2nd October 2018
Mr Leighton Hall
45 Elswick Drive, Safety Bay,Western Australia, 6169
Ms Cindy Kerr
2 Swallowtail Parade, Warnbro,Western Australia, 6169
Dear Ms Cindy Kerr,
This year will be my son’s first year at Warnbro Community High School, so I wanted to introduce myself and ask for this letter to be shared with the teachers my son will have. The reason my family and I recently moved into the catchment area of Warnbro CHS is because of its reputation for an inclusive education that treats students as individuals and caters to their needs, instead of treating every child the same, and expecting every child to succeed. The reason that this is very important to my family and I is because my son has a developmental condition, having autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and will need some extra support in his education, and I wanted to share my perspective and some resources with you and his teachers that may help, before classes begin soon.
When I was researching schools that may suit my son’s needs, it was very clear to me that Warnbro CHS is dedicated to embracing and obeying international and national legislation that is relevant to providing an inclusive education for all students. It was reassuring to find a school that fully believes in these agreements and recognises the need for teachers to respect the educational rights of every student, regardless of disability, age, sex, race or religion, to the same degree as their peers. The level of expertise and knowledge from the teachers present during the school open night, about the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), among others, was observed through discussions and presentation of supportive aspects of the schooling system.
The school fully embracing the CRC was evident in many ways, such as ensuring parents and students had access to the legislation and policies relating to inclusive schooling, with links on the school website and simplified versions of these documents available to look at. The school offering a before school breakfast club showed that the school cares for the health of the students, along with there being drug awareness and The Safety House programs running at the school, which was explained during the open night. A very interesting idea that was explained to me by the deputy principle was the fact that students are encouraged to get involved when new school policies are being implemented, to ensure the policies are as beneficial for everyone as possible, which certainly did not occur when I was in high school. There were a few more initiatives and programs that Warnbro CHS offered that I was very pleased with, which included a games room where any student can go to during recess and lunch to play board and card games with other students, to help them build friendships and socialise. The assemblies, class incursions, and programs I have been informed about, where guest speakers come in and inform students about protecting their privacy and talk about bullying, with information on people they can go to at the school for help, to protect students from bullying and protect their privacy.
The School fully embracing the DDA was evident at the school, with the deputy principle at the open night explaining that Warnbro CHS has the highest percentage of disabled students in comparison to the schools in the Rockingham area. They pride themselves on offering a school environment where every child, including children with disability, is safe and can access needed support to succeed. While on campus I noticed that every classroom was wheelchair accessible and following a discussion with one of the teachers, discovered that students with a disability still attend every school excursion, join sports carnivals activities to their ability, and overall the school encourages students with disability or difficulty to participate in every school related activity. The truly amazing part was the funding that the school puts into helping children with disability or difficulty succeed, including the Special Needs Education Assistants available and the Individualised Education Program available to support the students to succeed. The program offered appears to be of a very high standard compared to other schools I have contacted, with its ability to be done in regular classrooms, or one of your resource rooms. Many of the teachers I spoke to at the open night were open about their teaching strategies and techniques, and how they alter their pace or delivery of content to suit their students’ needs, with informal assessment to check the progress of the students’ learning and success thus far. Warnbro CHS really ensures every student learns in the most supportive environment possible, and I can see that my child’s educational needs will be met.
It took me some time to understand the different aspects of ASD, let alone be able to explain it to others, so I use a comparison I found on Research Autism’s website. They explain that the same way that partially deaf students differ from hearing students, as they process auditory information differently, autistic students differ from non-autistic students, as they process their environment differently. This does not mean that my child, or other autistic children, are incapable of participating in a normal class. Academically my child and many autistic students can be placed in a general education class, but they may display one or more of the following behaviours;
Struggle with change.
Overly sensitive senses.
Communication and social interaction impairment.
Overly strong attachment to objects or special interests.
Before the previous year, where I started to become more ASD aware, I would have been under the impression that all children with autism have the same struggles when it comes to skills, abilities, focus, etc. Autism Western Australia’s misconceptions page gave me some real information, that autistic children share difficulty in some primary areas, but overall every child is still unique and has different strengths, weaknesses, interests, and abilities. Other information I learnt was that being autistic does not necessarily mean that the child will compensate for their weaknesses with strengths in other areas, such as artistic ability, or mental mathematics, any more than a non-autistic child may do so, and they will not out-grow or be cured of the disorder. If the teachers taking my son into their class are not familiar with ASD, I can recommend they visit www.autism.org.au for some relevant information (included in the suggested resource list at the end also).
Just as many autistic children have weaknesses and strengths, so does my son. My son struggles considerably with focussing on large sections of written text, to the point where he will become quite anxious and stressed, and I have determined a small strategy to help him with this struggle. When I need to help him with his homework, or other activity involving a lot of reading, I have found that breaking the text into smaller sections was very effective to minimising his stress. I either have an electronic copy and have smaller sections of text being visible at any given time, or with hard copies, I simply have him use blank pieces of paper to cover all but a small section of the text. I believe these would be valuable strategies to support my son in the classroom, so the teachers don’t struggle to effectively engage my son in activities involving reading. In contrast to this, a strength and major interest that my son has involves his remarkable ability to draw, especially when the item being drawn is Australian flowers, which he can seemingly name every Australian flower from viewing a photograph of it. Over the last 6 months I have figured out that if a homework question involves flowers (especially Australian), then his interest increases significantly, so my suggestion for the teachers would be to include flowers in the class activities and questions here and there. It would not need to be every question or activity, but even a couple throughout the day would improve his attitude towards his school work for part of the day, especially if the activity involves some chance to exhibit his artistic ability.
I will not claim to be an expert on ASD, but my life circumstances have lead me to become more informed and active in my search for knowledge and understanding. It has been challenging sometimes to deal with my son’s behaviour, that to a certain degree he cannot control, and one major choice of mine that helped was to start using the evidence-based approach of Positive Behaviour Support (PBS). This approach to discipline has taught me how to develop proactive strategies to help encourage positive behavioural changes, with the use of a Behaviour Response Plan. This approach offered me the ability to identify early warning signs, so I can be ready with strategies to pre-empt and prevent the challenging behaviour. The plan has also helped me identify severe (and low-level) challenging behaviour, so I can have the ready-made plans to diffuse the situations before they escalate, and safety strategies ready if the diffusion of the situation is not effective. The PBS approach may be of great benefit to my son’s teachers if they are not aware of the related strategies.
I want to thank you greatly for taking the time to read my letter and I hope that you share it with the teachers that will be taking my son into their classes, so that they may have one more piece of support in their endeavours to be the best teachers they can, for every student in their class. I have also attached a list of resources that I have either found immensely helpful over the last year, or that I believe can help endlessly in trying to support my son in his educational journey with your school. I also want to express my appreciation for Warnbro CHS for their efforts to include all students in their school, in such a diverse world, and I believe my son will fit in very well and get the best support during his time there.
Kind regards,Leighton Hall.
Resources I believe will be immensely helpful in supporting my son on his educational journey;
For information on autism and the Behaviour Response Plan:The ‘Autism Spectrum Australia’ website has lots of explanatory information and support material, and the PBS behaviour response plan can be accessed from; https://www.aspect.org.au/sites/default/files/Aspect%20Practice%20PBS%20Behaviours%20Response%20Plan%20Information%20Sheet_2.pdf
For more information on autism and understanding behaviour:The ‘Autism Association of Western Australia’ website also has lots of information and support material, with there being a section on understanding behaviour and suggestions for supporting ASD children to increase knowledge and awareness, which can be accessed from;https://www.autism.org.au/what-is-autism/understanding-behaviour/
For information on understanding autism and a guide for secondary teachers:The following link gives a youtube video from Organization for Autism Research and is based on understanding autism and gives a guide to high school teachers on strategies for supporting ASD students in the class, with parts 2-4 also being available to look at afterwards;https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yAAOI6JUsM
For some useful ideas and strategies on how to support autistic children in your class:The ‘Autistic Awareness Australia’ website has an abundance of different types of support materials for all aspects of autism awareness and support in the class, which includes a link to the Autistic Classroom website, that has a number of ideas and strategies to support autistic children in the class, and can be accessed from;http://www.autismclassroom.com/index.php/strategies/for-teachers