Great Britain takes this increasing number incredibly seriously. Where a few years ago, it was impossible to find a school place for a child with Autism, as we reported in Anna Kennedy’s story on July 19.
Deep in the Thames Valley, on the site of a former comprehensive school, a brand new therapeutic school is being built for Autistic children aged between 5 and 19, one of a number of free schools planned for a country positively responding to a growing need for a specialist education.
Thames Valley School is due to open next month, although building is still being undertaken to make the school perfect for students. Headmistress Fiona Veitch is already hard at work preparing for her intake of students.
Speaking to the BBC, she said:
“Many of the children we have, have been permanently excluded from one or two schools, or are on really reduced time-tables and go into mainstream classes for an hour or so a day, so it’s really important that we get this right.
A lot of the children are not just a bit bright, they’re very bright. But because Autism gets in the way, that impacts on their behaviour.”
The school is being built around its pupils, rather than Autistic children having to adapt themselves to fit in around mainstream classes. Children on the spectrum can focus on repetitive tasks and learn things that things that other children find boring or mundane. Employers are taking note of these special skills, as we reported on August 2.
Ms Veitch said:
“I’ve got a pupil coming to us who’s absolutely the most knowledgeable young man in the world about pumps and all forms of plumbing – he’s eight. This boy can explain ventilation, how an extractor fan is put together, how it works, he can talk to you about his plumbing system, and I believe advises plumbers on how to fix things when they are called to his home.”
The environment is also muted down to cater for children who have sight, hearing or smell sensitivities. the eye for detail at the school has been completely aimed around the children.
18 children are expected to enroll next month but only two of those are girls.
Ms Veitch said: “Girls might get more lost in stories about princesses and fairies and that kind of imaginative world and find it more difficult to come out of that world, whereas a boy on the spectrum might be get lost in the details of things like putting cars in a line.” She stresses again that these are generalisations.
The aim for Veitch and her staff of teachers, mentors, assistants, psychologists and occupational therapists is to help pupils meet the national expectation of five GCSEs or more whilst also providing strategies to cope with their autism.
“These children, some of them don’t feel they belong anywhere. So what we’re trying to do is provide somewhere that really is theirs”