Sarah Blythe with her sons Neko, 6, Mataeo, 3, and mother Deb Costello.
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 Manawatū mum has been raising money for teachers to attend a course on understanding and treating children with the disorder, which can affect their social skills, communication and ability to perform repetitive behaviours.
Sarah Blythe, with son Neko, 6, has started a motorcycle ride to raise money for a programme to educate teachers about autism.
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.
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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 with 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 Manawatū 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 ne a teacher to understand them. We need to remember not every disability is visibile.”
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.
Lytton Street School deputy principal Trudi Rei, who had helped Blythe organise the training course, said teachers had a responsibility to understand the ne of every pupil in their school.
Rei said even without an explicit requirement, it was a school’s duty to take advantage of any resources available to train teachers in how to deal with conditions such as autism.
“There’s a lot of ground to cover in teacher‘s training and only a couple of years to do it, so it’s not surprising they can’t provide in-depth training [for this].”
“We may be teachers [after that], but we can never stop learning.”
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