When David was little, I visited various special-needs schools and an autism school. What I saw was simply horrific and I’d return home in tears, taken aback by the horrendous state of affairs I experienced during my explorations. I couldn’t understand how children with different diagnoses, ages and abilities could be grouped together in one class with one teacher and one facilitator at the autism school I’d been to visit. What I observed, instead of expert schools catering for the needs of their learners, were care facilities lacking in expertise, funding, equipment and staff, and this made me feel despondent about sending my child to an autism school.
Autistic children were grouped together with physically disabled children – with neither group’s needs being met at the autism school. I visited one autism school after another, and what I saw was concerning. One of the autism schools I visited tied the children to the chairs to get them to sit down and pay attention. It was just awful and I was certainly not going to send my child to such an autism school.
I couldn’t find a single special-needs school or autism school that impressed me with its credentials or staff training. The facilities we visited, in my opinion, were merely babysitting the children even though they claimed to be an autism school with experience and expertise.
I spent time at an autism school that had a so-called ‘good reputation’ for autism and we attended a class consisting of ten children with varying diagnoses and learning challenges. The teacher assisted one of the children who couldn’t walk or talk to colour in a page on the desk in front of her, forcing her to complete the task. Her desperate screams for help resonated throughout the room as she protested. She didn’t look down at the page, not even once, and I felt physically ill watching the scene unfold before us at the autism school.
The child became so distressed that she fell on the floor and had a seizure. During this time, at the autism school, I wondered who was giving the other nine challenged children the individualised attention they needed. It was clear to me this class set up wasn’t going to work for me and David. Once the child came around, it was break and the assistant carried her to the old broken rusted jungle gym outside in the garden at the autism school. I asked the teacher where the playground was and she indicated that we were standing in it. It was alarming to me that this autism school was so poorly staffed and run down.
I said my goodbyes and left with David, knowing there was no way I’d dump him somewhere at some inexperienced autism school – just so I could have free time away from him and carry on my life with no expectations or hopes of him reaching his potential. I’d certainly established that this autism school was not the right placement for my child. I wondered how any parent could send their child to the autism school I’d just seen. The only reason I could think of was that parents become desperate and eventually succumbed to the dismal options available to them. Teachers who lack experience, knowledge and teaching skills mislead parents into believing they should accept their child’s fate and not set any expectations for the children. Their experience is very narrow and they lack expert training. The parents then become convinced that there’s no better facility for their child; and that they need to accept their ‘disabled’ child as sadly limited.
I wasn’t going to accept that my child was destined to be dumped at some inadequate autism school forgotten and written off by the school system. The only thing I accepted was that I needed to work harder to find the right educational programme for my son. I was determined to ensure he’d be placed in professional hands and was certainly not going to send him to the autism school I’d experienced. David deserved a future – and I was going to do everything possible to turn the world upside down to find what I was looking for to secure his education.
Surely, my son deserved the best teachers, equipment and support staff to give him the education he so desperately required to help him function as a human being. I soon realised that the school I envisaged just didn’t exist. It was an upsetting experience to travel around from one special-needs school and autism school to the next, and I held out little hope I’d find what I was looking for in my quest to enrol David in a quality school. In conclusion, my search for an autism school had come to an end.