Special School – Don’t write it off!

12 Mar

As a parent of a child diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome and special educational needs, I’ve been through the whole tiresome, wearisome battle to obtain a statement of Special educational needs (SEN) that states ALL of my child’s needs, as-well as providing the appropriate resources needed to meet such needs.

I’ve faced the whole mind-boggling experience associated with searching for an appropriate education setting, somewhere with the right resources to cope with what has been described as my child’s “Complex Needs”

I’ve embarked on the deliberating decision, when it comes down to the choice between Mainstream or Special School.

After many battles for, assessments, a statement, an amended statement & the almighty fight to obtain the right school placement, we finally found ourselves here!

Though it was far from easy, Little man now attends an independent day special school, especially for those children on the autism spectrum, catering for children through their primary and secondary education!

There is no words I can use to describe, how having your child’s needs finally met changes life for that of yourself, child and immediate family! When you finally secure that placement, having engaged in many years of consistent fighting for what only seems a child’s most basic right!

Three years ago, you would have likely heard me stating, “Mainstream schooling was the only form of schooling my child would be attending!” Admittedly, like most parents of children with autism or SEN, today, I was ill-informed, completely clueless if you like, to how special school’s actually operated! Well, why would I be any the wiser, I’d never even seen inside the doors of a special school, in all honesty, I guess I kind of collaborated the little I did know (well, what I thought I knew) to that of what I’d been told, the not so great opinions of others! This of course did nothing other than help produce an image within ones mind, resembling something far from accurate!

My opinion was my own, through it was sadly built upon that of ignorance! I’d naively thought that by attending a mainstream school, my child would learn the rules of socially acceptable behaviour, his “typical” peers would somehow be his social skill trainers, without even knowing the importance of their job, they would actively model how society expects one to perform in life.

Surly special schools could only pull my child under, corrupt his delicate evolving mind, somehow lowering his own expectations of what he could possibly do if truly desired! Those around him would swamp him, drowned him in their world, lower functioning children would draw out his more noticeable “autistic traits” he would somehow feed from them, becoming more and more aloof with each passing day.

Would he become more autistic than he possibly was, mimicking the social behaviour of peers? Would this actually lead my child to become a child who required little if no encouragement, staff assuming he was a lost course? Would it just be expected of him to achieve lower marks than he was typically capable of? Would he therefore never be pushed to display his full potential? Then there was the consistency the overly well organised routines, would this make my child more rigid, therefore more demandingly challenging with a total lack of flexibility within the home?

Right then, at that time, the possibilities, even if conceived from ignorance and lack of informed information, made special school not an option! My ill-informed mind was made up!

Nonetheless, 3 years ago, I wouldn’t have been given the option, regardless of whether he needed it or not! You see, this isn’t how it works, though within time, I came to understand this!

It wasn’t at least till 2-years ago,that mainstream school finally admitted that there were indeed problems (and lots of them)! Little man had gone from the active school refuser,the aloof quite child, to one who could not follow the simplest of tasks. He became far more challenging what with sensory triggers and a string of misconceptions. He was no longer able to contain his evolving desire for peer interaction, though he regrettably fell at every hurdle in his quest to achieve it.

Those that did befriend him, did so as to lead him into troubled waters, always getting him to play the clown while laughing uncontrollably when he got into trouble.

Misconceptions and mixed messages lead to constant exclusions, removal of life’s simple pleasures, privileges such as trips and playtimes.He found himself being taught in isolation, removed from what he knew, despite not being able to fully understand it anyway!

When Little man began stating he wanted to be normal, while bashing his head senseless against a wall, choice no longer had a degree of influence within this heartbreaking situation! Basically I needed him out! Unable to let this situation continue, I removed him from the school!

We filed a claim for discrimination on the grounds he was being treated differently as a result of his Aspergers Syndrome as-well as the fact no reasonable adjustments were being made! The school finally held it’s hands up, just days before the tribunal hearing I had been dreading.

By this point in time, an absolute turn around had occurred! The LEA no longer ignorantly refused to carry out a salutatory assessment of little man’s special educational needs! By this point I’d started training, learning the English Education Act, including those very important sections addressing special educational needs. What’s more I’d also obtain a solicitor (it was one thing helping others to get their child’s needs met, yet my own child’s education was in such a state, the solicitor could only but help)! The addition of letters devised by a solicitor did help to move things along, yes, I’m sure of this! Plus thanks to the appointed solicitor, Little man had now undergone independent OT, SALT and EP assessments, all of which greatly differed from those findings given by the LEA. This was all well and good, yet the discovery of the extent of his OT needs and possible additional conditions discovered by his EP, did cause me to draw one or two tears, before jumping back up into fighting mode!

Little man was no longer being home schooled and I’d managed to get the LEA to provide 5 hours a day of 1-2-1 tuition by a tutor at the local library! This was something that continued for almost 8 months!

A statement was finally produced, though it was better suited to a no frills range at the local supermarket. Parts 2 and 3 failed to include little if any real needs or any resources needed to meet such needs. The LEA were now frantically searching for a stat special school, non in which were even willing to meet him (with the exception of one)! I received daily letters through my letterbox from numerous school’s all stating the same, ” Sorry, we feel that we do not have the resources to meet ******** complex needs”

I’d come around to the prospect of a special school, gone were the days of ignorance, I’d now learnt that there were schools for both MLD and SLD as well as specialist schools catering for children with Autism spectrum conditions. I embraced the prospect of a school that had small classroom numbers, teachers who understood my child’s needs, such great things began to excite me. Given the last few years of hell, that mainstream school had brought us, my views had changed more than a little!

I could now be found saying

“My child will never attend a mainstream school again, not over my dead body!”

Now, this remark was not based on ill-informed opinions, underlying ignorance, but one made from experience, and not a good one at that!

With the discovery of Baston House, Independent Special School for those children holding a diagnosis of autism or aspergers syndrome, which was founded by the lovely Anna Kennedy (activist and a mother of two boys on the spectrum) I had to investigate and check the place out!

The school caters for both primary and secondary children, when visiting there was a handful of pupils but just meeting them along with the staff it become very clear that this was the place Little man needed to be!

I wasn’t under the illusion that it was an easy process, after all this was an independent school. However, with the LEA struggling to find a state school by the tribunal date, they gave up, no longer opposing any of my requested amendments.

This meant that not only did they now amend the statement to include all the recommendations of the independent assessors, making this the largest statement I’ve seen, I received some much sought after news.

Of course these amendments included part 4 of the statement! Baston house school was finally named, and I felt something I’d never felt possible, the up most relief and excitement that my child would now spend his school days in his new SPECIAL SCHOOL!

It’s been around 9 or more months now and we are currently approaching his annual review meeting! He will also move up to the secondary department which is within the same school, making this a less stressful transition.

Life now is a lot different! There are less phone calls from upset angry teachers, not one exclusion *madly touches wood* Amazingly little man has also risen 7 (YES, 7) sub levels in reading (in little over a few terms)! Ok, he still doesn’t sleep much and can’t help to have a supermarket meltdown, but his happier, that much, I’m sure off.

So, has special school caused him to regress? No, it’s actually the best decision I’ve ever made for my son, making the hardest and most emotional grating fight of my life, all now seem worth it! Seriously I wouldn’t change a thing!

So, if like me, you rejected the prospect of a special school, then remember this post! Do what you think is right! My advice… follow your heart, it will show you where to go, there is a school for every child, whether it’s mainstream, special or even at home, you’ve just got to find it!

13 Responses to “Special School – Don’t write it off!”

  1. Rachel Reynolds May 22, 2015 at 9:25 pm #

    Going through exactly the same situation. The same battles with the authorities and our decision regarding secondary school. I have had the same doubts about special schools based mainly on others peoples ill informed opinions. Very glad you wrote this and yes I will fight to follow my heart. My son will not thrive in mainstream high school, he needs the right environment to encourage his more than capable intelligence which is going unrecognised because of his increasingly difficult behaviour. Thank you I don’t feel so alone anymore but inspired.

  2. Clare November 20, 2014 at 8:50 am #

    I wanted to refind your article and send you a comment even though it’s a long time ago that I first read this post because I wanted to say a massive thank you. I won’t bore you with the details (you already know this story) but we had been through a horrific two year process that ended up with our 10 year old son who has Aspergers having a nervous breakdown and being withdrawn from primary school. We had been so determined that he had the right to stay mainstream that I think we were missing what he actually needed. Your post pulled me up short and allowed us to think again about special schools and what they might be able to offer my child. Now a year later (and the obligatory big battle) he’s well, he’s settled and is finally in an environment where he is able to flourish. Most importantly he’s happy again. The time you took to write your post literally changed his life. I am very grateful and hope that your son is still doing well. Clare x

  3. Jo September 10, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    My comment hence A year later….
    What a lovely story. Fought tooth and nail and still winning🙂

  4. Matt July 4, 2012 at 6:27 am #

    Wow this is a great story.

  5. Holly May 30, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    It’s a really hard decision to make. Yesterday I wrote about my experiences of both mainstream and special school. As I’m visually impaired my situation is very different but I’d say that it can be extremely difficult to decide which one is the most suitable as there are advantages and disadvantages of both. I’m really glad the school is working for your child🙂

  6. clairelouise82 March 14, 2012 at 6:38 am #

    Thanks for your lovely comment Sarah, it was great to read how like me you have now found the right school for you child. True what you say though, it is a shame they have to go through all the past trouble to get there. Claire Louise.x

  7. Hossie March 14, 2012 at 5:36 am #

    Wow! Thank you for sharing this. So heartening – I haven’t even started to blog about my experiences (mainstream and special). Much of what you share above – I can relate to. My gripe is lack of real support and understanding in the mainstream. It wasn’t supposed to be like that! I shared your concerns – thought my son may not cope with the severely physically disabled children – when in fact he has shown compassion and concern for his peers.
    Society in general (yeh I am on soap-box now lol) is not ready for the challenge so how can ‘mainstream’ schools be? A pal suggested that like National Service everyone should be required to spend a period of time looking after a disabled child -to gain insight and try to challenge ignorance and misunderstanding – to begin to ‘get it’ – that until society ‘gets it’ how can schools? I believed that by experiencing my son (who lives well with Down’s Syndrome) other children around him would learn and grow up nicer I but in the end I needed to put his needs First – and take him out of a very difficult situation in the mainstream. I cried. Thought I had failed – and was ‘giving up’ on my son and all my beliefs. Awful!
    Needless to say, he is doing much better now and I am a massive fan of his Special school and the brilliant staff who are really committed to ‘getting it’ and appreciating my boy – and letting him shine. They are much more open to ideas and really encourage me to participate. I still say society (and mainstream schools) needs to do more to ‘get it’ – but I have chosen to put my energy where it is needed and appreciated – and for me and my boy, that’s in a special school too. Shame the mainstream had t let him down for us to find that out tho!

  8. clairelouise82 March 14, 2012 at 12:05 am #

    Thanks Gavin I also really enjoy your comments and opinions, I’ve learnt some great stuff from you, especially on the whole violence aspect of things. Yes, relate 100% I’ve said things a million times, only to realise how different being in the situation can make things. Agree, an open mind when parenting is the best ways to be.

    Thanks to all who have commented, I really do enjoy reading what others think. Claire.x

  9. Gavin Bollard March 13, 2012 at 10:10 pm #

    That’s great advice, “follow your heart”.

    I’ve lost count of the number of things I said “my child won’t be doing that” about before becoming a parent. I’m learning to keep an open mind and sadly, I’ll probably become an “expert parent” just about the time when my kids leave home. Until then, I’m still learning.

  10. Penny Gill March 13, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    Wow, this is like reading my own story! (Although we didn’t get as far as a tribunal with the LEA.) Like you our son has settled into special school so well and he loves it. He’s been in special schools for nearly 4 years and last year transferred to secondary and still loves it!
    To everyone fighting, please keep at it, it’s hard but so worth it when you get the results you want for your child. xx

  11. Donna March 12, 2012 at 11:22 pm #

    Thanks for this. We are currently waiting to hear whether the LEA will agree to the special school (albeit not independent) we requested. Along, with the battle of them recognising the recommendations from our private OT, as it stands currently they’ve not agreed to any OT provision😦
    It’s nice to hear Little Man has settled so well🙂

  12. kipmcgrathurmston March 12, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

    Great post and I’m so pleased you have come through your awful experience of mainstream education. Unfortunately too many LEAs seem to make decisions based on finance rather than the best option based on individual children’s needs. There is also a massive shortage of Special Schools as somebody very cleverly managed to get them shut down under the guise of “inclusion” rather than cost cutting. Your account of your child’s social problems in mainstream are really touching; as a teacher I once taught a boy with ASD and as he got older he became more and more alienated from his classmates – heartbreaking to watch!
    Well done for fighting your corner so strongly and thxnk you for sharing uour experience Xx


  1. Making The Move From Mainstream To Special School | Parenting Coach For Parents Of Special Needs Children - June 15, 2012

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