Education Advocacy in the time of COVID-19 Return to School
Miranda and I from the AV Board met online with Sharon and Allan and their inclusive Education Division team at the Department of Education (DET) yesterday about our community’s concerns about education during COVID-19 times and its impact on our Aspergers students. Miranda and I both have lived experience with our own Asperger students.
They outlined how they have been focused on getting schools ready to support students with additional needs throughout this COVID-19 period and how they recognise many of our cohort’s challenges with change, the system, as well as mental health. Their team are keen for feedback and keeping the discussion open about how to improve.
The team outlined some key pointers they thought would support our student community including:
Ensure your school has your Student Support Group (SSG) ready for the student to help with their transition back into the next stage of iso-schooling: more details about your SSG how-tos arehere. A key part of this as a parent is being co-operative and yet determined so the school will listen and you can gain traction for your student’s needs. Being aware of what helps your VCE child will be critical.
Hold SSG meetings soon and then weekly: the school should do this as part of transition, though they may be time-poor try so try and schedule these in.
Critical here is building your students feeling of capability and strengths as well as an understanding that many students have got behind, they are not the only one and that it is ok. Many of our students have a greater fear of failure which is amplified especially in VCE
Reasonable adjustments will be critical for our students in this period of transition. Refer to the Autistic Inclusive educationsection of the DET website with information about reasonable adjustments – it also has suggestions for parents with at home learning.
How schools go about the level of ongoing online learning vs at school learning will be an individual school decision depending on their resources. Maybe this can be a transitional phased approach for your student. You need to ask your school for what you think will best suit your student and see what they are able to deliver for them. Again use your SSG to support your child back into the learning approach that suits them. For some this may be graduated.
Sharon and her team confirmed they realise that for some of our students there will be a struggle to re-engage with at school learning. We talked about how this COVID-19 period has caused such change and stress about their future learning, especially for Aspergers/ASD students. It will be important to track your student’s mental health through this and be ready to ask for additional support from the school as needed, as well as your students ancillary health team such as psychologists and therapists.
We discussed our community's concern that some students may want to drop out or refuse to attend now, and Sharon & Allan's team are open to ways to help support our students to remain in school – and find ways that work to keep them engaged in some way. Sharon emphasised they welcome feedback, tips and dialogue about our students. Please contact them if you are facing school refusal and your school can't help.
Sharon outlined that for some students they saw the period from 26thMay when the first students return until 9thJune is a time that can be used as a period of transition in some way for the students if needed. You need to discuss options around this with your school.
We specifically covered the issue of VCE for our Aspergersat length which is already a time of stress and anxiety without such enormous change to their schooling. The team had included Karen Underwood, previously a VCAA team member, who is now with the DET who advised a few things:
The SSGs are even more critical for our VCE students: and weekly would not be unreasonable for transition time
VCAA are likely aware many of the broader students cohort have dropped behind for Unit 3 this year: to get any special consideration from here with your SEAS and other applications you need to be tracking the mental health impacts and have evidence of negative effects where possible for your application. This could include additional psychology supports you required, issues with completing SACs, whatever is unexpected and beyond what an average VCE student is dealing with for COVID times.
VCAA has advised schools that the date for entering Unit 3 school-based assessment scores has been extended to October. The extension of this due date for Unit 3 SAT and SAC scores until October is to provide schools with as much flexibility as possible to deliver on their learning and assessment programs. You can use this information as parents to support your students needs.
Where possible encourage the student to talk to the school student mentors or wellbeing support team about which aspects they can’t manage. This is so difficult for many of our cohort who are reluctant to express their difficulties or cant capture the words about their feelings and stress, but if there is someone there who they trust and discuss it with that may open doors. See if you can find someone for this role if not already. (Also their therapists or counsellors could support this)
Possibly keep a parent journal or list of events that have impacted your students’ mental health now so you can refer to it when you need later in the year (this may help all students) for their SEAS application.
Sharon confirmed the DET policy that schools should be a safe, happy and healthy workplace for everyone, including teachers. Also their key objective is that school needs to be a positive experience with a nurturingenvironment to build student confidence. Sharon reminded us that if you are having issues they have made sure Parentline is ready to support parents at this time. This is a phone service for parents and carers of children from birth to 18 years old that offers confidential and anonymous counselling and support on parenting issues.
Sharon also reminded us about the new DET Regional Inclusion Consultants to support autistic and other additional need students with their health and wellbeing in regional & rural areas. There are two in each of the four educational regions of the State and they have been liaising with and supporting school staff and leaders in best practice for autistic students. Sharon has made sure the schools are linked in with their Consultant.
We also touched on the issue of therapists going into schools and opened that conversation. As well as helping the students in their environment, therapist support directly can improve teacher knowledge and school capability. The NDIS has changed the landscape for this considerably for students and the DET are working with schools around how to approach this with some guidance. However COVID-19 will limit access to schools for external visitors for the interim.
It was a very positive call with Sharon, Allan, Karen and team all being very willing to offer support and welcome feedback. They understand the schooling system can be overwhelming for parents with kids that needs supports and we will keep the conversation and our feedback flowing. Thank you to Sharon, Allan, Karen and team for listening to our community needs with such keen ears and willingness to help with a readiness to offer support.
As always with your student our community sees the best way to engage students with education is to empower them in their education choices where you can. It is about using a coaching approach, not a deficit-fix them mindset. Give them a direct voice where you can depending on their age- with you or their support team to help them advocate their needs. Even with little ones, they often know what helps them learn so empower those abilities if you can.
You are doing a wonderful job asa parent in these tough and uncertain times - please make sure you get time to look after your needs as well so you can continue to support your loved ones. Please email us if you need support here or attend one of our Parent & Carer groups with 3 running this month. Thank you to Roo for helping with this advocacy meeting.
All the best
Tamsin Jowett - President Aspergers Victoria