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Communication disorder unit

Nadine Barbour. Principal teacher, Communication Disorder Unit, Hillpark Secondary

"The CDU is for high functioning autism and Asperger's syndrome, for pupils who are academically average or above average and who will be able to access a broad curriculum with support.

"You need a strong understanding of autism to work with these pupils. It's a prerequisite. These pupils are not intellectually impaired but their behaviour does not indicate what they are thinking.

"Our 12 pupils are integrated as much as they can be academically. They have access to all subjects they wish. But they don't make friends with mainstream pupils because their way of being friends is qualitatively different.

"They don't get unstructured social time with their peers but a lot of autistic people are happy to follow their own interests.

"We must be careful that social inclusion does not come to mean fitting square pegs into round holes. We need to pay more attention to what these children are saying.

"They can achieve Standard grades and Highers but the effort is tremendous.

Mainstream does not cater for autism in general. We need a bigger range of courses rather than shoe-horning these pupils into courses that don't fit their abilities.

"They often drop French, for example, because they can't cope with the listening aspect in a bigger class. They can do French in the CDU at their own pace.

"They can't evaluate, so exams can be extremely stressful. Performance in music, for instance, can be a nightmare for our children.

"We're not getting it right for them at the moment. We need to respect autistic children.

"We need to get our children to rate themselves as the special people they are."

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