was agreed to, but almost immediately the helper was sent home, as the class teacher found she could not cope with another adult in the classroom. She actually said she felt undermined and threatened.
This teacher quite suddenly stopped talking to the parents, made out the child was terribly behaved (surprisingly enough, before the diagnosis she had not complained), and eventually the head teacher stepped in and saw the parents – not the classroom teacher. He simply said she did not have to see the family, but that nothing was wrong.
The child continued at the school, but it got so that when it came to school trips and concerts the child would be excluded. The family was told that other parents had written to the school about the child flapping and not liking change, being difficult standing in line and so on. Once, he was told he could not take part in a concert the evening before the performance. Another child was given his costume and he had to watch the rehearsal with another child the costume he had made in his part.
Trips were a no-go area and even parental support was refused, saying it was not fair to other parents.
Eventually, the head teacher made it clear he wanted rid of a child with special needs – he was the first in the school with an ASD – and made it clear he wanted the family to leave. He even began to take it out on the other children. The child with the problems became self-loathing and lacking in self-esteem.
The family removed their son to a safe place on the advice of a special needs council and sent him to the local primary school. This was a difficult decision to make as the family felt sure the local primary school could not cope with their son.
Now we come to the best attitude towards special education kids. At the local primary school they were welcomed with open arms. He was made to feel welcome from day one; they assigned him a helper – even though no funding was given to them for him, they found the money somehow; and he had a wonderful teacher who really helped him to cope with many difficult situations.
He was included in trips and concerts and the family was given a lot of support. Good relationships built up with the head teacher and class teacher and the family and the child thrived. He left this school to go to high school with his confidence restored. He felt included, that his disability was not a problem and that he could go on to achieve. He even stayed in touch with his helper.
This school also listened to the parents, took advice from everyone they could and learned about ASDs for themselves. They made sure that not only this child but any child who followed would be welcomed and helped as much as possible.
The primary school displayed a much more Christian attitude than the church school, whose employees should feel ashamed of themselves.
Dealing with children with special needs does take time, care and a good deal of forgiveness and understanding. Some schools support a policy which includes everyone, some support policies which only include the average and middle classes. I know which one I would rather be part of.