Children who live in rural and regional Australia have more limited school options, but there are still choices.
Families living in rural and regional areas will already be familiar with the lack of services available for their autistic child locally. This includes interventions such as psychology, speech therapy and occupational therapy as well as their choice of schools.
Depending on your child’s specific needs, you may consider enrolling them in a local school or accessing a non-traditional education option.
Traditional school settings
Given the fact you may have limited options where you live, it is important to start working with your chosen school as early as possible.
If your child is not familiar with their local school, start to walk or drive past and talk about future school attendance.
Creating the best path for your child ahead of school attendance
Ideally, your choice of local school will have educated autistic children beforehand. If so, you have a head start and you will be able to focus on ensuring your child’s individual needs are met.
If not, focus on establishing a good rapport with the principal, teachers and staff at your chosen school. Ensuring you have a successful, working relationship with the school will increase the chances of your child’s school experience being successful.
Awareness of autism has only increased in recent years and there aren’t many people, in particular educators, who haven’t heard of it.
Knowing your rights ahead of any meetings with your choice of school can also help when it comes to discussing your child. Principals and teachers come and go, but your child’s needs and their rights under the Disability Act remain.
Be friendly and confident in your approach. You are on the same team, and the beneficiary of that team is your child.
The best choice of school for your child may be some distance away from your home. If this is the case, there are travel options to consider, in the event you are unable to transport them yourself.
In lieu of public transport options which may not be appropriate for younger or more severely autistic children, parents can apply for transport for their child. That just means a trained driver will be responsible for the school run.
Parents can apply for transport by visiting their state or territory education website.
It can be the case that multiple children are transported to and from school by the same driver, even to the same school, which can help ease your child’s nerves ahead of school attendance.
School transport for disabled students is organised through government agencies and is fully funded.
If no such school transport option exists for your child, you can apply for appropriate funding through the NDIS and organise your own carer who can take on this responsibility.
Home schooling and distance education
Parents in a rural or regional setting may consider homeschooling their child or if they can access adequate internet coverage, they can use distance education services.
While homeschooling sees parents taking responsibility for teaching their children, allowing flexibility when it comes to subject choice, distance education operates in a structured, online forum, supported by co-ordinators and teachers via phone and email.
Live lessons can also be held to assist children when it comes to engagement.
If a parent is concerned at a lack of socialisation for their child, they can access organised activities via homeschooling and distance education services.
Other options for families
Families can also request a combination of education options for their child which may include partial attendance at their local school and additional work being completed at home.
Not all schools will offer this but smaller schools such as those seen in rural and regional Australia are more likely to extend this option to your child.