Supporting a SEN child through school
My son sailed through primary school. A top student academically, he just lacked confidence socially. He struggled with friendships and participating in group activities, but I never saw it as a major problem.
At the time, being my firstborn, I didn't think much of it. I didn't question why he came home from school and have a meltdown in the bathroom, why he would want to avoid situations and activities, and why he would ask me to speak to the teacher all the time. It's normal, isn't it?
Well that’s what I thought and during his time at primary school my son was able to get by, to cope, but that was all about to change when he started high school.
Early on in year 7, we could see our son was struggling and this just continued to get worse. By the beginning of year 9, my husband and I had met with the head of year to express our concerns. I remember the head of year looking at us confused as to why we were there; on paper our son was a perfect student. He had no idea of the high level of anxiety my son was experiencing and how difficult he was finding the high school experience. Every day he was afraid he would be asked to speak in front of the class, worried someone would take food from his lunch box and then he wouldn't be able to eat his lunch in the order he prefers, worried he couldn't sit next to a friend and would be forced to sit next to a child that doesn't follow the rules, worried he wouldn't be able to use the bathroom because someone had been smoking in there and he couldn't handle the smell. The list was endless.
Our son was referred to the school inclusion mentor and, on her recommendation, which was supported by our CAMHS therapist, my son was referred to the Community Paediatrician where he received a formal diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and severe social anxiety.
Actions to take
From my experience of supporting a SEN child through the school system, I have created a list below of the actions I took to help my son. Hopefully, it might help you or someone you know. Remember you do not require a diagnosis to get your child additional support.
- Build a good relationship with your child's schools. Arrange meetings and get to know all the key people that are involved in your child's daily school life or are key decision-makers. I went to parents’ evenings to introduce myself to every teacher and explain our situation. You can never assume that information is being shared or passed on to the correct people so you may have to do it yourself.
- Ask the school to put a CAF (Common Assessment Framework) in place. It is a way of working between schools and families that puts your needs at the heart of decisions made about you and your child.
- Have your child put on the school SEND register. This will then highlight there is an issue and the school will need to monitor your child. My son was added for SEMH i.e. social, emotional and mental health.
- Apply for an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP). This can be requested by the school or directly by a parent/guardian. I completed a parent request and was successful.
- Seek advice. In Cheshire East, there is an amazing team at CEIAS (Cheshire East Information, Advice, and Support). They guided me through the whole process of what the school should be doing to support my son. They also attended meetings with me to ensure the correct information was being relayed.
- Get others involved at the early stages e.g. Education Welfare Officers. I made contact with my local EWO the minute my son started to have issues with attending class. I had one main contact who I updated regularly on my son’s progress.
- Seek medical advice if required. I took my son to the doctor and we were referred to CAMHS, who were beyond brilliant and are the reason my son is still alive. They saved my family with the advice and support they gave us. It was our therapist from CAMHS that referred my son to our local hospital for a formal diagnosis of ASD.
- Get support for yourself. There are great forums and support groups for parents who are going through similar experiences. Also, it is important you get a break. It can very time consuming and emotionally draining supporting your child through what is a difficult time in their life.
- Act now! The sooner your child is in 'the system' the better.
What you need to remember
After attending many meetings and support groups the one thing I know is that as similar as situations may be, everyone has a different experience. You can only do what you think is best for your child and your family, but understand you are not alone and there is always someone to offer you support, you just need to ask.