What They Do Well for People with ASD in the UK
There is also the National Portage Association with branches in most boroughs throughout the UK. Portage is a home visiting educational service for families of preschool children with additional support needs. The parent and the home visitor create goals around play and personal development, learning, physical development and communication, and participation and inclusion within the day to day life of the family and the wider community.
Sure Start Centres are located throughout the UK as well and have a broader parenting and family support mandate. Based on the US Head Start program, Sure Start Centres offer parenting classses, child care, and additional help and support for children with disabilities. Parents have some options to access support in a variety of settings before their child starts school.
Most LEA’s will have specialist schools within their district that cater to special needs. Some schools will have an ASD base within them as will mainstream inclusive school. It doesn’t cost anything for a child to attend one of these schools. Imagine having this option in Canada. I would love to have my children in a more specialized setting but can’t afford the 2 huge tution fees that would total between $12,000 and $14,000 for a private school for children with special needs.
I’ve seen some wonderful work in the ASD base at the Linwood School. Each classroom has a Smart Board. There is one to one support for a child if it is needed. Parents have the option to pay for a school breakfast and lunch. Lunch costs about $3.00. There is a teacher at the school whose role is to provide students with proper and appropriate technology support. There are soft play rooms, secure outdoor spaces, and the school is secured by a coded entry system so no student can bolt out the door. They even have an indoor swimming pool! There are no tuition fees for parents.
What I think makes the UK education system work better than ours in Canada is education is a national mandate in the UK, not a provincial one. There are huge discrepancies in educational policy and delivery between the provinces as well as differences between rural and urban education. We have no national standards for special education practice. When I travel and work throughout Canada, I see noticeable differences between provinces in level of aide support, teacher training, and educational options for parents and students. Some provinces have a full inclusion mandate. Inclusion is not for every child. I see very high-functioning, intelligent children in the UK in special schools because they can’t cope in a mainstream setting.
In Canada, we don’t have an advocacy group in place at school boards. When a parent has a concern, then tend to go it alone with the problem. There isn’t an organization within the school board like Parent Partnership that will support parents and advocate on their behalf. Many parents here get overwhelmed and give up. It took me 4 months of meetings to get my daughter moved to a more appropriate program. It was an exhausting process and one that I felt quite alone with.
In March 2010, England passed the Adult Autism Strategy. This marked a fundamental change in public services helping adults with autism to live independent lives and find work. The Strategy sets a clear framework for all mainstream services across the public sector to work together for adults with autism. There are also numerous options for adult living situations in the UK. There are also specialist ASD post-secondary educational institutions.
Scotland just passed their Autism Strategy on November 2, 2011. In addition to £10 million in funding to help and support people with autism and their families, announced earlier this year, the Strategy for Autism commits to a further £3.4 million investment. The media reports that the economic situation in the UK is far worse than ours in Canada, yet their government still seems to be able offer support for individuals with ASD.
I think the big difference between Canada and the UK service delivery lies in the fact that UK countries work together nationally and not by small areas like we do. Health and education come together to support individuals with ASD. Countries develop national ASD plans. Denmark has a National Autism Strategy too. While everything isn’t perfect and there are many more people vying for services in these heavily populated countries, there still seems to be options that don’t cause a huge financial strain on families. I was surprised to learn that teachers can provide respite for families of their students in the UK. It seems to work and strengthens the school/home relationship. Principals aren’t moved from school to school either so there is strong continuity at schools through experienced leadership.
Canada needs to create a national autism strategy if we are to improve service delivery and create more equality between the provinces for health and education. With no national best practices or code of standards for autism services in place, we are lagging behind the European nations. We are such a vast country with huge distances between our major centres. A national autism strategy would unite us all and move us forward.
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