There has been a big debate about education for autistic children in the UK recently. Lots of parents feel like the education system is unable to look at their children’s needs and allow the parents to decide whether their child needs to be in special needs education or mainstream education. As an autistic person still in the education system of Great Britain I feel that it is important from me to add my two penny piece to the discussion.
Primary school was okay, as my needs were a lot greater than they are now. I had a lot more difficulties with socialising with my peers than I do now and I really did struggle in the academic environment of a mainstream school. I remember being transferred to a mainstream primary school at the age of seven, and I only lasted two terms because the teachers were not trained in how to deal with my anger issues or how to engage me in the classroom. This is where the special needs education system really shone to me in my life, as it made me feel more confident to pursue my dreams and ideas, and I remember leaving primary school feeling excited about the next stage of education and learning.
However, the special needs secondary school I that was then transfer to was awful. I was put in with students who were very much less able than me and was expected to be at that same intelligence level. When I completed the very basic work that we were set, and I asked the something a little bit harder something that would actually test me, they were unable to give me the work that I asked for. I actually started feeling very stupid because I was talked to as if I was stupid. I was treated like somebody who wasn’t intelligent, someone who wasn’t passionate about learning and education and wanting to better myself, like someone who didn’t have dreams and someone who couldn’t achieve. I started hating going to school, the bullying was rife, because I try to read harder books than the other kids, because I tried to beg students from the local comprehensive school next door to give me copies of their homework as they walked past the gates. I longed for history lessons that didn’t involve colouring pages, English lessons that didn’t involves cross words or word searches and maths classes with real textbooks, just like the ones I saw the children in the mainstream school carrying into school.
Not only this, I went to school in fear. We had a kid in our class who had severe ADHD, severe anger problems, which caused him to become violent at the drop of a hat. Every lesson involved being evacuated from our classroom, as if it were a war zone because he got an angry and started throwing things, chairs, tables, books. There was one time when he could beat me up, because the teacher had left us alone in a classroom, and I’d accidentally said something angered him, to the point where he was about to slam a table into my back, and potentially kill me. If a friend hadn’t gone to get the teacher (who had gone into the staffroom to get a cup of tea), I wouldn’t be here now talking to you. I was lucky, that my foster mum managed to get me out, got me into that school where I would never have to beg the kids for homework. I got high grades in my GCSEs and was lucky that I got into a good college are now into the good University, where I get a lot of support from my autism and other conditions which have since been diagnosed with.
The special needs system is excellent in this country for those with severe learning difficulties, and severe autism. For the brighter kids, the kids that dream, the ones that you yearn to have just as good an education as their mainstream counterparts, however a lot needs to be done. It is hard to come to a middle ground, simply because every autistic person is completely different, there is no such thing as too autistic people who are completely alike. Even if the more able students were put together and actually taught to the curriculum, and the less able students being kept together and being taught the things that they need to learn, that would probably make secondary special needs education a lot better. All you need is common sense, and a gut feeling to make sure that your autistic child gets the education they deserve, because they do, deserve the best education they can get regardless of their ability.
(Please note that this was my personal experience of the special needs education system. There are some wonderful schools out there that cater excellently to the needs of autistic students, my friends and I were just highly unfortunate with the provision in my area.)