The education system is a big hurdle when it comes to enrolling children with Autism into a mainstream school. There are not many schools available in South Africa that will readily accept a child on the spectrum as there are many aspects with regards to the child that need to be dealt with before an easy integration into mainstream is attainable. Many believe that only an autism school is suitable for children with autism.
Children with autism lack social skills, unable to hold a conversation, communication skills, unable to play with peers, and also engage in repetitive behaviors, engage in physical behaviors, which make them stand out in a group of people and bring unwanted and unnecessary attention towards them. This is why before integration into mainstream is considered an alternative should be sought. Applied behavior analysis or ABA is a great tool in the fight against Autism. Its theories and years of research have helped to build a strong programme to help children on the spectrum. One such programme and school is that of The Star Academy which uses the CARD programme which has undergone over 30 years of research and refinement. The programme specifically deals with children as individuals and has a tailor made, child specific programme which is conducted by knowledgeable supervisors and carried out by Board Certified autism Technicians. The Star Academy provides the one-one-one attention and specialized education that an autism school does not, at the required intensity that an autism school does not.
Each programme deals with the difficulties experienced by a child on the spectrum. The aim is to get the child school ready, become functionally independent and free of negative behaviors. The programme deals with targeting behaviors, such as repetitive or sensory induced behaviors by teaching the child steps to not engage in these behaviors. It also helps and encourages social skills by aiding in the interaction with fellow peers, by organizing and initiating facilitated play dates and also engaging in sharing and turn taking at the academy and then at a play date which helps in the lack of social skills and communication. The Star Academy also pushes heavily on vocal skills because many of the children on the spectrum are non-vocal or have delayed speech. The use of augmentative devices that have a talking programme on it is greatly encouraged to be used for our non-vocal children as this gives them a ‘voice’ to communicate with which also helps greatly with communication.
When the time has come for a child with autism to be integrated into a mainstream, remedial or assisted learning school, The Star Academy recommends that it be done with a facilitator/shadow. The facilitator accompanies the child to school to ensure a smooth transition into the school environment and also so that the child does not engage in any stereotypical behavior and can also help if the child experiences difficulties due to overstimulation. The facilitator is faded in time in the sense that they let the child be more independent and allow them to conduct themselves independently to a point where they would not need a facilitator at all. This, however, takes time and is child dependent.
In the Durban area, there have been a few schools that have helped immensely in the acceptance and integration of children on the spectrum into mainstream. One such school is that of the Reddam group of schools that has welcomed facilitators from The Star Academy and our kids. We accompany our children throughout the day, in all classes and activities. The teachers have been great and have accepted us into their classrooms very warmly. They are always willing to give a little extra when it comes to class work and are very understanding if behaviors occur. The typically-developing children, in turn, receive the opportunity to learn about difference, acceptance, and empathy.