‘Bad mum’ helps teachers grasp autism
Teachers said her son didn’t have autism, he was poorly behaved, and she was a bad parent.
Sarah Blythe knew better, and now she wants the teachers to know better too.
The Manawatu¯ mum has been raising money for teachers to attend a course on understanding and treating children with autism, which can affect their social skills, communication and ability to perform repetitive behaviours.
She doesn’t want other children to experience the exclusion her son Neko went through, nor other families the lack of support she has faced.
An early intervention team told Blythe her son was on the autism spectrum when he was 4. It explained a lot about his behav- iour, but she found teachers refused to treat Neko any differently to other pupils.
By the time he was 6, Neko lacked social skills and often lashed out at classmates by pushing them. As punishment he would have to sit in the corner of the classroom, excluded from the other children.
Blythe said teachers told her Neko was naughty, dumb and that he didn’t have autism. What he needed was stronger parenting.
The Ministry of Education had provided Neko with a teacher aide to smooth his transition from kindergarten to school in Palmerston North, but Blythe said the aide was used in a a general capacity, and was not providing specialised care for her son.
Midway through 2017, Blythe enrolled Neko at Lytton Street School in Feilding, where they were met by staff who accepted Neko’s autism. In his first six months there, Neko’s reading and writing levels improved and he started to make friends.
Blythe is contacted about any incidents as soon as they occur and Neko’s teacher aide follows him around the playground to ensure he gets along with others.
Blythe responded in kind. She raised $7000 in March from a motorbike ride to help people understand the complexities behind the condition.
It paid for 34 Manawatu¯ teachers to attend a day-long course next week, run by Altogether Autism. She already has a waiting list of teachers for next year.
Blythe hopes it will help teachers better understand pupils with autism, and that one day such knowledge is a requirement for all teaching staff.
‘‘It was heartbreaking to watch and very upsetting to be told that you are not doing your best job as a parent. My heart breaks for . . . all those children who are so misunderstood. Every teacher deserves the right training and every autistic child needs a teacher to understand them. We need to remember not every disability is visible.’’
Ministry spokeswoman Katrina Casey said programmes such as the early intervention service, ASD Plus and Tips For Autism provided support for parents and children.
A $4 million set of programmes introduced last year, Incredible Years Autism, also offered specialised advice for parents about causes of stress and anxiety for children with autism.
But any training to educate teachers about autism was supplementary to their qualifications and not a core requirement.
Sarah Blythe and son Neko, 6, who is on the autism spectrum. Blythe raised $7000 in March from a motorbike ride to help people understand the complexities behind autism. It paid for 34 Manawatu¯ teachers to attend a course run by Altogether Autism.