When school isn't working
Updated: Oct 6, 2020
Our family has come a long way in the last two years - from having a child who was so traumatised by school that he was unable to attend, to having a happy, busy child who is ready to learn (just not in school!). We got his autism diagnosis at around the same time that his stress was reaching its peak, and we decided to rethink how we approached everything. The current situation clearly wasn't working. We spent a year getting an EHCP that would meet his needs and the end result was a Personal Budget that provides us with 'Education Otherwise Than At School' (EOTAS). In practice this means we hold the money for his education rather than it going to a school, and with it we pay for a mixture of tutors, parental teaching, forest school, Dungeons and Dragons for social skills, trips, therapies and the most amazing support worker ever.
Our pathway here has been long and convoluted, and it's not somewhere I ever imagined we would be. Like most parents I imagined my child would trot off happily to school, perhaps with an occasional drag of the feet. However his anxiety was such that we couldn't even say the word "school" let alone go to one. At times it has been very scary and we didn't quite know where we would end up. Thankfully we were supported along the way by Bristol Hospital Education Service, who provide teaching for children who can't be in school for physical or mental health reasons. They were arrived in my home when I felt we had been abandoned by all other services, and I have never felt so grateful to anyone. They are an incredible service of dedicated, kind and highly skilled teachers, unlike anyone else I have ever met.
We now have a child who is starting to thrive and flourish. While we didn't always know where we were heading, the driving force that got us here was the realisation that above all else we needed to protect our child's mental health and that school in it's traditional format doesn't work for everyone.
This is not to say that ours is the solution for everyone who is struggling with school. All autistic children are very different, as are their needs and their reasons for finding school hard. For some people they will need the support within the school to change, for some they may need a different school, and there are those like us for whom the formal school environment will not work. One thing that is clear is that if it's not working you need to fight to get it changed if you possibly can - despite what the system throws at you. Not just for your autistic child but for the sake of the whole family - because when school goes very wrong for your child, the impact on the rest of you is enormous. However conversely, as we have discovered, getting it right can dramatically improve the quality of family life - and that really is a marvellous thing.
Some useful resources:
A great website for information if your child is struggling to attend school (they also have a Facebook page) is 'Not Fine in School':
IPSEA provide a whole range of legal advice regarding SEND - we found this invaluable:
In terms of understanding Education Otherwise Than At School have a look at these video from Special Needs Jungle:
If you are in Bristol/South Gloucestershire/North Somerset, then Supportive Parents are your ‘SENDIAS’ (Special Educational Needs & Disability Information Advice & Support) service. This means they will support parents with questions and issues they have around SEND education.
If you are elsewhere in the country look up your local SENDIAS service.
Autism Families training courses/consultancy: