The first part of this blog post ended on an uplifting note, but there is also of course a flipside – arising in part from the “invisible” nature of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the difficulties presented by “isolation” can have, in terms of hampering acceptance. Children’s educational experience in childhood shapes their whole life experience, but sadly in some respects, Austria lags somewhat in terms of acceptance in an educational setting.
Invisibility and Isolation
ASD’s seeming “invisibility” can complicate the struggle – diagnoses sometimes get overlooked when issues occur. It can become a balancing act to try to encourage acceptance of the situation to ensure that your child is not unfairly tagged as a “bad kid” due to others not being able to accept the situations they struggle in. Finding common interests with classmates and making friends in a new school can be difficult (fortunately sticker collecting helped in this regard!). The onus is frequently on a child having to adapt to settings, which can compound anxiety and isolation, rather than acceptance of the difficulties they have.
Parents are drawn into this isolation through logistical juggling in trying to ensure that other siblings don’t miss out. Parenting becomes a tightrope of careful expectation management and conflict resolution. Landmarks like birthdays prove very difficult –our son frequently hasn’t known how/if he wanted to celebrate his birthday. We accept this. We have made progress – we actively let him decide (straight yes/no decisions), but celebrations that are kept short and small still take weeks to months to plan. Family holidays and outings are planned in similar detail, and many other parents adopt similar approaches for planning each week, handling changes to surroundings and routines like school trips.
Conscious of the fact that the pandemic had also prevented my son from also seeing what I do when I am in the office (and not working from home), once pandemic restrictions were lifted, I took my son to the office with me for a couple of hours during his school holidays so he could also experience my world –colleagues were very supportive of this initiative, which was important in terms of parental acceptance.
Acceptance in Education: Reality or a pipedream?
As a spectrum disorder, educational experiences vary widely from one child to the next, which can also hamper external acceptance of ASD. Guidance published by the Autistenhilfe (in German only) contains information about accommodations for pupils with an ASD diagnosis, to improve acceptance of pupils’ difficulties in relation to learning, but there is room for improvement in their consistent application.
In mainstream education, inconsistent application manifests itself regarding whether a pupil is able to achieve “AHS-Reife” or not (i.e. grades in German, Reading, Writing and Maths of 2 (gut) or better) when finishing primary level (Volksschule). Lack of consideration may prevent a child from being able to attend Gymnasium, and instead attend an NMS (Neue Mittlere Schule), although there is still a pathway through to the end of secondary schooling.
Sadly, those in schools for special educational needs (Sonderschulen) are failed after the age of 14 (the end of compulsory schooling) where there is a lack of meaningful opportunities. The limited pathways that do exist fail to provide gifted teenagers with access to pursue gainful jobs, vocational training or further education after the end of compulsory education. This situation is not unique to Austria – the UK is just one of a number of other countries with similar issues.
How can increased acceptance of ASD also benefit society?
Acceptance of ASD is also important for embracing diversity and inclusivity in society and can help create an environment that celebrates difference and promotes understanding. At the same time, it can help reduce stigma and discrimination and help more people to realise their full potential. Acceptance will encourage others to seek early intervention and support – improving outcomes and quality of life for others with undiagnosed ASD. Finally, greater acceptance will also drive research and funding towards increasing understanding and developing new therapies.
Have you recently received an ASD/ADHD/ADD diagnosis for your child, or has it been suggested that you should have developmental issues checked out by a psychologist to clarify a suspicion of such a disorder? Our WhatsApp group is here to help parents. Further information can be found on the VFN website.
Mike Bailey has lived in Vienna since 2000, and is an in-house translator specialising in financial markets supervision, and married father of three children (Alex and twins George and Charlotte). He is actively involved with British in Austria, although he is now a proud Austrian citizen.