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Autism Spectrum Disorders and Fragile X Syndrome. How to choose a school for your Special Needs child.

Updated on December 9, 2013
Finding a school for your ASD/Fragile X Child
Finding a school for your ASD/Fragile X Child
No one option suits all
No one option suits all
Austerity cuts have affected Ireland's most vulnerable
Austerity cuts have affected Ireland's most vulnerable
An autistic class should include a sensory space
An autistic class should include a sensory space
Some ASD/Fragile X kids will be in Special classes
Some ASD/Fragile X kids will be in Special classes
Its hard to get the right class for ASD/FXS kids
Its hard to get the right class for ASD/FXS kids
Special Needs Assistants are vital for ASD/FXS kids
Special Needs Assistants are vital for ASD/FXS kids

Tips for teaching a child with Autism

Visual Supprts and Matching skills for Autism

Teaching children with HFA and Aspergers Syndrome

ASD Education quiz

What type of education have you chosen for your ASD/Fragile X child?

See results

Do you think a child with Fragile X Syndrome should be educated in?

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Choosing a school for a child with Autism or Fragile X Syndrome

To be honest having a child on the Autism Spectrum is a long hard haul. There is immediately so much to learn, mountains of paperwork to wade through and an endless succession of rights to constantly fight for. All this on top of trying to come to terms with having a child with so many needs that your head is spinning.

So as a parent confusion is the norm. What therapies do I choose? Are they even available anyway? Should I try the GFCF diet? Or should I remortgage the house and concentrate on ABA? Then there is the added problem of not actually knowing right now what your child might need the most. Then some days you will just be too stressed out or exhausted to even attempt a fraction of what the book tells you to do. Never mind enough energy left to try and grapple with all the Autism Politics that you have to wade through before getting any support for your child.

At this stage there isn't any book on autism you haven't ploughed through or no therapy that you haven't researched in the hopes that the next one might be the holy grail that makes my your child turn around and say. 'Thanks mom. You hit the nail on the head with that one. That's exactly what I needed to help me make sense of this confusing, sometimes frightening but definitely mysterious neuro-typical world.'

However now I know that this is all just part of the reality of living with Autism. You just have to try and remember too that your son or daughter may be autistic but that doesn’t make him or her any less a child. Yes people on the autistic spectrum do often view the world differently. Also the things that may often send the average neuro-typical person off In a tailspin may not be in the least bit important to the autistic people among us.

Yet human nature still prevails and people on the autistic spectrum do want to feel loved and comforted just as much as everyone alse. Unfortunately today getting a diagnosis is still an uphill struggle but it is also a very important part of helping your child. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.

Next step is some help, understanding and compassion. After my son was diagnosed I didn’t really know what type of education to choose? Should I go the ABA route? Or consider jetting off to America and chance the Sonrise Programme? Then one day I chanced upon a little known gem i.e. an ASD Early Intervention class here in my home county in Ireland called Kerry. So when I first went to visit Killahan National School near a place called Tralee I just got a good feeling about the place. The teachers and staff there all just seemed to want to help.

Three years later and it was now time for my son to move on to ‘big school,’ and I was lonesome and a bit apprehensive. The three years he spent at Killahan School had been such a positive experience for us both. Also much as I love my son I am the first to admit that sometimes he is no angel. Let’s just say he can be challenging sometimes. But at Killahan School they never gave up. Together they all persevered with Adam and did everything possible to bring out his potential. With any autistic child that is always a battle and what you need to try and do is to keep striving forward no matter what the obstacles.

Its never easy making a choice like a school and what we all yearn for the most I think is a teacher and Special Needs Assistants who are professional, diligent and very approachable. My son had all this at his school but of course there were obstacles too i.e. the early intervention team input from the other professionals that he was supposed to be getting was seriously below what was recommended. Speech Therapy consisted of a handful of school visits. Occupational Therapy never materialized at all. Then the only Sensory Integration therapy that my son has had to date was all paid for privately by his family.

So while Adam was definitely well cared for at his school and they always made sure that he took part in a wide range of different activities and therapies (when the local Health Service was actually cajoled or backed into a corner into providing some) and he was also integrated well with the mainstream children as often as possible. This worked particularly well with the ASD preschool he attended because it is a small country school and there are a small numbers of pupils.

Now though my son was approaching six and it was time to decide on a new school. So having read everything I could find about what type of a class would be most suitable for him I have to admit that initially I was more confused and distraught than ever about making the wrong choice for him.

So what actually were my choices?

Mainstream School for my autistic son?

Back in the heady days after my son was diagnosed with Autism I went through the usual series of emotions that many go through. For more information about this process please see my other Hubs where I have covered the subject extensively already. Please see links to the right if you want to read more.

Anyway back then I told myself my son definitely had High Functioning Autism and without a doubt in a couple of years he'd be just fine and dying to go to mainstream school. With hindsight I now know that the reality is what a dear friend of mine recently said to me about living with autism in the longer term i.e.

'The key to understanding and coping with autistic child is to keep the right balance between being optimistic and being realistic.'

Mainstream I still think now would be great for my son and I still hold out hope that this may happen someday. At the moment though I don't think its a viable option for the following reasons:

(i) My son is still largely non-verbal and I just am not happy about putting him in an environment where he is the only kid who cannot express his wants and needs the same as the others. I know they say this may encourage his speech but I know too that Adam is extremely sensitive and will know and be upset by the fact that he is the only child in his class who is different. Also I worry it will send his self harming behaviors through the roof as his frustration may become very high.

In all the literature i have studied to date about appropriate educational options for autistic or more particularly information relating to the education of Fragile X Syndrome syndrome children (my son has many characteristics of Fragile X Syndrome as well as Autism). Article about this here:

Children with Autism are often interpreted as being largely indifferent to other children and just not interested in social interaction. On the other hand children with Fragile X Syndrome are thought to often be highly social and do usually crave the interaction with other children. However they are restricted too because of their communication, sensory and lack of natural social skills.

So it is usually advised that where possible children in this category should be educated in an inclusive environment. I love this idea and would welcome it for my son except for the 'but,' that always follows this statement i.e. mainstreaming a Fragile X/Autistic child who is sociable is recommended but (and as usual its a big but) only when the proper support services are in place to allow this placement to be successful.

Meaning that the proper therapies and strategies also need to be in place in a mainstream classroom to allow this placement to be a success. Unfortunately at present in Ireland's education system this is rarely if ever possible. You need the strong support of the local Health Service i.e. the HSE to provide the proper Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Sensory Integration Therapy, Psychological Support and teacher support to a Special Needs Child in a mainstream class for it to have the best possible chance of success.

Also the school in question needs the appropriate funding to provide a sensory area and suitable staff to support a time out area for children with anxiety and behavioral issues. I know from personal experience of fighting for all of this while my son has been in his early intervention class that it just 'aint there because of that old line that I now have nightmares about i.e. 'a lack of resources.'

The list above could have many more additions to it but are just examples of what is not available in Ireland to allow the smooth transitioning of Autistic/Special Needs Children into mainstream education despite what they might say to the contrary and despite what the Irish Government promised to deliver eight years ago under the Disability Act 2005.

Anyway to make a long story short I reluctantly had to decide against mainstream for my son because of the lack of resources in Ireland to provide the support that would be needed.

2. Special Autism Class in a mainstream school for my son?

In Ireland there are a number of Autism classes dotted around the country which are classed as special classes in a school that otherwise caters for mainstream children. Each class has a teacher who is a primary school teacher who will also have done some autism specific courses. You also then have two Special Needs Assistants in a class of up to six children.

On the one hand this can often be considered a good compromise for a child who is developmentally delayed and is autistic or who has Fragile X Syndrome. In this class children with special needs have the opportunity to get a lot of one to one attention because of the low child to teacher ratio so you don't have to worry as much about the rigorous demands being constantly placed on them that they may face in a mainstreams setting.

Each class will also have their own additional facilities that you usually wouldn't find in a typical mainstream school. Most will have a sensory room where your child can go when they are feeling emotionally over wrought or are experiencing sensory overload. They will probably also have many activities and classes that are specifically geared towards your child's particular areas of need.

The big difference between a Special Autism class in a mainstream school and a Special Autism class in a Special School is the interaction with typically developing children. As autistic and Fragile X children so often take their behavioral cues from those around them it is understandable to think that they will learn more positive behaviors in a mainstream environment than in an exclusively special class or so the research suggests anyway.

However as we live in a mainstream world in the longer term the more your autistic child can become used to interacting and coping in this environment the easier it will be for them in the longer term i.e. when they leave school.

3. Special Autism Class in a Special School?

I have to say that when it came to me making a decision between a Special Autism Class in a Mainstream School or a Special Autism class in a special School it was a very difficult decision. For me I wanted to send my son to a Special Class in a Mainstream School as I do believe Adam can learn a lot from typically developing children and he is very interested in them now too. However in Ireland as I stated already all therapeutic and multidisciplinary team intervention to these classes has been seriously slashed due to the problems with economy.

However in the local Special School they have the best therapeutic services in the county and have their own in-house Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Psychology support. To me this was a big draw to this school. As well as the fabulous facilities there and the overall positive attitudes of the staff.

Initially I decided to go with this option but yet still I couldn't feel totally happy about it. For me it was a world away from what I had planned for my son a few years ago. To put in bluntly I felt completely torn and heartbroken.

I sought advice from those that worked with my son and those that knew him well. What did I find? That once again opinion on this particular subject was completely split down the middle with some feeling that the benefits of letting him spend a portion of every school day with mainstream kids his age was the most important factor. Or that on the other hand the benefits that he could have availing of the great facilities at the special school would be the most beneficial for him.

What choice to make?

In the end I went with the Special School but then at the eleventh hour I wavered and changed my mind. We are going to try our son at the Special class at the mainstream school for a trial period and just see how it goes. The Special School will still be there in six months or a years time and I have to say too that this is very good to know.

All I can say now is the following were the main factors that influenced our choice in making this very hard decision.

  • Was my child social and did he look for or enjoy interactions with typically developing children?
  • Did I like the facilities at the school?
  • Did it look like an environment that could cater well for an Autistic/Fragile X Syndrome child?
  • What were the attitudes of the staff I met? Were they knowledgeable about all the latest recommended best practice guidelines for teaching Special Needs kids? Were they also approachable?
  • Could I see my son settling in and being happy in this school?
  • What were the policies for dealing with behavioral issues?
  • How would they deal with bullying from typically developing children?
  • Was there a sensory/timeout room available?
  • How well informed would I be kept about my son's progress or difficulties?
  • Was there transport available?
  • Were the other children in the class happy there and were they at a similar level to my son in my opinion?
  • Opinions of other parents who have a child in this class if possible to gauge?

At the end of the day its a personal choice which all parents have to make. Others can advise and recommend and you should take all the information on board definitely before making the decision. Only you know though which choice (if in fact you even have a choice as I know many just don't) best suits your own individual circumstances. Its a tough decision so whatever you decide is right for your child, good luck.


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    • thewritingowl profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Kelly Godley 

      5 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks Crafty to the Core for stopping by. I have AS myself so I know where you are coming from. Hopefully your son will improve and get more to know himself now that he has s diagnosis. I will check out your hubs too.

    • CraftytotheCore profile image


      5 years ago

      Hi writing owl, it's so nice to meet you! My son has Autism too. He was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in April 2012. We've had an uphill battle since his diagnosis and it hasn't been easy. Last summer after two hospitalizations he was placed in an outpatient center for children with behavior issues for 9 weeks.

      After that we went to a Genetics testing. My son was tested for Fragile X but the doctor said he doesn't have that.

      My son is verbal but has phonological disorder. He has been in therapy for two years for that (before he was diagnosed with Autism).

      He was in a special school last year which really helped him a lot. This year they are mainstreaming him with a full-day aide.

      It's good to meet you. I look forward to reading more of your Hubs.

    • thewritingowl profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Kelly Godley 

      5 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks betteremotions and yes it is a very hard decision to make.

    • profile image

      Better Emotions 

      5 years ago

      This is very useful advice for anyone faced with the dilemma of making the right decision for a child with autism. Sharing it.


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