30. Maintaining Close Partnership with a Concerned Parent Whose Child Has Autistic Spectrum Disorder

Background This young boy arrived at a Specialist provision in pre-school, already diagnosed as having Autistic Spectrum Disorder. He had very limited one word utterances, regularly ‘flapped’, banged his head and was anxious and agitated. Prior to his admission into pre-school, the child’s mother had shown odd behaviours such as watching activities from the school surroundings. Very quickly it was obvious to school managers that the child’s mother found it impossible to trust others with her child. At first, mum sat in the parents’ room ensuring her child was supported effectively, until the school and she agreed some professional boundaries and rules. This support story describes the careful relationship the school maintained with the mum in order that they could support the child in the best and most appropriate way possible. The school’s empathetic approach, recognising the mother’s own issues were significantly helped by their realisation from the start that the mother was passionate about ensuring the school did their best for the child. Solution Focused Approaches The Headteacher and Specialist Depute modelled to other staff, acceptance of this mother in recognition of her needs. Throughout nursery and primary, the school met weekly with mum, communicating how well the boy was progressing and describing activities and strategies. Key Strategies throughout her time in the Specialist provision, included: • helping mum to use small steps to improve the child’s eating habits; • advising mum on how to support her child with homework; • using the child’s strengths such as his ability to draw cartoons and play the piano (on occasions to accompany group activities); • forming a boys’ group with mainstream peers to develop specific interests; • encouraging mum to allow the boy to travel independently (albeit mum followed the bus in her car); • persuading mum that at Pl the boy was capable of accompanying his mainstream peers to an outdoor centre residential (despite the fact he had not previously stayed away from home overnight); • very careful preparation for the residential trip including a timetable for personal care, taking into account the child’s choice of peers in his dormitory and a clear message to mum that she would not accompany the group. At P7, mum continues to make high level demands on the school and has little time for many Support staff such as taxi drive rs and some school staff, some of whom have felt quite intimidated at times. She has little regard for other parents whom she sees as not working sufficiently hard for their children. Nevertheless, the child’s mother has ensured her son has had every opportunity to extend his learning, including kayaking, piano lessons, Boys Brigade, tennis and football.
Range of Strategies to Promote Positive Behaviour and Improve Learning (Across the Whole School) School Managers took a specific stance in positively supporting this concerned but well­ meaning parent so that the boy could reach his potential. This was very challenging at times, particularly when some matters such as alleged Child Protection issues were raised against the school by the parent. Although the mother has regularly praised the school for the work they have done and makes contributions such as for snack times, she continues to challenge school staff and many others within the Authority. Individualised Planning and a Flexible Curriculum in Line with Curriculum for Excellence The nature of the provision is that all staff in partnership with their Educational Psychologist and Therapists and others, plan together on a highly individualised basis. The curriculum pathways follow the interests and strengths of each child, albeit the learning outcomes sit within Curriculum for Excellence. The focus of the provision is to work with each child’s autism, provide them with strategies such as symbols and a visual and latterly written timetable within a tight consistent structure, shared with parents. Slowly but surely, the boy’s presenting autism diminished and his ability to learn increased. His mother played a key role in reinforcing reading, spelling and number work (whilst school ensured she took a reasonable approach and, for example, did not display all words around the family car). At P7 the child has achieved Level C in English Language and Level C in maths, a considerable achievement. At the request of mum, he will sit Level D maths before transition to secondary school. Probably more significant is his vast improvement in social skills, albeit he requires constant reassurance that he is doing the right thing. He now has the ability to find his way independently around the school, including taking messages to the office. He can also support his younger peers. Whilst he uses the main playground he prefers the company of one specific classmate. Partnership Working The key to supporting this child was the school’s determination to maintain a positive, firm and consistent relationship with the child’s mother. This support story demonstrates the clear need for schools to put aside some judgements in the interests of the child. The way in which they maintained their objectivity and preserve the important relationship, was to work professionally with a keen eye on what was best for the child. Other partnerships involved the Speech & Language Therapist, the Music Therapist and the Educational Psychologist. In relation to imminent transition, the Community Link worker has played a key role. For almost l 8 months, the worker has productively met and made a positive relationship with the child and his mother. He has accompanied the child on 6 occasions to his Secondary placement, where it has been agreed with mum that the boy will have stability within a small group setting in the first instance.

Successful Outcomes included:

  • a P7 child has been helped to live with autism and has a good quality of life through independent skills and reasonable self-esteem;
  • excellent attainment by a child who at the nursery stage had only one word utterances and many significant autistic features;
  • planned transition to a mainstream Secondary school with appropriate facilities and support;
  • a parent whose continuous demands have been met by the school in a highly professional manner, despite many challenges.
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