The National Autistic Society is making its first major foray into political campaigning with its make schools make sense education campaign. The figures are stark enough. According to a survey of NAS members (n=1367)
- 40% of autistic children have been bullied in school.
- 25% of autistic children have been excluded from their school.
- 70% of parents are dissatisfied with the level of understanding of autism in their child's school.
- There are more appeals to Special Educational Neeeds and Disability (SEND) Tribunals from parents of autistic children than for any other type of special educational need. 79% win their appeals.
- Just over half of all young people aged 14 – 19 have a transition plan in place. In mainstream schools the figure falls to a third.
Remember these are the figures for parents who are NAS members. As the report points out,
NAS members are necessarily people who have found access to support and information mechanisms. 98% of respondents were able to specify the age their child was diagnosed; therefore this survey does not include those families still battling for answers about why their child is not developing typically.
In other words, the NAS survey understates the extent of the problem regarding education and autism in the UK. But the testimony from parents and children assuredly does not understate the nature of the problem.
In year 10, I got to the point where school had become a phobia. As I got in the car to go to school, I started to have a panic attack. Josh age 17
My child has been out of school for over a year which is very upsetting as he has the ability to do very well if taught in the right environment with teachers trained in autism and Asperger syndrome.
The school says my child 'copes' in the classroom but my son constantly says he hates school and self harms over this.
I don't have a school to go to … because the school I was at is no good and we can't find a new one. Sam age 12
I felt mainstream teachers were left to their own devices with no, or little, senior help. Jamie was extremely distressed at school but often hugged the teacher. Senior staff's response was to exclude him. Why can't they help us?
The other children laugh at me sometimes. I don't know why they tease me … I hide under the desk because there are lots of boxes there and that is a good place to hide. Jamie age 11.
You don't get told anything unless you know your child's rights and fight every step of the way.
Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
The campaign was launched at the House of Commons by Josh Muggleton, a young man with Asperger syndrome. His dad, John is known to many of us via his website. John also hosts Josh's webpage where you can download the speech he made to launch the campaign.
Here is an excerpt.
It wasn’t just the bullying. It was the lack of understanding of the staff at the school. Nobody seemed to listen to what I was saying. I needed a place of sanctuary when things got too much for me. I needed encouragement from the teachers – not threats.
If the teachers had been properly trained in Autistic Spectrum Disorders then they might have be able to help me cope.
No one deserves to go through what I went through. If I had one wish, it would be that all teachers in mainstream schools had compulsory education in autistic spectrum disorders.
Despite all the depressing tales and statistics in the report and campaign materials that accompany the launch, this campaign has made me feel good about autism. For a start, unlike the infamous Autism Speaks video, autism does speak in this campaign. Not only Josh, but 25 autistic children were interviewed in depth and their views are reflected and respected by the campaign. And it was not just the bright, verbal kids who were involved.
In addition to providing a topic outline to the children before interviews, communication supports and visual prompts were used where children had limited or no verbal communication.
Yes, the NAS is beginning to rock by listening to autistic people of every age and ability and publishing their opinions. As well as trying to help autistic people to cope with the world as it is, the NAS is also working to make the world a better place in which to be autistic.
People see that autistic people are different and just because they are different, they start teasing them … This man in a wheelchair came in … he gave us this little phrase to remember: 'It's OK to be different.'
Join the make schools make sense campaign here.