‘Bad mum’ helps teach­ers grasp autism

Waikato Times - - News - SAM KILMISTER

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 be­hav­iour, 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 of Ed­u­ca­tion 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.

PHOTO: DAVID UNWIN/STUFF

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.

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