‘He is learning about the community’

Caroline Hunter’s 14-year old son Kevin has only just been
diagnosed as autistic.

“We feel that it is good that he was not diagnosed early as when
nothing specific was found we just got on with it. People
couldn’t just put him into boxes.”

Until the diagnosis this year, Kevin was described as having
moderate to severe learning difficulties with epilepsy and
challenging behaviour and Caroline wonders whether knowing he was
autistic at an earlier stage could have negatively influenced her
schooling decisions.

As it is, even though Kevin had a statement of special educational
needs at the age of four, he has gone to mainstream school.
However, his parents have had to fight for extra hours of
one-to-one support.

“To start with it didn’t cover lunch and break, only in the
classroom. But Kevin was most vulnerable at playtime as he would do
a runner. Also from a welfare and toileting point of view he needed
assistance. But they wouldn’t give it to us straightaway
– we had to paint a clear picture of Kevin’s needs and
show that he wouldn’t survive without the cover.”

When he was 12 Kevin started at secondary school. “A lot of people
felt we were mad. We looked at special schools but from our point
of view things had worked so far and we felt strongly that if he
could stay in the mainstream system it would be good preparation
for life later on.”

Apart from the readily available speech and occupational therapy,
Caroline did not think that the special schools had much more to
offer Kevin than the best mainstream school, and less from a
socialising point of view.

Kevin now goes to a mainstream mixed comprehensive, one of the
attractions of which is the “vertically” aligned tutor group
system. Under this, pupils from different years are put together,
and this has resulted in more widespread understanding of Kevin. He
still has one-to-one support and, unless he is having a
particularly bad day, attends every class.

Caroline says: “It’s going very well. He’s made some
progress educationally that we never dreamed he would and
he’s not in the bottom set for everything. His IQ is low and
we have made it clear to the school that we are not expecting him
to get GCSEs. He is there for the socialising and to learn about
living in a community.”

Caroline, who is a volunteer parent representative for charity
Contact A Family, says that her gut reaction is that the choice of
schooling has been right for Kevin. But she is realistic: “We may
find at the end of this year that he has gone as far as he can. If
so we will have to be open minded about it.”

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