Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Special Needs and the SENCO

Out of any topic I have covered this is the one that is closest to my heart. Apart from my experience as a teacher, I also have a son with ASD. Autistic Spectrum Disorder. It has been a long, long road, of fighting, letters, meetings, but finally I am able to see the fruits of all the rage, tears and heartache.

The first thing to realise is that as a parent or carer you have to accept the situation. However, while you can listen to what the school has to say, remember that you know your child the best. Always, always remember that. Do not let so called professionals label your child with any medical diagnosis, unless they are of course in the medical profession.  Even then though, remember that you need to keep a very open mind.  I have come across teachers who, using a check-list downloaded from the internet, have attempted to diagnose children. This is itself is very disconcerting! 

If your child does not have an obvious physical or mental issue, the first contact will be from school, usually from the Tutor or Classroom teacher. Accept what they are saying, and ask to speak to the nominated SENCO, that is the Special Needs Co-coordinator of the school. At the same time make an appointment with your GP, and ask to be referred to the appropriate body, in order that a diagnosis can be made. This is harder than you may think but it is so much easier to work towards the future with a diagnosis, a label of your child's condition.  I can still remember the Psychiatrist stating that my son had ASD. He shrugged though and said he was unsure if that was an appropriate label, but that he knew that we needed that label!

The school should offer observations from an Educational Psychologist, or trained staff who can bring together reports, reports from observations, and so on, that can help to put together a picture of the issues, and the ways that they can be assisted in school.

There may be a time that you need to consider a Statement of Educational Needs, but remember that no one can tell you what is best for your child.....you know best!  You may need to consider a Mainstream school, or Special School. What I will say that in my case, I knew that my son was clever, but he needed support. The Special schools in my area did not appear to cope with such children, so I took the decision, in my case, to fight against any move towards Specialist Education. I must point out of the sterling work done within Special Schools, but with personal experience of the children who attended the various Special schools, I knew my son was not suitable.

During my sons time at Primary School he spent an unfortunate year with a teacher who could talk the talk, and turn on the tears, especially in front of the Head.  This teacher associated my son’s behaviour with his being naughty, and could not cope with him in a full primary class of 30 children.  Rather than asking for assistance she stated in his school report that he was not capable of accessing the National Curriculum. I found out at a later stage that she spent hours shouting at him, to my son shouting is just noise, and that he had been instructed to stand with his head towards a wall, with his back to the class.  The damage this teacher did will stay with my son for the rest of his life. Please therefore ensure that your child receives as much support as possible. Within a large class, with one teacher, the pressures are enormous. While this is not an excuse for this teacher’s behaviour, I can understand the pressures as a teacher she was under.  Asking your child what happens during their day is the first step to ensuring their emotional and social safety.  Although I did used to ask my child, the mixed messages I retrieved from him, and the fact that this teacher could do no wrong in the eyes of the Head meant that I did not push enough to sort out the situation.  This stays in my memory, and I never allowed a situation like this to happen again.

Recently the law has moved forward as regards the equality of all children regardless of mental or physical ability. As it stands laws exist that state that schools, mainstream too, should provide equal access to all children, regardless of disability. Some Heads will discourage you, as the school itself has to fund any building works to accommodate the child. So be strong!

One issue that I remind myself that I was correct was that in the initial stages of my son's diagnosis it was deemed that he had behavioural problems. Had I not insisted he would have been enrolled into a Specialist Behavioural School. (I am trying to be politically correct, I hope you know what I mean!) I knew that the issue was more than behaviour, and my words, over my dead body were used on more than one occasion.   

Parents and Carers have a big sway when it comes providing school with the finance to provide support via Teaching assistants for their child while at school. At this stage the local Council are requested to provide funding to allow a staff member to support a child in school. Apart from attending endless meetings, write in yourself too, the more pressure you place on the system, the more hours of support you will receive.  Schools will sometimes match that funding, so say for example you 'win' 5 hours support, this is actually 10 hours of one to one support. Schools and the SENCO will generally decide how the hours are spent. A big warning though, please make sure that the Teaching Assistant works with YOUR child not the full class. I have been in many situations where the child with the given hours is not supported, but that the class he or she is in, is. Also make sure that the hours are being used. You have fought hard for them, so make sure your child benefits from that support.

Other aspects of Special Needs are, make sure your child has been placed in the right class. Time and time again, I have seen children with specific special needs placed in smaller classes. Sometimes a smaller class means that those children within that class are of a lower educational ability or troublemakers, which could mean that they are in a disruptive class, or a class that receive teaching to a lower potential grade. This really should not, but does happen, and is another example of disability discrimination which occurs.

And me? It took a long time for me to accept that there was a problem. To me, my child was perfect, and I could not accept any statements to the contrary. When I did accept the problem that was when issues started moving forward.

My thoughts are with you. Fight for what you believe is right. :)

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