Principal: Autistic children could get lost in traditional school system
Parents of children diagnosed with a learning disability or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are being advised to reconsider decisions to enrol them in the traditional school system as they may struggle to grasp their lessons without enough...
Parents of children diagnosed with a learning disability or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are being advised to reconsider decisions to enrol them in the traditional school system as they may struggle to grasp their lessons without enough specialised teachers.
The call comes from Maxine Bolton, acting principal of the Promise Learning and Training Centre, who spoke with The Gleaner recently as her school marked its 30th anniversary.
The Promise Learning and Training Centre is one of very few institutions in the Corporate Area catering to children and young adults who have been diagnosed with ASD and other learning disabilities.
Bolton expressed concern that if not given adequate attention, many children with these conditions could be falling behind in their academics.
She added that despite being aware of this, some parents struggle financially and are unable to register their children in institutions specifically designed to help children who are challenged in these areas.
“You have a lot of parents, definitely, who are in denial, so they just want their child to pass through the system. They probably cannot help it because of finances and ... they have to pay for the assessment,” she said, adding that some of the assessments may see children being placed on a long waiting list.
“So they (parents) just sometimes give up. They just don’t want to move their child; they just let their child stay in the [traditional] system,” said Bolton.
She noted that within the traditional school context, children with autism or learning disabilities could easily be tagged as being a ‘problem child’ as their behaviours can be interpreted as disruptive and mischievous, especially when they exhibit temper tantrums.
“The education of knowing that these children have autism is not being researched enough,” Bolton stressed.
“It’s getting better now,” she acknowledged, however. “Persons are becoming aware now, but still, you still have parents who just don’t want their child to be segregated or placed in a special school.”
She noted that such instances were more prevalent at the basic-school to the primary-school level.
Bolton said that while there are cases where students with autism could indeed cope in the regular school system, they need a shadow teacher or aide to assist them in daily life.
In light of the fact that the children are the ones who ultimately suffer, the administrator is urging parents to rethink their enrolment in traditional schools and to engage in early intervention that would prove useful to the children’s development.
“If we cannot help them here or now, we, as parents, are going to feel it in the future. It’s going to be on you to stay at home from work, it’s going to be on you to retire early, it’s going to be on you to just be doing everything for your child ... . They always say [that] early stimulation is key, so if you have not taken the time to push from early, then you are going to feel it in the end,” she reasoned.
The Promise Learning and Training Centre cares for students up to age 22, aiming to adequately equip them with the knowledge and know-how to live as independent citizens.
Bolton stated that most times, the graduates leave the school being independent. On a few occasions, the severity of their diagnosis causes them to leave and return home without employment opportunities.
“Others, even though they go through the system, [parents] are still afraid to send them out into the working world; they still hold on,” she said.
Bolton strongly believes that once the society is aware of these children and is prepared to accept them in a working environment when they become adults, they can tap into all the training they undergo from age 14 – which is when they engage in transitional planning – to make their own contributions to society.
The school has recently employed two graduates, one assisting with cooking meals in the canteen and the other as an assistant music teacher.
“We don’t want them to just leave the classroom after graduation. We want for them to be employed, if it’s even twice per week or three times per week,” she added.