Choosing a school can be a difficult decision when your child is on the autism spectrum. Whether you decide on a mainstream or specialist school, your child has the right to the same educational opportunities as all other children. In the ACT, it is compulsory for all children to be in school from 6 years of age.
Children on the autism spectrum may attend mainstream schools. The school may be able to get additional funding from the education department to assist your child such as learning assistants and other resources. Talk to your school to determine how they can help and what documentation you will need to provide to assist them in getting the additional funding.
Learning Support Units within mainstream schools
Some mainstream schools have a Learning Support Unit (LSU) for children with different learning needs and some schools may have units specifically for children on the autism spectrum, an LSU-A. Your child may spend some time in a mainstream class and receive extra learning support in a learning support unit.
Specialist schools are for children with additional educational needs such as intellectual or physical disability and/or autism. Contact the school
to find out if your child fits the school's criteria for enrolment and determine if this would benefit your child. Specialists schools in the
- Cranleigh and Malkara schools are specialist primary schools for students with a moderate to profound intellectual disability, or Autism Spectrum Disorder who require intensive levels of support.
- Turner School operates as a primary school with a predominant enrolment of mainstream students and a substantial enrolment of students with disabilities. Students who access the Disability Education program at Turner meet the ACT criteria for intellectual disability or Autism Spectrum Disorder.
- The Woden School is for students in years seven to 12 with an intellectual disability or Autism Spectrum Disorder.
- Black Mountain School is for students in years seven to 12 with an intellectual disability or Autism Spectrum Disorder requiring intensive levels of support.
Private or independent schools
They're independent of state education authorities, but they still have to follow relevant laws on education rights, disability, and discrimination.
All children have the legal right to homeschooling. Families and carers choose to home school their child for different reasons, including distance from a suitable school, religious or cultural values, or the particular academic or behaviour needs of their child. If you choose this option you'll need to follow certain requirements from your state or territory education department. In the ACT, all children that are homeschooled must be registered with the ACT Education Directorate. Children with ASD who are home-schooled need the chance to not only learn, but also practice their communication and social skills with children of a similar age through other types of activities. Find out more about Home Education from the ACT Government website.
Things to consider when choosing a primary school
- The first thing to think about is what you want for your child and what's best for their needs.
- The next step is finding out how and where you can access the schooling you think will be best. It's a good idea to start looking for a school early, to give you and your child plenty of time to get ready for starting school.
- Being able to talk with school staff about your child's needs is important. When you're looking at different schools, easy communication and understanding is a good sign of whether a school will be right for your child. You need to be confident that you can talk to staff any time you have a concern and that they'll be happy to listen.
- When you're choosing a school, you can also think about whether the school has access to specialist teaching and services like psychology, speech therapy, and occupational therapy or they are accomodating for your own therapist to visit the school.
- Other things to consider include whether the school will give your child the chance to socialise with children who are not on the autism spectrum and to take part in extracurricular activities like music or sports.
Visiting primary schools you're interested in
You should visit the school or schools you're interested in well before you enrol your child. These tips can help you assess a school's suitability when you visit:
- Try to speak to class teachers and teacher aides, as well as the principal. This will help you see how open the staff are to two-way communication.
- If possible, talk to parents and carers of children on the autism spectrum or other additional needs at the school. You could ask them about
their experiences of talking with teachers and other staff and how well the school has handled any concerns they've had. Your local parent
and carer support group could help you meet other parents and carers from the school.
- Ask about how children's progress is evaluated. This will give you an idea of how well the school adapts to the changing needs of children
on the autism spectrum as they grow and develop.
- Ask how the school responds to children's varying needs. Not all children on the autism spectrum need the same style of teaching.
- Ask to see some examples of how the school does its education plans for children with additional needs. This can help you see how relevant
it would be for your child. Also, ask how often the plans are evaluated and updated.
- Try to look at the playground at lunch or break time. This will give you an idea of the way other students behave. Ask whether there are structured
activities for children at lunch and other breaks.
What the school will need from you
- If you're thinking of enrolling your child at the local government school, you need to contact the school well before the enrolment date as there could be a waiting list.
- The school will need diagnostic and developmental assessments of your child to build an individual education plan. The school will also want to know about any additional funding or specialist resources that have been allocated to your child. The school might need to prepare an application for additional funding.
- Much of this information will come from your early intervention provider or kindergarten teacher, but it's always best to check. You should also contribute to your child's individual plan, in conjunction with the teacher and therapists.