Every child In England has a right to a education, one that is fulfilling in all areas, yet enjoyable too. Our children should start school with an array of wonderful learning opportunities ahead of them. They should be offered a variety of experiences both in and outside off their place of learning.
A good education should be one that not only provides a child with good levels of attainment but also helps build confidence, decreases vulnerability to poverty, inequality and social exclusion regardless of race, religion or that of disability and special educational needs. Sadly things are not always so black and white and regardless of laws and codes, schools and local authorities don’t always play by the book.
We as parents don’t often find ourselves worrying about whether our children will receive an education catered to their specific needs, especially before they have even started full time education. We often find ourselves assuming that professionals will teach and respect our children as one would expect them too. This is even more so if we are yet to discover our child has SEN or a diagnosis consisting of Aspergers Syndrome as this can often be picked up much later when things have already become kinda messy at school.
Maybe you are aware of your child’s specific difficulties and professionals won’t listen (sadly this is a common scenario). The situation is one made more difficult if you are still trying to obtain an official diagnosis for your child! I for one understand this, given my own son was diagnosed at the age of 8 years old, obtaining a statement of educational needs at the age of 10 following a somewhat tiresome battle with the local authority.
We all know that early intervention is the key to success. If your child is lucky enough to already have obtained their diagnosis before they have reached the age of compulsory school age, then you already have one hurdle met. This may seem strange to some…. Stating that obtaining any diagnosis of a social communication disorder is in anyway lucky! But it is lucky to have obtained this so early… Those who are still trying to get their child’s official diagnosis as they almost leave for secondary school, will likely agree!
Below I’ve listed some ‘Tips’ and “Need to know” advice, to help you ensure your child on the autism spectrum gets a full and rewarding education… one they not only deserve but more importantly… the one they are entitled to.
1: Remember just because your child has a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome this doesn’t Automatically mean they will be placed on the sen register.
2: You should know that it’s not just that of attainment levels or specific learning difficulties that leads a child to being placed on the sen register. It is also that of their emotional, social and behavioural needs. Some schools often fail to make parents aware of this when they are trying to obtain a better support for their child. Be sure to state your knowledge on the matter and don’t let them try to convince you otherwise.
3: Teachers often have the ability to “Forget” to inform parents of important developments, ones such as placing a child on the sen register. If you know your child is likely to be placed on the register or suspect so, then be sure to ask them in writing. If need be you have the right to request your child’s educational record. The Education Act clearly states parents must be informed that their child is on the register and the reasons why. All developments should be recorded and shared with parents in writing. Parents should also be even the option to contribute to their child’s IEP.
4: Always Talk to teachers ensuring they know your child’s diagnosis and more so… any traits or difficulties that may present themselves during the course of the school day.
5: You often find yourself not wanting to be seen as the overbearing, over protective mother. Nonetheless, its important to make a stand from the start. Working alongside your child’s teaching team is always the most beneficial way forward. However, letting them know you won’t be frobbed off is also OK too.
6: Its OK to ask your child’s teacher or teaching team what experience they have when educating children with additional needs, autism spectrum conditions and SEN. Here in the UK it is usually the SENCO (special educational needs coordinator) who you will want to meet with to discuss any worries or concerns as well as that of your child’s class teacher and if applicable, any teaching assistants.
7: Make an extra effort to record any incidents that occur at school. Whether it is the school that has informed you of these incidents or its something your child has told you, what may seem no big deal at the time may later be of importance, maybe even contributing to any evidence needed in order to get your child a statement of sen (soon to be health and education plan).
8: Make time to help your child at home with not only their homework but also social skills training. Use social stories to teach your child about different situations they may encounter while attending school and beyond.
9: Although it isn’t a pleasant thought you may want to bear in mind that children on the autism spectrum can often find themselves a target for bullying. Its horrible but sadly true that children can be very cruel. If your child’s traits are ones that are very apparent and stand out to other children as somewhat “Odd” I’d advise you to keep your ear close to the ground. Keep in regular contact with school and encourage your child to report any problems to a teacher they feel close to.
10: Remember, your child has the right to an education, one that is the same as that offered to his or her peers. Your child should not be made subject to discriminatory acts. Some examples are that of illegal and legal exclusions, internal exclusions or isolation, removal from certain lessons or not being allowed on school trips etc… without a very good reason. Those parents that are lucky enough to have their child’s diagnosis before they start school will have the opportunity to view schools asking questions on various subjects therefore ensuring their child’s needs can be met.
11: If your child’s school is not informing you of any incidents especially those that affect your child’s emotional wellbeing, and therefore cause problems when at home as well as school, then request a daily school/home contact book. This means you can record any incidents that take place at home, ones you believe could affect your child during their school day. With this, the “Said” school would therefore be required to do the same. This would not only provide peace of mind but would also provide a written record that could provide useful if applying for a statement or making any claim with the first tier tribunal.
12: Watch out for illegal exclusion. No head teacher or other member of the teaching team should call you and request you collect your child unless they are officially excluding them from school. Parents may be told that their child has had a stressful day, they are tired, had a meltdown or are just being disruptive. The phone call will likely end with the school suggesting it would be better if you could collect your child so they can go home to calm down. Although you yourself may want to just take your child home avoiding them anymore stress, you should remember that the school are meant to officially exclude pupils and this exclusion needs to be put down and recorded on paper. LEAs need to be noted, work provided and letters given to parents. Schools don’t like having to record exclusions as this doesn’t look great on them (and who wants the paperwork). As parents, I guess we instantly don’t want this kind of stuff recorded on our child’s school records, especially when we are disputing the reasons surrounding an exclusion… Or do we? The school illegally excluding your child shows that actually… They cannot met your child’s needs! When trying to obtain a statement (or soon to be health and education plan) we need to show why our child’s needs can’t be met. By just telling an LEA that your child is being sent home regularly for poor behaviour, without anything to back it up, isn’t really going to get you anywhere. You need to provide evidence and this can only be provided by way of official exclusion.
Note… Even if you agree to collect your child, the school is still breaking the law by not making this official.
12: Children with Aspergers and SEN can sometimes have relatively bad attendance. This was specially the case for my little man. This has lead to three court appearances due to the lake of understanding provided by both his old mainstream school and the local authorities ‘Education Welfare Officer’ (EWO). Little man has an incredibly poor sleep pattern and this combined with the discrimination and other difficulties experienced when at school lead to the development of school phobia. It took me a long time to get him into the routine of going, so to have the school send him home at least three times a week was more than frustrating… It was shocking! Thankfully the last judge had little difficulty coming to that same conclusion.
Given this was my third appearance in court for this matter, and the EWO had stated that herself and the LEA felt that a prison sentence, alongside a grade two fine, would be the most suitable form of punishment for me (said by EWO when the judge asked her what outcome the LEA was hoping for) I was more than relieved to have the whole sorry mess come to an end.
13: Always remember to keep in contact with your child’s school if they are not attending. Make a diary and keep notes on conversations and appointments you’ve had. Cover yourself with medical evidence and like me… Request that the education welfare officer collect your child and let them endure the horrible task of trying to get your screaming child dressed and out the door to school. Especially when they are having a huge meltdown, acting violent and smashing up the house… And that’s on a good morning!
It actually took me three whole years of requests for the EWO to finally agree. Lets just say that she was now beginning to realise the stress I was under (not that it changed anything).
If your child is not attending then You should always request that work be sent home from school. Your child maybe school refusing but you don’t want them missing out on valuable education. I found that the school didn’t offer and I had to constantly request this. If you are taken to court and accused of Intentionally failing to ensure your child’s attendance (sec 4441(a) ) you can also show that your child was in fact educated during the period of time they have spent absent from school.
14: Remember the law states that your child must receive a full education at the age of five years old! The law doesn’t state that this has to be in a school environment. Home schooling is always an option and one you may consider best to ensure your child receives an efficient education. Nonetheless, its worth noting that by opting for this you remove the social opportunities a school environment presents (even if your child does struggle with such social settings). Dependent on how your child’s social skills are I’d be sure to ensure that home schooling involves lots of social skills training. When we home schooled little man after finally removing him from his mainstream primary school, I made sure he engaged in other activities alongside other children. He started boxing twice a week as well as a number of other activities. The LEA reports stated how they thought little man would have too many difficulties integrating back into a school environment as he wasn’t only left without a school for a year following mainstream but during most of his time at his mainstream school he was either excluded or hidden away in isolation! Reading such reports can be heartbreaking but in the end they only made me more determined to prove them all wrong. His now been in his independent special school for around 18 months and is popular among both the teachers and his peers.
15: Use visual timetables for both home and school. Highlight any up and coming events or changes well in advance placing them on a visual calendar. Making schedules and routines consistent between the two settings (home & school) could make things more simple for your child, therefore removing any anxiety towards school.
16: If your child has Aspergers or Autism they probably have a special interest in something or another. Little mans obsessive interest really did overtake his life as well as ours as a family. He would speak about nothing else and could quite literally drive you into a state of insanity with the non stop discussions on bus and train models. Having Asperger’s syndrome doesn’t make you stupid and as he started to get that bit older he realised that other children were taking the Micky out of his love of the big red bus. With this he did very well to suppress his interests while in school but this did have its downfalls… Once home he’d just explode. It would all come flying out and he’d normally have a huge meltdown before finally engaging in the activities he’d wanted to engage in all day. This meant little sleep… Very little sleep.
Its not so bad when your child is in an environment where other children don’t see him as particularly “Odd” They all have their very own “Special” interests to occupy their minds to even notice his. But some children ain’t this lucky.
Regardless of where your child is educated its important to try and maintain interests so that they don’t go too OTT (the point when your child can think of nothing other than their interest). Although they have passion, the lack of concentration & appropriate social engagement with others can present huge problems later.
You might want to start monitoring your child’s engagement in their interest to assess how obsessive these may be. If it shows signs of going over board you will need to try and limit the time your child engages in it. You can’t shut down their mind but distraction and routine is key. A child with a really intense special interest will probably know a lot about the subject and present some pretty impressive skills when it comes to their knowledge of the interest. This can be a real strength and as you celebrate this it will therefore help to install your child’s confidence. Just be sure they explore other areas too otherwise school work will not be tolerated if its not centred around the specific interest as they will struggle to concentrate on anything else whatsoever.