Education Quandary

'How can I help my autistic son cope with his new school and the changes of adolescence?'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

Bringing up a disabled child can be such hard, exhausting work there is little time to think about the future. Then, suddenly, your child is taller and stronger than you are, and you have a whole new set of challenges to deal with.

Presumably your son goes to a special school, in which case the staff at his new school ought to be experienced in settling children such as yours, and know that he will need structure and routine to feel safe. Communicate all you can to them about his personality, behaviour and responses, and keep this dialogue open. Never assume that official records will do the job for you, or that teachers will ever know as much as you do about your child. At home, trust yourself. Prepare your son for his new life in all the ways you already know, keep your love and support unchanged, and mentally accept the possibility of rough weather ahead.

About adolescence: there are three marvellous packs created by Jane Keeling, a nurse with an autistic son, for parents in just your position. They use pictures and symbols to deal matter-of-factly with body changes, such as periods and wet dreams, and to address issues of behaviour, such as the fact that masturbation is something you do in private. She looks at things like personal hygiene and how to use a public lavatory safely - disabled children can make easy prey for paedophiles - and gives useful advice to parents on how to put over these ideas to young people with limited language. More details from jane@

Readers' advice

The golden rule is not to expect your son to "fit in" to any school and learn to behave like society's idea of a "proper young man". This will only lead to failure. Instead, get the school's staff and pupils to understand your son's autistic behaviour, set up a "Circle of Friends" around him, and support him in his learning and social life. This should also prevent any bullying. Don't worry that he has little language or that he might be going into a mainstream school - the curriculum ought to be adapted so he can progress at his own pace. He should also get some individual support. I hope all these needs are written clearly into his statement - if not, contact the Independent Panel for Special Education Advice on 0800 0184016.

Preethi Manuel (parent of a lovely disabled woman), London NW6

Get someone else closely involved at this stage. My husband's brother was brilliant about helping our disabled son learn to look after himself. Our son idolised him, and did whatever he asked him to.

Honey Duvalle, Humberside

Specialist associations connected with your son's problems will give you help and support. My daughter has a chronic physical problem, for which she often has to take steroids, which make her tubby. This was excruciating to her as she came up to puberty, but she was helped by finding pen friends through a national association, who were all going through the same thing. Some have now been her friends for nearly 10 years.

Mavis Atwooll, Oxford

Next week's quandary

Dear Hilary,

I like the new idea that schools should teach happiness. I have noticed that my children - and their friends - want for nothing, yet they often seem moody and dissatisfied. But now I read that education experts are pouring cold water on it and saying it is a silly idea. What's the truth? Is it something that can be taught?

Send letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than 7 August, to The Independent, Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack of a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser