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Monday, 22 September 2014

Back to School and “Learning Years”

School for Monty, aged 11 with ASD, did start a couple of weeks ago but then a nasty virus swept through school, sending him back home again.

To recap, Monty attends a very small mainstream international school with his own assistant. The school uses the English system. To get the equivalent US grade, you subtract one from the English year.  He comes home after lunch and then has one-to-one, ABA-inspired, home schooling for another three hours.    In school holidays he has eight hours a day of ABA-inspired one-to-one home program.  This has been going on for seven years so far.

Following all these years of ABA, schooling at home and 20 months of his PolyPill he is now able to learn at school, follow the rules and interact with staff and other children.  He now initiates play with the other kids.

When his assistant leaves at 2pm, the teachers now want him to stay by himself for afternoon classes like art and physical education.  This is quite a change, until quite recently the teachers did not want him there if his assistant was unable to be at school, or got delayed in traffic.

The clever move turned out to be holding him back two years, a while back; so that he is now in a group of 8 year olds.  This makes sense for many reasons; most importantly, he is at the academic level of classmates.  Since he did not speak a word until he was three and half years old and for most of 2012 he was raging and regressing, it also makes sense.  In “learning years” he is, at best, a seven year old.

Until a couple of years ago, all learning (speaking, reading, writing, numeracy) was acquired at home; school was just for practice and socialization.

Socialization is the main point of inclusion, but even that needs a lot of managing.  Socialization without any learning does not seem a clever choice.


The Wider World

In some countries there is a very developed system of Special Education, with the US being far ahead, partly because it diagnoses so many kids to have a special need.

Most other countries now seem to have adopted elements of what is seen as best practice, like having an IEP (Individual Educational Plan) and some interpretation of “inclusion”.  Unless the IEP is well thought out, it is just another stack of paper.  If inclusion is not accompanied by plenty of training and supervision, the results will not be good.

Given the resources for 1:1 education, much can be achieved, but this is rarely going to be possible; only very expensive private schools or home schooling can provide this.

In a large inclusive classroom, I do not see how children with classic autism can make any academic progress, except with the help of a very good 1:1 assistant (but when is there 1:1 time in a noisy inclusive classroom?).  In many inclusive schools, the teachers have had no special training, and quite often, neither has the 1:1 assistant.

Parents often make great efforts to avoid their child going to special education, due to the perceived stigma.  Readers from the US may find this odd, but in most of the world autism remains hidden.  People turn down free intensive early years support, preferring the child to be with typical children.

I see plenty of parents writing commenting things like, “I wish the school would teach my child to read and write”.  Without individual tuition at school and/or home it is easy to see how such kids will not get far at all.

From what appears in the media, most people are not happy with schooling for classic autism.  If you want better, you will have to take on much of the job yourself.

There are plenty of good ideas you can use.


Extended School Year and Duration

In some countries kids with autism have an extended school year, i.e. very short holidays.  This seems a very good idea for both the kids and the parents.  It means that the learning year is more like 11 months long, rather than the typical 9 months.

In most developed countries school finishes when you are 18.  In the US special education in high school continues to 22.  That is quite a big difference, which brings me on to the next point.


Final Academic Level with Classic Autism

I was interested to see what range of academic levels is typical for people with classic autism to achieve when they finish their school education.  It is very hard to find this anywhere and I only found one range, which was between 2nd grade and 6th grade, on leaving “high school”, using the US system.  This seems plausible.

It is clear that many special schools are really focused on living skills rather than academics. 

If you manage to progress academically all the way through school, then it must have been a case of High Functioning Autism or Asperger’s. 


What Monty did

Monty, now aged 11 with ASD, started out un-able to learn in the conventional sense, like most kids with classic autism.

Using an ABA-inspired home program, he did gradually start to learn.  He went to school for socialization and fun.

We have no external agencies, Education Authorities etc. involved in Monty’s education.  We have a nice, responsive, mainstream private school, which has always tried to help, although they have no special needs resources or knowledge.  The class sizes are tiny; this year there are 13 in the group. 

From the age of about 10, things changed sufficiently for school to be about learning.  By that stage he had acquired the academic skills of a typical 7-8 year old, based almost entirely on his supplemental 1:1 tuition.

The home program continues and will be needed for years to come.




  
Monty has three school years left in Primary before moving on to Secondary/High School.  Primary school is a nice place to be if you have ASD, the same may not be true for Secondary School. 


In the UK system, Secondary school starts when you are 11 years old.  In other countries it starts much later; where we live Secondary school is normally from 14 to 18 years old.

Summertime is no longer developmentally lost, due to the odd effect of allergy and some key neurological autism issues have been identified and treated; more are likely to follow.

I am optimistic that we will see three years of uninterrupted development, twelve months a year.  Every calendar year should be a “learning year”.







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