'The school worked with him to strengthen his motor and social skills'

Andrew and Jane - ASD
Jane Burbridge from Folkestone describes her experience of the SEN and school system with her son Andrew, 7, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and shares her tips for other parents.

"To be honest, I knew Andrew was slightly different shortly after he was born, but as he was my first baby I didn't put all the pieces of the jigsaw together until much later. It was little things like him not always looking at my face and in terms of the physical developmental milestones listed in his 'little red book' he never quite hit them at the times when he was supposed to.

"Playgroups where the other children would interact by all running together to look at something, or even fighting over sharing toys, were not something he was part of; he always seemed to exist in a little bubble of his own. At nursery, although he was bright, he was very socially isolated.

"However, from primary school this changed – partly as the main SEN teacher there recognised the signs and partly because having another child myself made me realise just how different Andrew was. The school then started working with him through various in-school groups to strengthen both his motor and social skills which I backed up with similar strategies at home. Working with the school, this eventually led us to a formal diagnosis of Asperger syndrome at the age of six.

"Some of the ways in which Andrew's condition presents itself at school can be slightly comic – for example, his lack of bodily awareness in the first two years meant that he would quite often fall off his chair but he told me recently that he only fell off once this whole term so things are improving! His lack of social skills has always meant that group work could be a struggle and break times in the playground have proved tricky. His inability to 'read' unspoken social cues can be embarrassing at times – for example, if his teacher says anything he perceives as incorrect he'll have no hesitation in correcting her, despite me reminding him that this isn't really appropriate and if he's unsure he should ask her quietly and directly, not in front of the class.

In general, at the moment, his needs are improving as he ages as he is more able to develop strategies for coping, although we are aware he is intellectualising the 'rules' to what is 'normal' and then copying it – rather than it coming naturally to him."

Asperger syndrome: practical tips for parents

  1. I really wish I'd asked for help at an earlier stage and hadn't just kept my doubts to myself as there is a lot of help from groups out there once you start looking.
  2. It's a personal choice, but I'm glad I'm open about Andrew's condition. With most people I meet this leads to a greater understanding and patience with him and gives me the chance to explain to other people what Aspergers and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are really like.
  3. Try to see your child's strengths and not just focus on their challenges. Sometimes medical websites can be full of the things children with ASD can't do rather than what then can. For example, Andrew is really honest and straight with people and cares deeply about unfairness in the world. He's also got a cracking sense of humour and a unique way of looking at the world.

Autistic Spectrum Disorder: advice and information

For more advice about ASD and other special educational needs in education see our SEN topic hubs. The National Autistic Society has a wealth of information for parents.