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I have two children at primary school (5 and 7, primary school is from 4 to 11 in the UK) and there is a possibility of moving them both to a different school in the same area (we're not moving house). The eldest child is currently being assessed for autism, specifically Aspergers.

What are the most important criteria we should evaluate when considering which school is best for the family? If we decide to change what steps should we consider to prepare? How can we best handle uncertainty and disagreement between parents?

If anyone has any links to articles about Aspergers and changing schools that would be useful.

EDIT:

The full story.

My wife thinks the new school will be better at helping with the Asperger's (although there's no evidence to support this and I think the current school will be just as good in this regard) and is smaller (one class per year). However, the current school is better academically (he's incredibly bright, especially at science and maths) and has better facilities, and he has several friends there.

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I don't have any specific experience with this, but what does the elder child say about the issue? There's a world of difference between Aspergers and autism so it depends mostly on the kid, I'd say. At 7 I would honestly let him(?) decide. –  Lennart Regebro Jun 22 '11 at 10:24
    
@Lennart: well, the idea of a new school interests him, but when he was told his current school-friends wouldn't be there he wasn't so keen. –  Skizz Jun 22 '11 at 11:51
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I'd be more concerned about the friends he has there; kids with Aspergers often have trouble making and keeping friendships, so I'd personally be leery of moving him out of where he's already established a network of friends. –  Darwy Jun 22 '11 at 12:24
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@Lennart - Letting the child make the decision is nonsensical. The kid is SEVEN, and absolutely incapable of understanding the elements necessary to make the choice. –  tomjedrz Jun 22 '11 at 13:38
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@tomjedrz: It does assume that none of the choices are obviously bad, which I assumed was the case when the question was posed. And in that case the two ideas are not very different at all. I stand by my position that the 7 year old so have the business making this position when the differences are small enough that his parents have trouble making it for him. –  Lennart Regebro Jun 22 '11 at 14:19
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5 Answers

Selecting schools without the issue of Autism can be difficult. With ASD or Asperger's you will need to consider the impact on your elder son and how that will impact the family. Another issue to consider is the impact on your younger son of making this decision based on your elder son's needs. Also, please reach out to local autism resources, public services, and your child's pediatrician as they will know the local issues best.

Some ideas to consider:

  • Is the school performing well with ASD students? What do parents say? children?
  • Does the school provide feedback, planning, and adequate facilities?
  • Which teachers are your children likely to have? What do they know about Autism?
  • What resources are available at the schools? away from school?
  • The best school for one child may not be the best school for the other.
  • Children with ASD will likely have increased difficult in changing a routine such as attending a particular school
  • Non-ASD siblings often get less attention and influence in the family (and sometimes resent it, but not always).
  • The social awkwardness that characterizes ASD will likely become progressively more difficult for a child with ASD to manage as they go through school.

Some resources (I have tried to focus on UK resources, but am not too familiar with them):

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I suspect your 7 year old is extremely shy, very uncomfortable around new people, has difficulty adjusting to changing situations, does not pick up social cues that seem obvious to everyone else, and is not nearly as verbally expressive as other children.

Here's the thing .. whether your child has enough symptoms or severe enough symptoms to formally be labelled "Aspergers" or "autistic" is not really relevant. Don't worry so much about a label as pay attention to your child's personality, strengths, weaknesses and traits.

My thoughts:

  • I would explore in more depth with your wife why she thinks the new school will be better. Don't discount her intuition or impressions, in fact they should be taken very seriously, but be clear about them.
  • How much difficulty do you think your child will have adjusting to a change? If the school is a bit more helpful in dealing with your child, but the change has a big negative impact, the overall result will not be what you are hoping for.
  • I would give more weight to the academic aspects of the two schools. I would also pay some attention (if possible) to the individual teachers at the schools. A bright child, particularly one with Asperger/Autism traits, will suffer immensely in a school that isn't challenging.
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-1 Kids with aspergers do not always present as shy. My daughter is anything but shy, yet still does not understand social conventions and can't read body language. At seven she ran around hugging everything and everyone, much to the dismay of fellow students. Aspergers is more than just a "label", there are strengths and limitations that need special attention. –  Bill Dec 13 '11 at 18:10
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In addition to the great tips already provided, I agree with Claire. There have been studies done and experts like Dr Dan Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, state that academics and IQ is less a predictor of life long success than the social/emotional intelligence a child acquires. Social relationships are very important. A child can always be challenged in any school if you are a strong advocate, so whatever school you choose, let your voice be heard!

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Obviously this is just one view, but I would give a lot of weight to the friends....academics can always be found, friends cannot...

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The problem with letting friends heavily weight the choice, is that it is likely that well intentioned friends can give really bad advice. Aspergers is a tricky condition, the symptoms often mask as laziness and lack of confidence. Friends will often give advice that is quite applicable for a neurotypical chaild, but is inconsistaint with someone on the autism spectrum. –  Bill Dec 13 '11 at 20:25
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As a parent with a 13 year old daughter with Aspergers I can relate my experience. First and foremost, the limitations in the social sphere are probably the most important consideration, especially as he approaches middle school aged. You'll need to find a school that is accepting of differences, and a school policy of zero tolerance of bullying. If your son has aspergers he will stick out, and he will be a target for taunting. He can have the best academic environment, but if his social one is poisonous, then his academics will suffer.

Usually aspergers comes pre-bundled with other conditions that need to be considered as well. In my daughter's case, she has very poor working memory (think short term, like where you put your keys). This coupled with limited ability to understand how to establish a plan, leaves her appearing to be scatter-brained. She will often complete her homework, but forget to turn it in, day after day, even when reminded. She will also forget what homework she has to complete that night. What this means for her is that she needs a school where parent to teacher communication is well established, and where her limitations are understood and accommodated for.

You MUST understand your son's limitations, for it is you that will have to advocate for your son. You need to vet the school based on what his personal limitations are. As you may often hear, "when you've met one child with aspergers, then you've met ONE child with aspergers. They are all different."

Asperger Syndrome and Adolescence: Practical Solutions for School Success is an excellent reference for school planning. Although it references the US system, I think there are many practical solutions that would apply in your situation. (note the link to Google Scholar, which will let you read a fair amount of the book online) Chapter 2 is a useful introduction to the challenges that an asperger child faces. Chapter 3, page 36 on gives good insight into the complexity of working up a good educational plan.

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