Should I send my autistic child back to school in June?

May 17, 2020
by Rachel

In light of everything that is going on in the world right now, we have had lots of questions from parents wanting to know if they should send their autistic child back to school on 1st June. We can’t give exact advice without knowing the child, their school environment and all other contributing factors, but we can give some guidance based on what we have done ourselves in making a decision for our own children. When thinking about whether or not you should send your child back to school, we advise you consider the following;

Firstly, parents would be best speaking to school and seeing what their plan is in relation to returning to school. There are likely to be lots of changes for children when returning to school, some of which families will have no control over, but you can plan as much as is possible for a return (or no return) to school.  

Routine

When your child returns to school, will everything be as they know it should be? 

Will a reduced timetable be in operation? Some schools are only accepting pupils back on 2/3 days a week, or half days. Would this be more detrimental to them returning to school part time as opposed to going the full 5 days a week? 

Will they be in their classroom environment, with their known peers and teachers? Schools are having to work very differently in getting children back into school and there could be lots of things that are not their normal, which may create huge problems for them. 

How will they get to school? At the moment, transport services are not running for schools, therefore parents are required to get children to school themselves. Consider, is this physically possible? If you do not drive and need to use public transport, is this a bigger risk for you and your child’s safety? Would this change in routine distress your child or increase anxieties before the school day has even begun?

There is also mental health to consider, would they become distressed by the changes? Would this have a more detrimental impact in the long run, either at home or in the school environment? 

Care for my child

Am I able to use other people to help care for my child while they are not at school?

If there is no reason for your child to need to go to the houses of others, then it should not happen. As per the social distancing measures put in place by the Government, everyone should adhere to a 2-metre social distance where possible. Also, it is possible for your child to go to school in a successful way, if everyone works together. However, for lots of autistic children, close relatives and/or friends play a crucial role in supporting their everyday lives. 

Although the Government have put stringent social distancing measures in place to avoid contact with people outside the family home, for some families, relatives play a key role in supporting autistic children. For example, Grandparents are able to help care for family members, if they are an essential role in caring for an individual. There is guidance here around ‘unpaid carers’, which in effect your child’s Grandparents are for them if they support your child/family on a regular basis. https://bit.ly/2yU6Y5n

Your child has needs that are in addition to their age-related peers, which means that they don’t see the world the same as others. This means their needs need to be met by those who know them, in an environment which he can be kept safe, for their own safety and that of others. If you are considering leaving your child with someone they don’t see regularly and therefore would become more distressed whilst with them, then that would be against social distancing measures, as it wouldn’t be in the child’s best interests. 

Children who receive support from a Personal Assistant (PA) via Direct Payments or a Personal Health Budget (PHB) are still able to receive support from these carers at this time. Disability Sheffield have a number of ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ here https://bit.ly/2z3EAxp, as well as lots of information on their website around Coronavirus, individual employers and PA’s. 

Can my child go to their Grandparent’s as opposed to going back to school in June?

In terms of Grandparents, it’s important to weigh up the pro’s and con’s. Do they suffer from any health issuesthat mean that they are in the shielding category, putting them at extreme risk of illness? If so, we would strongly advise against any child going there in order to keep people safe. However, if they are generally fit and well, then although there is no legal guidance upon Grandparents being able to care for their Grandchildren, or those with ASD, what are the pro’s of your child going to Grandparents instead of school? In effect they would come into contact with a lot less people by going to a Grandparents house, and seeing (the same) 2 people each day, as opposed to going to school and coming into contact with possibly numerous children and adults.

As previously mentioned, if your child doesn’t need to go to relatives houses, or is able to go to school in a successful way, then it is achievable. 

Social Distancing

What about social distancing?

Consider if your child is able to understand social distancing? If not, there is every moral argument to allow him to stay at home (or with relatives) as they would pose a bigger risk to themselves, and others, whilst in school around other children/adults who they would not socially distance from. Likewise, social distancing is a very new (and previously unheard of!) concept. It’s never had to happen before, so may not be an easy thing to have to comply with once back at school, when you want to see your friends and teachers!

Fines

Is attendance compulsory or will I be fined if my child does not attend school?

Attendance is not compulsory for any child at this stage for numerous reasons, and the DfE have stated that no fines will be issued to parents if they do not send their child to school at this time. However, the DfE says it “strongly encourages” families to take up school places – unless a child or a family member is self-isolating or if the child is particularly vulnerable due to an underlying condition. The full guidance can be found here: https://bit.ly/2z4YXu9

Taking into account everything detailed above, you can make a decision with reasons that back-up your decision, based on the best interests of your child at this unsettling and unusual time. The Government aren’t able to give specific advice in each situation, therefore err on the side of caution and give blanket guidance for the whole population!

Overall, if you review all the aspects of your child’s care and their/your life, you can be confident that you have made an informed decision.