Sunday, 3 July 2016

School's out...and a big thank you

I was going to write a post about how happy I am that school is finally over, that I don't have to make lunch boxes anymore, help with homework or iron uniforms shirts...I also thought about writing a piece about differences between French and Irish schools, but yesterday I came across an article written by a mum in France, about the struggles she faced with the education of her autistic son.

In that post, she explained that the school was unhelpful when it came to the needs of her son. He was supposed to have an SNA for himself only, but the teacher was using her as an helper for the class, and then complaining the boy didn't cope on his own (really?!). The mum was even told he couldn't go the swimming-pool with the class because the SNA wouldn't have been able to help, that it would be better if he didn't participate in the end of year "Fun day" and all sorts of arguments she had with teachers and even the principal. I won't go into details, and hopefully this is an isolated incident in France, but this read just broke my heart.

I usually don't write about my son's autism because this is not what this blog is about, but today, I just want to say  a big thank you to my son's teacher, SNA and the principal of the school.

I know Ireland is not perfect either when it comes to special needs. There are lack of funds, resources, professionals. The waiting lists for any kind of therapy are ridiculously long (we waited 14 months for a Speech therapy assessment!), but once you're in the system, you're in. Then of course, you have to ring, make appointments, and therapy only comes in blocks of 6 weeks (until you tell them he needs more and you're back on the waiting list...), but we've been quite lucky so far.

We've been lucky in two ways. First, my 8 years old son is on the mild side of autism. He spoke late (about 4 years old), sometimes it still doesn't make sense because he repeats what he hears on TV a lot, and you can't have a proper conversation with him.
He's OK with noise and crowds (I have no issues bringing him to the cinema or the supermarket), and his problem is mainly with screens. He could stay watching TV or playing X-box for the whole day if we let him...
Social skills are his downfall of course. He'd rather stay in his own little world, but other kids don't scare him either. He has a friend (that I praise because being friend with my son is definitely a challenge!!) that shares his love for Minecraft and "protects" him at school. We have friends with kids who know him and don't care about, or don't even realise his "disability", and of course his little brother is there to bring the social skills out. Even if they fight sometimes, it means there is interaction.
He doesn't have any special skills (nope, he's not Rain Man), and he's below or average at school depending on the subject. The weird thing is that his best subject is Irish, which is mad considering he had a speech delay in the first place!

The other reason why I say we're lucky  is because I will never be grateful enough for all the help the school has given him. The teacher has put strategies in place and even involved the whole class. He has an SNA, learning support, language support and even access to the autistic unit when he needs a break. He has difficulty concentrating so he has a little station at the back of the classroom when he needs some down time (playing with action figures, colouring or reading a book...). In short, the teacher, the principal, the SNA and everybody involved in my son's education did everything they could to make him achieve his potential.

It hasn't been an easy road. He struggles with sensory overload in the classroom, with lessons, homework and with social interactions, but he's getting there. And this was only possible with a good partnership between us parents and the school. I meet with the teacher every few months for is Individual Education Plan, she sets goals and review his achievements. We also have a home-school diary to communicate on a daily basis.

We don't know what the future holds. Next year is his last year in that school, and then he will transitioned to the other school across the road for the second part of primary school (from 3rd class). As it stands, he has a lot of difficulties in a mainstream classroom, but he's not "disabled" enough (horrible to say that, I know) to be in an autistic unit within the school. The school psychologist will review his needs next year and we'll have to see how it goes.

I just hope the other school will be as helpful and understanding as this one, because when I read other people's stories in this country or in France, I think we're just very lucky.