Recent legislation means that there is a general policy of trying to integrate special needs children (including those with behavioural difficulties) into mainstream schools wherever possible.
Children with special needs may be taught in special classes or receive extra one to one help. Where mainstream education is not appropriate, there are also specialist establishments.
Although these provisions look good on paper, as in the UK, the process of getting your child’s needs recognised can be long and frustrating.
WITHIN MAINSTREAM SCHOOLS
A special needs child may be provided with one on one support through the appointment of an avs, auxiliaire de vie scolaire, to work with the child. An avs helps children and teenagers who have a disability with their schooling. Their presence enables the child to participate in class, whether it be through working out which situations might be problematic, building confidence or handling the material the child needs to do their work.
They also help out at lunchtimes and with class outings.
In practice, however, many schools do not have enough suitably qualified staff to offer personalised assistance to all who need it.
If you think your child your child may be entitled to an AVS, you need to get in touch with your local MDPH (Maison départementale des personnes handicapées). Its aim is to provide information, advice and accompaniment for disabled people and their families. Either ask at the school or get in touch directly. There is an MDPH in each department - find your nearest here.
There will then be a meeting with the child’s teachers, head teacher, parents and school psychologist or doctor after which a file is passed to the MDPH, detailing what is being asked for – such as the number of hours of AVS help required.
Overall, the process can take several months.
Or, a child may attend a specialist class within the school. These are:
Primary school - classe d’integration scolaire (CLIS)
Secondary school - section d’enseignements generaux et professionels adaptes (SEGPA) / Unites pedagogiques d’integration (UPI)
These special classes are not available in every school, but there should be a t least one school within your local area offering them.
OUTSIDE MAINSTREAM SCHOOLING
A more streamlined approach is being implemented towards providing special education outside mainstream schooling, although it is still a pretty complex area.
Special educational establishments are collectively known as Etablissements Régionaux d'Enseignement Adapté - (EREA) which is an umbrella group for the IMEs (Institute Médico-éducatif) IMPros (Institue médico-professional) and ITEPs (Institute thérapeutique, educatif et pédagogique).
They are run at a national level by the Commission des droits et de l'autonomie (CDA) and at a local level by the Maison Départementale des Personnes Handicapées (MDPH) which provides the assessment teams which will determine your child’s needs.
You can contact your MDPH direct or through your Conseil Regional, although you could also start by discussing with your local mairie which will have details of your local MDPH.
Acronyms you may come across:
T.E.D – Troubles envahissantes de développement (ASD)
C.R.A – Centre de ressources autisme
C.A.F – Caisse d’allocations familiales
C.D.A – Commission des droits et de l'autonomie.
M.D.P.H – Maison departementale de personnes handicapés
AEEH – Allocation education d’enfant handicapé
CLIS – Classe pour inclusion scolaire
AVS – Auxiliare de vie scolaire
SEGPA – Sections d’enseignements généraux et professionels adaptés
UPI – Unités pédagogiques d’intégration
SESSAD – Services et soin à domicile
Further reading: Autism: A Personal Story