My son is at the end of year 5 and in a mainstream independent boys school that goes up to year 8. He was diagnosed with ASD age 7, which we were not particularly expecting at the time - we were seeing a community paediatrician about his irritable bladder and she mentionned it and referred onto a neuropsychiatry CAMHS service. We have been very lucky that his school, which he has been in since yr1 when we moved to our current home (Oxford), has been very helpful and supportive. We chose the independent school as when we moved into Oxford from elsewhere, we couldn't get a place at a state school that wasn't miles away or in special measures, but I'm pleased we ended up doing it now.
My son is well behaved at school, no challenging behaviours per se but he can get very anxious and scared, and doesn't require much 1:1. He has dyslexia and has a 1:1 1hr spelling focused session per week at the moment but that is all. His main difficulties in terms of school are dyslexia (spelling 2yrs behind), not coping with change, rushing work and not checking, interpreting everything very literally, highly sensitive, emotionally immature. His achievement is okay, overall he is not behind except for in English (spelling and what seems like carelessness seem to be the main issues) and has an above average IQ overall. He has an IEP in school but not an EHCP - realistically his ASD doesn't cause great enough problems at school to warrant that. I think the things which have helped him are it being a small school overall, smaller classes (about 15-18), kind nuturing staff and them being quite flexible.
We need to look for a secondary and/or senior school for him. He could start there in yr7 or yr9 depending on what seems best. Our two potential state comprehensives seem totally unsuitable, they are both HUGE schools with very diverse intake many of whom have much greater social, educational and /or health issues. One has 73% of school with english as an additional language, so I think their resources are stretched. I've visited both and don't think he would cope!
We are basically resigned to keeping him in independent schools as I just can't see him surviving a comprehensive. His neuropsychiatry CAMHS consultant said that a mainstream school that is not highly selective and quite nuturing would be best, and suggested that unless the school is very close then weekly boarding often works very well for her similar patients.
I want to make it clear I recognise that as a family we are incredibly lucky to be able to afford an independent school and many people could never do this.
- How did other people choose a mainstream secondary school for their ASD-offspring ? My other son is younger and neurotypical so no experience at all.
- Anyone had their child at a mainstream boarding school and found it worked?
Really grateful for any advice!
Most autistic kids crave routine and predictability - boarding school has a very small chance of providing a perfect-fit sanctuary where there is space to escape if they are overloaded. Private day schools are normally very good because of the small class sizes and lack of the 'disruptive element' causing a chaotic environment - and also £15k cheaper than boarding!
My daughter went private from infants through to uni - and she's just graduated with a 1st.
Thanks, appreciate it. How did you pick the school your daughter attended?
We have 3 of the most prestigious private schools around here (among others) and our daughter got outright offers from each as she changed from one to the next. She was grown up enough to know which secondary and 6th form schools she wanted to attend.
Thanks. I think it might be a bit trickier here - potentially we have lots of school options but many of the schools are known to be academically pressured, which is a concern for me.
You just need to go around and talk to the schools - all of them are different - some are pot-boilers/pressure cookers that feed directly to Oxford/Cambridge, some are Stepford Wife factories, some are sports mad, some are all about what's best for the kids etc. You need to let your son go around with you on the visits to see if any catch his eye. If he is taken with a particular school, he's more likely to feel comfortable and want to try harder rather than feeling stuck/dumped somewhere he doesn't fit. Some are much better and more experienced at dealing with special needs, some aren't really interested - you'll get the vibe from the teachers.
Because of my Aspergers, our daughter has developed 'aspie-dar' - she can spot aspies a mile away - and she says her sixth form school was full of them - and all went to Oxbridge.
Thanks. I recognise I do need to go and look and them - covid making that tough at the moment. I think I'll email all the admissions people and see what they can suggest re visiting in the autumn. I think I will check them out and shortlist then let my son visit!
Penguin1983 said: His neuropsychiatry CAMHS consultant said that a mainstream school that is not highly selective and quite nuturing would be best
I am an SpLD specialist and from what you have written about your son I'd take this with a pinch of salt. If he's anxious and is in a minority compared to his peers being surrounded by others all the time will likely be a nightmare for him, especially if hs communication needs re in the minority. It doesn't sound like your son is dyslexic and instead is autistic and has ADHD. If your son is highly sensitive, is easily distracted etc a mainstream school doesn't sound like the right fit. If he's is having minimal support in primary and why have you been recommended to avoid academically selective schools? From what you've written it doesn't sound like there's any issue with his attainment even though he's operating in an environment where the lessons and assessment material hasn't been written in a way that is inclusive of his needs?
I believe your son's main issues academically are his attention span (which affects his proofreading skills), plus his teacher's inability to communicate in a way that includes the needs of autistic individuals. For example, being vague rather than direct. Unless you're going to medicate your son his attention span won't improve, therefore, it's about accepting this and putting strategies in place to manage this. For example, I am studying a PhD and like many ADHDers I spend my day moving around the house with my laptop as I can't focus in one spot for a long time. Please remember that communication is a two way street. There's currently a lot of work going on in HE to try and educate lecturers in how to write assignment briefs that include everyone, instead of being so poorly written that many students need outside support to decode their communication in the form of autism mentors and specialist tutors. Are the schools you are looking at actively making an effort to communicate in a way that is suitable to autistic individuals or are they just accommodating the predominant neurotype and expecting autistic individuals to go through a lot of stress and effort to decode unsuitable communication?
My daughter is autistic and I've just started looking at primary schools. As a specialist in the field I am aware of how poorly teachers are trained and was conscious that a lot of work in how to study most effectively for her needs will take place at home. The one that's at the top of our list is there because:
If I were in your shoes I'd be looking for a supportive environment and then paying for an academic skills tutor, who specialises in autism and SpLDs, to teach your son strategies for studying effectively and efficiently.
Thankyou for such a long reply!
Some of your comments resonate, not sure about the ADHD though. Mainly as he has had two assessments already by CAMHS and community paediatrics as part of their overall assessment and they both thought his concentration was fine. Appreciate there could be milder form though. I'm going to discuss with my husband as I do think areas like the direct rather than vague instructions are an issue.
I feel a specialist Education would benefit greatly i know you feel a mainstream setting would be better bit trust me as an Autistic individual who was in Msinstream school.
I was riddiculed, bullied and the Special Educational needs staff in Senco room did not support me. Class Work was too fast passed, really hard and then I ended up in a phyciatric unit over the constant lack of support from staff, teachers and being bullied. I was in this school untill year 11 and then I judt had enough and did something not good which was a due to nkt coping snymore.
I was in 2 phyciatric units, I only had Autism, Anxiety and low.mood and the school caused me to do a bad thing.
I went to a special needs school after my Karen's fault hard for me to get in to the school.
When fost started the special needs school at first I thought it would be a school thst you go to and just sit there and dont learn, but in fact I was helped with confidence, independence, life skills, learning etc. They really helped me.
Overall I feel you can be supported in a slecisl educational needs school or centre to hp you learn better, improve your life and make you overall happy to go to school each day, they csn help you in all manners in life and even talk and keep parents involved in your child's wellbeing, learning etc. They are always ready to help no matter what.
So just choose a specisl needs school that can help your child or children with the needs and disabilities they have.
So before feeling these special needs school are not good trust me they are just choose a special needs school that can help your young person (persons) through every aspect if there life jist like a school in Lo don Edmonton called West Lea.
Unfortunately, as these 'disabilities' are socially constructed the labels given out by professionals are simply the educated opinion of a small number of people. These individuals might have been looking for a certain label, may not know what questions to ask etc. As such, it is really important that you work with people who simply focus on the challenges/weaknesses your son has and how he can overcome these rather than a specific label.
Personally, 4 psychiatrists working for the NHS misdiagnosed me with bipolar disorder initially, plus an SpLD specialist diagnosed me with dyslexia. None of these labels were the right ones for me and caused years of unnecessary stress and additional work. I had to be incredibly firm with the NHS when I sought an initial autism assessment as these practitioners did not believe me, when in fact I am autistic and haven't experienced any MH issues since my diagnosis. Furthermore, I too had to independently seek an ADHD diagnosis as this was not picked up by any of the specialists I saw. I only realised that I am classed as having ADHD after working with a number of students who had been diagnosed and behaved the same as me. I was initially misdiagnosed with dyslexia as my mum is dyslexic, hence, this was what I initially explored with my university's disability team and they didn't try and investigate any other options.