On our journey to understanding the diagnoses, we decided to place our son in a special needs preschool. The school assured us that they work as a team of professionals with a child. To our delight, the team included the occupational therapist, speech therapist and teachers.
Our relief was short-lived.
We thought it was odd that a special needs school did not provide us support or progress updates, so we started asking questions. At the time of our enquiry, we discovered that the occupational therapist had not been consulted in over a month, and that the speech therapist “had written something down in a book.” We also discovered that our son’s teacher, who we assumed was an SEN (Special Educational Needs) expert, had little information on the progress made with our son’s sensory processing, as “it was not her department.” We were in shock. It felt like another blow to our already volatile state. Later, we discovered that the school had taken our son on field trips without our permission. We do not know how many teachers accompanied the children on these trips, or if they had even used car seats to transport the children. After a few months, we took our son out of the school.
Over the years, we have learned that a doctor cannot tell you what your child’s future will look like.
If you have met one child on the autism spectrum, you have met one child on the autism spectrum. What takes one child a month to learn can take another child six months to learn. For parents, this is the hardest thing to accept. You want to know that your child can go to school and live a semi-normal life. You want your child to play and progress as other children do, even if it requires a little more effort to get them there. With autism, your child does not develop in a successive manner. In our opinion, the school failed horribly in identifying the one-on-one needs of a child with autism.
Autism includes limited and repetitive patterns of behaviour that coincide with other comorbid disorders (the presence of one disorder co-occurring with a primary disorder). Children with autism require one-on-one attention and therapy to learn the skills they need to enjoy a good quality of life, and no one child is the same. One child might learn a skill that another cannot. Adding to this challenge, children with autism exhibit behaviours that allow them to cope with sensory overloads. Stimming (self-stimulatory behaviour), involves hand-flapping, spinning and repetitive movements. However, the most significant feature of autism is social disconnection. An effective school will understand that children with autism do not perceive the world as you and I do. They find social interaction challenging because they do not understand social queues and often come off as rude when they are simply honest in their reply. For instance, a child with autism will tell a complete stranger that their breath smells. They do not understand tact and that it is socially inappropriate to tell a stranger that their breath smells. Children with autism also have very specific interests, are adamant about their routine and often have eccentricities. Our son, for example, must see all of his toys, even though he does not play with some of them. These are the reasons early intervention with the right team of professionals is necessary for a positive impact on a child’s prognosis.