Choosing the right school for your child can be a heavy burden for any parent. For parents of autistic children this is even more weighty, and can be a lot more stressful. Which is the best school for learners with high-functioning autism? There are factors that come into play that other parents would not find challenging and would not need to consider.
For the parent with a child that is autistic but high-functioning, a proudly remedial environment might just be the best option.
What is Autism?
In recent decades, awareness of autism has increased quite rapidly. Unfortunately, many people still do not fully grasp what this condition entails. However, autism is now part of public discourse and knowledge. We find autistic characters in movies and television shows. They can have prominent roles, or even lead roles in the productions that feature them.
Autism refers to a wide range of conditions. These have been grouped in technical terms under the term Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Internationally, about 1 in 100 people are affected by ASD. In America about 1 in 36 children fall on the spectrum. In South Africa about 2% of the population are classified as having ASD.
ASD is a brain developmental condition. It is characterised by challenges with social interaction. Another distinguishing feature of the condition often includes difficulties in understanding non-verbal communication. Autistic individuals will frequently display repetitive behaviours and difficulties with speech.
Who is most likely to be diagnosed?
Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls. ASD can have a reliable diagnosis as early as age 2. It affects all demographics of society. It is found across all cultures and ethnic groups.
Twin studies, for example, have shown that there is a strong genetic component to autism. However, there is no physical medical diagnosis for ASD. This means that you cannot run a blood or DNA test to see whether someone falls on the spectrum. Rather, doctors need to assess the developmental history of a patient. They also consider how the individual behaves and has behaved. Through a range of screening approaches, experts can determine whether someone has ASD.
There are many subcategories on the spectrum. This is what makes ASD a very broad term. About 1 in 10 people on the spectrum have severe symptoms. These can even overlap with catatonia. About a third of people with autism are non-verbal.
But most people on the spectrum have borderline to above-average intelligence (about 69%). There are also many autistic people who are high functioning.
For parents of children on the autism spectrum, we recommend an appointment with our expert team who can help you to make an informed decision on possibly enrolling your child in our school which caters for learners with high-functioning autism.
What is high-functioning Autism?
The current technical term for high-functioning autism is level one (of three) autism spectrum disorder. It used to be called Asperger’s disorder or syndrome (or simply Asperger’s). This term is still commonly used by many, even in some medical scenarios. But since 2013 the official and more technical term is level one ASD.
Level one ASD indicates a need for some support. Levels two and three progress to requiring substantial and intensive support, respectively.
High-functioning autism is characterised by average to above-average levels of intelligence. Where a person in this category struggles is with social interaction. They also might repeat actions again and again. There is often a hyper-focus on a particular topic that can border on the obsessive.
The social awkwardness of a person with high functioning ASD is evident in a few key areas. It means that social cues are something of a mystery to them. A person diagnosed with ASD level one will also not understand body language and facial expressions as others do.
Back and forth conversation can be a huge challenge. This is despite being able to speak in full sentences. It is also possible that these individuals speak in a robotic, flat manner. All these factors compound the awkwardness for those with ASD.
They usually show few emotions. Laughing at jokes will not happen. People with ASD often do not express their happiness by smiling, nor with other common mannerisms to show how they feel. They also don’t practise eye contact when communicating with others.
Switching between activities and topics can be a real challenge for these special individuals.
What is the best schooling environment for the high-functioning Autistic Student?
Donald Triplett is recognised as the first person diagnosed with what we now understand to be autism. He was also a graduate from high school and a tertiary institution. This should give hope to all who are affected by this diagnosis.
Early intervention has been shown to be very effective in mitigating the effects of ASD. This can improve the brain’s underlying development. It can also enhance social and communication skills. Effective early engagement with the autistic child has also shown to improve learning.
As noted above, a high-functioning autistic child might struggle to switch between activities. This can translate into having trouble moving from class to class. It can also make it challenging to switch between subjects or topics. Change, even on this level, can be something that a level one ASD pupil struggles with. They will need the right kind of understanding and support to navigate the demands of this challenge. For a mainstream student, these issues are often not even on the radar. But for the high-functioning autistic child, these are daily, even hourly, difficulties.
The social awkwardness discussed above can run both ways. Without proper training and experience, mainstream teachers can struggle to teach high-functioning autistic students. To be an effective teacher requires remedial training.
Sadly, the obstacles that these children face can make them a target in the playground. Many children with ASD have experienced bullying. Bullying is less likely in a remedial environment when compared to remedial students in a mainstream environment.
Can the condition worsen without support?
Without the necessary supports, the deficits in social interaction can develop into noticeable impairments. School is supposed to play a major role in preparing children for life after graduation.
With the troubles facing many public schools in South Africa, even mainstream students can fall by the wayside. For the children on the spectrum, it is even less likely that they will have their needs met.
High-functioning autistic children can flourish in a safe remedial environment. The best school for learners with high-functioning autism would therefore have small classes and professional, committed teachers with experience in interacting with ASD children. Further support such as speech and occupational therapies are also often very helpful.
Japari provides the ideal environment for the high-functioning autistic learner
Is Japari the right school for learners with high-functioning autism? In answer, we can say that Japari has been proudly remedial for almost six decades. We have a long history of helping children with learning difficulties. Our methods and approach see a high percentage of graduates becoming able to thrive in a mainstream high school environment.
High-functioning autistic students are the kind of student that Japari seeks to assist. We are equipped to provide the ASD level one student with the learning support and remedial environment that will allow them to blossom at school. We have the facilities and qualifications to diagnose the remedial needs of children. Our staff includes qualified residential educational psychologists and experienced teachers. We also offer a range of therapies for our students. These include physio, speech, play and other therapies.
Call us today and let’s begin the road to your child’s success.