by Lucy Lawton
Following BBC4′s documentary Autism:Challenging behavior on 5th November 2013, I felt compelled to get blogging about Autism. I have intended to write this post for a long time and have many ideas for research and writing on the subject, since there is such controversy surrounding the possible causes of the disorder – to which the answer remains unknown – and equally the divided opinions on the best and most suitable treatments and therapies for the condition.
As the mother of a 3 year old child on the Spectrum (my son George was diagnosed with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder in July of this year, at 2 and a half years old) I wholeheartedly relate to the parents followed in the documentary, especially Cherian’s heartache at not hearing your child call you ‘mamma’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01kw2fn . I noticed signs in George from as young as 18 months old and although I knew something wasn’t quite right, I never guessed it could be Autism – for the pure fact that it was something I knew nothing about. It had been suggested to me by certain family members in the health profession, and even his nursery threw in suggestive clues about his ‘sensory’ preferences and his repetitive lying down of toy figures and trains (George was happy if everything was laid down or placed on its side).
It wasn’t until I began researching Autism for myself, that it suddenly dawned on me. These are the people I had before now been scared of. Snippets of information I had gathered from stereotypical high school banter was all that made up my impression. Odd behaviors and unpredictable outbursts of violence was sadly all that forefronted my mind.
Such a negative and small minded view. So much has changed.
The diagnosis of Autism was not one taken lightly. I went though the motions as I’m sure all parents do. Shock, grief, the quest to finding answers – and then rather quickly, acceptance. I read book after book after article after research paper. I don’t think there’s a question I couldn’t attempt to answer on Autism. But the best teacher of all, is George. He is kind, funny, loving, handsome, sweet, cheeky, stubborn and quirky. And I didn’t need a book to tell me that.
Watching this documentary drew my attention yet again to the difficult question of education for every parent of an ASD child. Will they survive in mainstream? Is Special education a better approach? More to the point, will they be granted a place in a Special school? The statementing process is unnecessarily long and painful. What I would like to see in the future of education mirrors how I feel about the approaches to therapy in this documentary.
There is a line that I want to blur. I want to integrate Autism into society. For this to become successful society needs to understand Autism. I want to increase the teaching of Social studies in schools, so that disability and difference is something that is accepted and understood, not to believe – naively like I did -that there is anything to be scared of. It was my lack of education. There is an imbalance in the education of Religious studies to that of current issues within society in regards to disability and equality. PSHE is taught at teachers discretion rather than to guidelines within a specific framework;
http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/b00223087/pshe whereas in comparison, Religious studies are compulsary up until the age of 18 and practiced daily within maintained schools.
I have been fortunate enough to have experienced working in both mainstream and Special schools. There are are also certain schools which are trying to incorporate the two by attaching SEN units, enabling pupils to combine mainstream schooling with extra support and space to suit their individual and sometimes complex needs. I want to see more of these schools.
I want to see the teaching strategies used in specialised education implemented within mainstream schools, so that not only the adult to child ratio is increased, but also the quality of teaching and resources used to make sure these children are achieving to the best of their abilities.
I firmly disagree with Gunnar Frederiksen’s idea, that Autism is a condition which can be cured. This opinion can mislead parents desperate for help who cannot afford to fund such intense therapy. I believe therapy at this level comes at the cost of the child’s individual characteristics and personality. Will parents not be happy until their son/daughter becomes their perfect paradigm? Where do they stop? I am happy with the child I was blessed with and have no intention of turning him into an obedient pet. On the other hand, the teachers at Treetops were taking a firm but less intrusive approach which also resulted in success with one child’s eating habits.
The bottom line is that we need to address a problem that society has been ignoring way too long. Lets not treat those with Special Needs as ‘the other’, but take them under our wings and help them to be the best they can. With increased awareness and understanding, parents would be less likely to take drastic measures in order to ‘cure’ their child of their differences, and instead relax about their differences. Start celebrating Autism with widespread education in schools.
These are my hopes for the future.
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