The Best version of yourself

It seems so long ago since I wrote a post! This half term has gone super fast! I guess I just needed some time and space to re-group and to get Jay through his first weeks back in a new class with new staff.

It is my belief, based on experience, that the strongest factor in the School life of a child with SEND, is a good Teacher who knows their stuff! It is not a given, that your child will get any such Teacher. It is the luck of the draw. Even in a SEND School, there are Teachers who understand better than others.  Luckily for Jay, he has had some amazing Teachers over the last five years, thank heaven for it, as School would’ve been so different if not. Starting Reception in 2015, Jay had a lady who was so kind and understanding. She went out of her way to help us and to support Jay.  But it was really Jay’s first TA ,who really got and understood Autism and Global delay. Moving on to Year 1, and all went wrong. However this was not due to the Teacher, it was due to Jay beginning to suffer with OCD and Phobias.  It just was not working for him. A clinical learning environment, which only suited the needs of neurotypical children, and not a child with severe delays and Autism, was too much for Jay.  Changing the classroom on advice from our child Psychologist, was done by the class Teacher, without complaint and with an understanding that put her high up there in our estimation. It even resulted in happier children in her class , as they got to experience the new, more play, and sensory based learning spaces, so all was well.

Moving on to Year three, and Jay had , of course moved on to his Special School. Again, we got lucky with a really great Teacher. But never ever assume that even Teachers in SEND School all understand Autism, as that year all the Teachers in Jay’s School  were training in supporting children with it, which was fab to hear!  There are many conditions covered in a Special school, and so the Teachers would have to be experts in many which obviously they could not be. The way they teach is different, and the bespoke Curriculum, tailored carefully to each child’s needs, are what makes Special Schools stand out and so different. Each child, in mainstream, is expected to meet set targets laid out by Government, not Teachers.  If a child gets behind, the Teachers are expected to change that. In Special schools, it is the same, in that Teachers work to help the child reach his or her full potential, but, they teach the way the child learns! The child works at his or her own pace within their own level of understanding, and there are no tick lists and SATS to worry about.

It is fortunate, that in this new term and academic year, Jay yet again has an exceptional Teacher and TA.  Jay went back with all of the baggage of the Summer holiday noise and upheaval of major gasworks outside his home, and so I am grateful that he is in a class with a team of really understanding and knowledgeable staff.  For all of this term Jay has been processing his Summer of noise and anxiety and his phobias and OCD are back full tilt, but whilst he has such understanding staff to support him, I am confident he will get through.

I keep reading in the media which represents all things SEND related, about the issues in mainstream Schools about supporting those pupils with SEND ( special educational needs and disabilities), and how the situation is dire and those children are being failed.

Yes, the Government must answer for this situation, and it is their cuts that have made it so near dam impossible for Schools to get the money they need to fully support these children.  However, I feel quite strongly, that on the front line of the battlefield, must first be Teachers, who are fully trained, in the most common Disabilities such as Autism, ADHD and Dyslexia. It is no use at all, ploughing money in to Schools for SEND, if the people at the front line of the service are not fully equipped with knowledge on how to help and support the children with these conditions. I must also say here, that I am sad to learn that many Teachers do not seem to want to get it or understand. There will always be what we might call ‘old school’ staff who ,only see disruption and are not willing to open up their mind to look at the reason why the child is disruptive, or  in Sensory Overload. I know someone training right now to be a Teacher, and they have not learned much at all about SEND, but I am not quoting them, I am saying that whilst Teachers are not properly trained, we will not see a squat of difference! TA support is essential too, so the more TA’s who have the knowledge to support the children with SEND, the better the situation in class will be.

Speaking as an ex-SENCO in a setting in early years, I always believed in Inclusion, but after having Jay, I am not so sure that integration is best for these children. There is a major gap between children without SEND, children who are milder, and, those with severe SEND like Jay. The children in the middle,  who may not meet criteria ,are the children we refer to who are stuck without proper support, and these are the group who seem most likely to be excluded or left without a School. Children in SEND Schools having their EHCP documents, mean their needs are often met and more understood, due to the experience and knowledge of the staff, and the right placement. Yet ,the children in this middle group, too mild to access Special schools, but severe enough not to cope in mainstream ,are really left out. I like the idea of the Schools who have Autism units built on to mainstream, and I wonder if  it would be better to fund special units within mainstream, and staff them with SEND staff who teach the same way as they do in Special schools, rather than keeping these children in mainstream, where many staff do not have the professional training how to help and support them to meet their full potential. The me of 2014 would never have said this. I believed 100% in inclusion but it does not seem to be working! If it was ,there would not be the crisis there is.  I am only thinking this, because of what my experiences have taught me and how much my beliefs have changed since having Jay. There will be people whose children have done great staying in mainstream, but I have heard too many friends and acquaintances, saying how unhappy their child is and how the mainstream School they are in are not meeting need.  I know Schools need more money, and this must come from being properly funded, but if we get to that stage, we need to properly teach the staff how to find a way to teach these special children, and it will not ever be the same way that they teach children without SEND. It cannot ever be the same, because children with Autism especially, require completely different ways of teaching.  My advice to anyone who has a child with the type of Autism and delays Jay has,  is to not linger too long in mainstream, because eventually it will show up. The child will not be able to keep up. My Jay left mainstream at 6 and could not read or write. By the end of the first full term in his new SEND school, he was fluent in reading and writing full sentences. They teach the way the children learn, and the way they are able to teach the children according to each child’s level of understanding ,is the sole reason the children flourish and grow and are happy. A child at my son’s School, told us when we visited ,that  she felt the School was like one big happy family. That is a quotation -a 13 year old girl said that to us! That cannot be faked and was from her heart and many others said similar things. Jay’s School is like a family and he is very happy there.

I have added a few more visual supports for Jay to his visual area.  We now have a seven day weekly planner, which has enabled Jay to know what day it is and what he will be doing. Also, a new feelings board which he uses every day to show us how he feels and lastly a time of year board, as Jay does not understand time or when something is going to happen. So, he now knows which season we are in and which time of year . I am about to change the seasons board to Halloween, and this is a time of year Jay loves as we have a family party each Halloween. We all dress up, and usually Jay does not want to, but this year he told me he wants to be a cat and so I bought him some cat ears on a headband and a black outfit and I will post a photo of him in his outfit on here after Halloween. The party itself has often proved too loud for Jay, but he also has a strong sense of family and where he belongs and speaks of his cousins every day and his extended family, as well as the five of us in his own home. It is lovely to see such strong personal development in his sense of self and his self awareness is so much greater than before. He used to refer to himself as Jay -he would say”Jay is scared or Jay is hungry. Now he says “I am hungry I am scared” This is so significant! So amazing and exciting and again I can assure everyone, that Autism and even Global delay, does not mean the child cannot develop. With the right guidance, love and support they can and will fly, and even though they will always need caring for, they can be the best version of themselves, and that, is the most important thing to be in life-the best version of yourself!!

Jay with his friend Snakey, his ‘feelings ‘board and his new Seasons board.

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