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Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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4.2 Mainstream and other educational choices

Some mainstream schools have a unit attached that autistic pupils can attend for part of the day. This may be for particular lessons or to provide a safe place during breaks and lunchtimes.

If a child is receiving interventions such as TEACCH or PECS, then these need to be built into the school day, to provide consistency. Autism units within mainstream schools may not be appropriately resourced for such specialised support. This is easier to deliver if the child attends a special school, as these will be geared to using such approaches and will have staff who are trained in them.

Some children’s behaviour may require a highly structured environment throughout the day, such that the only option is a residential school. Children attending residential schools may return home for some or all weekends, or only during the holidays. Some may not even be able to do this, although their families will visit them. For G, who is now 17 years old, special school has been a positive experience:

G is now 17 with very limited language and attends a special school. He seems happy and well-liked by teachers and peers; he is sociable, affectionate and has a sense of humour. He cannot live independently, but with support is able to dress himself, shower, use the washing machine, dishwasher and help with cooking – he loves food. He bounces like Tigger when we are out and about (drawing attention to himself), but now goes to the gym and enjoys running and swimming.

(N, 2017, pers. comm.)

Places at special schools and residential schools are limited and are only available to those children with an EHCP, CSP or Statement of SEN. In the late 20th century there was a move away from special schools, towards placing as many children as possible in mainstream settings. The emphasis on ‘inclusion’ reflects the belief that it is better for autistic children to be educated alongside neurotypical children in their community, thus being involved in all the social and academic activities that other children experience.

Sadly, despite the advantages of mainstream school, many autistic children do not feel included, lack friends and may not achieve their academic or vocational potential. As you have learned throughout this module, autism is highly heterogeneous: in education (as with so many other areas of life) a ‘one size fits all’ approach does not work. It is essential that the individual needs of the child are considered, and that the right education context is found.