DR RADICA MAHASE
MY daughter is 11 years old and she attends a prestigious private school. She’s preparing for the SEA exams. Out of all the schools she attended this is the best one. The public school she attended before was too noisy and there were too many children in her class. This school is quieter and there are only 12 students in her class.
Unfortunately, she’s not doing too well. She’s struggling to keep up with the SEA work; it is a lot of work and she has problems with the writing part. Her teacher really pushes work and sometimes she feels overwhelmed. During test time she cried every single morning because she didn’t want to go to school.
The school’s policy is not to let the teachers and students know if a child has special needs, so her teacher doesn’t know that she has autism. The idea is that if no one knows then they won’t treat the child any differently from the other students.
When my daughter started this school two years ago we were okay with that policy because we really didn’t want her to feel like she’s less intelligent or less capable than any of the other students. However, now that we see her struggling to cope with the SEA syllabus, we realise that maybe she isn’t at the same level and maybe we shouldn’t put her through that stress.
My husband and I struggle to deal with it and to figure out what to do. We spoke to the principal and we understand her policy of not letting the teachers know that a child has special needs. However, we’re now wondering: if the teacher knows and if the teacher can teach our daughter at her own pace, if the stress will be less for our daughter and she might actually be able to cope better.
We spoke to a counsellor, who basically told us that it is our decision to make. That we have to figure out what’s best for our child and then try to provide what’s best for her, regardless of a school’s policy or the principal/teachers attitudes.
And we understand this. The problem is we’re just not sure what to do.
We know that the stress of SEA is too much for her. We know that she’s having problem coping with the workload. We got a tutor to work with her after school but even that might be a little too much for her.
The thing is, if she doesn’t write SEA then what happens to her? What kind of future will she have?
We need her to do well enough at SEA to get into a good enough school, a school where she won’t be bullied and where we won’t have to worry about her safety.
And for that to happen we need to push her at SEA. But then, how much can we push her? Are we doing right by her by pushing her to perform academically just to get into a good enough secondary school?
And if she doesn’t get into a good enough secondary school, then what will happen to her? What are her options?
My husband wants to let her skip SEA this year, but we are afraid that she will feel like she’s not good enough. Also, we don’t want her classmates to think that she’s not bright enough and to tease her or anything.
So although we’re playing around with that idea, we’re not sure if we will actually go through with it.
We spoke to the principal of the school about letting just her teacher know that she has autism so that her teacher will understand why she struggles with the work.
We thought that if the teacher knew at least she could work with her at her pace.
But the principal said that it’s one teacher per 12 students and therefore the teacher cannot do individual work with any one student. Also, if the teacher has to know about our daughter’s autism, then the teacher might treat her as special, and that’s unfair to the other students who have special needs; that the school’s policy is the non-disclosure of special-needs students in order to ensure equitable treatment of all students.
We are so confused and worried; we just want her to have a good life but we don’t know what to do. Should we insist that her teacher should know that she has autism?
Dr Radica Mahase is the founder/director, Support Autism T&T