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The Challenges That Come With Independence

12 Oct

So, its been a while since I blogged, all reasons beyond my control.
Well, Little man is officially a teenager now. On the 1st October he turned 13.
As a result his special school felt that he was ready to make a huge step forward into the world of independence.
Instead of of being collected by the school bus every morning he would walk to the train station through the park, take the 20 minute train ride followed by short 5 minute walk to school. Was I hesitant? Of course I was, what mother wouldn’t be? You see, little man had an intense ‘Special’ interest in trains that lasted many years. He was therefore very excited about this big new step he would be taking! Me I was worried sick that firstly we may find him over obsessing about transport once more. It may seem harmless to most but when a child with Aspergers is obsessive nothing else in the world matters.

This however was not my only concern! Little man is a child that struggles to sleep of a night time and if he had experienced one of he’s ‘All Nighters’ then how could I possibly let him ride the train to school? He could fall asleep and spend hours going back and forth to Hayes and Central London… What if he woke up in central london? At least if he was getting collected our morning battle would come to an end once I’d physically removed him from his bed and got him on the transport. But he hated everything about the new transport system, the one he had been placed on this September with little warning of any changes! Little man was used to taking a taxi with two other children and an escort which is provided for by the councils SEN team. This September no more than one day before the return to school he discovers that his escort has gone and will be replaced by another. He also discovers that there is no longer a taxi but a mini bus with a new driver and a heap more kids too. The battles to get him onto the bus were anything but easy! The last week before his independence training started someone from the SEN travel coordination team called me to say that little man was on his last warning! Apparently the new escort couldn’t handle the children, especially little man. I hear a fight broke out between my son and another boy. As a result the escort was pushed (not by little man but another child who as a result had been taken of the bus for good).

So, with this and little man’s pleas I decided that the transport plan drawn up by the school would probably be best at this current time.

To cut a long story short, since little mans been taking the train his had more days off than I care to remember! The first few days were fine. He loved the feeling of independence traveling to school gave him (he still does) however, his sleep pattern has once more gone up the wall and getting him out the door has been a fight that I’m losing. Even when he has left for school his been leaving late. With this and the constant warnings, Little man is on his very last chance and this time its with me!

I’ve made the decision to reintroduce the melatonin despite how its effects make him more drowsy during the school day. What else can I do? It gets to 4 am and I’m seriously at my wits end! Just the other night (well, I say ‘night’ but really mean early morning) I found myself screaming at him… “Why can’t you just go to sleep?” Only for him to look and me and reply “I want to but I can’t… I just cant.” its frustrating… Its frustrating for him, for me… And for the school, especially when they can see his a bright young boy with heaps of potential.

I find myself becoming so angry at life, for we go through these battles, get over them only for them to resurface months later. Its one hell of a rollercoaster, one I have no choice in riding.

Little man doesn’t tend to talk about thinks that may have upset or confused him during the school day, which sadly can lead to all sorts of difficulties, leaving me playing the private eye game. Switching of isn’t easy for most, especially when we have worries and troubles laying heavily on our minds. This for little man, a boy who has difficulties expressing them worries, a boy who already lacks precious sleeping hours, is a struggle on a level most would fail to reach. Its stuff as such as this that makes those morning and night battles that little more difficult than it currently is.

I do sometimes wonder how many other parents there are out there… Going through the same nightly and morning battles that we do. I know there are plenty but at times its a real lonely place.

A Bright Star No Longer Hidden

22 Jun

The annual review, a time for meeting with your child’s teachers and discussing progress, struggles and ideas. A meeting centred around your child’s special educational needs and the statement they hold.

Last week it was that time, the time for the Little man’s second annual review since attending his special independent school specifically for children on the autism spectrum. Lately, Little man’s attendance has been a little off the wall! Despite his love for his new school he continues to struggle to sleep of a night, often getting just a few hours sleep or none whatsoever. As one can imagine, mornings are becoming one huge battle us! For this reason alone I expected to hear how my son was falling dangerously behind that of his peers, what with his last school (mainstream primary school) insisting he had a reading age of 7, reception age writing skills, poor understanding of science and history, plus 2 levels below in maths and more besides. He was 10 at the time and I protested that my son wasn’t this far behind, especially in maths. His bedroom wall looked like some kind of number puzzle where he would cover it in mathematical problem solving and coding to a complex level (one even I struggled to understand)!

You see it was my conclusion that he was much brighter than he let on, but wasn’t showing this due to his unhappiness while attending a school who seriously struggled to meet any of his needs, both educational and developmental. It was during this particular annual review meeting that I realised just how right I was back then.

Here it comes… A seriously proud mummy moment…

Little man is two levels above his expect national curriculum level in maths. He is in year 7 and currently has a level of a child in year 9 on his way to year 10.

His also above in PE, Reading and more besides. He science levels were that of his expected age. English as a whole is also what is expected which just goes to show that my boy and any other child on the spectrum has the ability to shine given they are in the right environment to do so.

He has a great new system in which he can remove himself from the classroom to shake of any problems and excess energy with a run around the playground. He only has the ability to use his “Get Out Of Glass Card” twice for each lesson and teachers have reported that sometimes he finishes class having not used one. This may seem like such a minor thing but to a mum like me its pure music to my ears.

He also has a great reward system and school are working hard to try and discourage his swearing. Despite episodes still happening on a daily basis the improvements are slowly taking place and little man’s learning a little self control.

Proud… Oh yes, seriously proud! When your so used to being told the negative when it comes to your child’s education, you forget what its like to hear anything positive. This was a great example of this, it was the proudest I’d felt for a long time. I just wanted to shout about it from the roof tops.

Was I tempted to take a little walk through them office doors of his once mainstream school, the one in which his younger sister attends? Did I feel to wave his report in the air while shouting “Yer… Get a load of that! Thats my boy they are writing about!” Um maybe I did, just a little…I can’t lie. However, I don’t care what was once said! All that matters is that I have always believed in him even if those others who should have, instead made it their mission to write him off as a lost cause!

Well… Eat My Shorts!

My boys a star, a star that shines bright because his no longer hidden.

So, if you have a bright star that is currently struggling to be seen through the clouds then don’t give up on them! Believing is the key to your child’s educational success and as long as you believe others will follow. Never give up, fight for them to be seen as the star you know them to be.

How Would You Feel If Your Child Was Given Blades To Self Harm At School?

27 Mar

Yesterday I read a very disturbing article regarding a UK Special School and there policies surrounding the safeguarding of the pupils in their care.

The article states that the school who cater for children with high functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome, had introduced a procedure which would allow a child to self harm in their care. Now, I don’t mean turning a blind eye to whats happening around them! I literally mean that teachers were instructed to hand the pupil a sterilised disposable razor blade and sterile wipes and then escort him to the toilets while they waited outside the door for the child to finish, checking on him every few minutes before finally cleaning up the wounds.

The school had introduced a new policy that would allow the child with a history of self harm to self harm in a “Safe” controlled environment. But luckily some teachers didn’t feel comfortable with the policy introduced by the more “Senior” staff which resulted in some having raised concerns with the designated officer at their local authority. The policy was therefore brought to a stop some 6 days after it had first been introduced. A full investigation is said to be underway with those involved possibly facing a professional conduct panel if the incident is thought to be deemed serious enough.

Yes, I’m a parent to a child with Aspergers Syndrome who attends a special school, but regardless of this fact, as a mother alone, I’d not be very happy knowing that my child was attending a school that practiced such procedures. I find it frighteningly worrying that this is what the school believed to be a responsible thing to do! Something said to be in the child’s best interest!

I also think that the staff who worked at the school took the right action. How was it fair to expect them to participate in such action? What if something went wrong and the teacher assisting the child was then brought up on charges.

I don’t like to judge, god only knows I get judged enough, but I do wonder while the parents didn’t protest to the policy. Maybe they did truly feel that this was in their child’s best interest. Maybe the fear of their child engaging in such activity alone was a fear much greater. It is said that the parents of thr child were thought to be aware of the new procedure, but having had many dealings with schools, “Aware” is not always as it may first seem.

Again this just goes to prove how the system is not supporting these children and their families as it should be. Was the child seeing anybody about the self harm and how was this being dealt with, what was their advice? Surly it was the first source of advice the school would seek. Therefore did medical professionals outside of the school feel the procedure to be appropriate? I just hope this child was even getting access to such support.

I ask, what do you think about as you read this? I’ve so far seen nothing but negative comments. Parents, like myself expressing their concern that this has been allowed to happen. I am yet to hear from someone who thinks the school got it right! Do you?

You can read the article in the Daily Mail where you will have access to the name and whereabouts of the school in question.

Again, please do share your thoughts here on the blog.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2298952/Unsted-Park-School-Investigation-launched-teachers-hand-special-needs-student-razor-blades-self-harm-safely.html#ixzz2OkWPEOFE
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The Children And Families Bill 2013 – Are You Worried?

15 Mar

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Worried about the child and family bill 2013? Well, if your child has SEN or a disability then you should be!

This is a post I’ve needed to write since I first read the published Children and Families Bill 2013 but ended up having so many questions flying around in my own head that I couldn’t find a way to relax enough to put them in to words (well, words that made sense anyway).

I have now been given the opportunity to head up to Westminster on Monday, to meet with the Minster Ed Timpson where I will be able to put those questions and opinions forward! So…I thought it would be a good idea to share them here with you guys first and also see if you had any opinions to add.

If you remember the post I wrote last year relating to the Green Paper you will know that back then I had already developed grave concerns relating to the proposed reforms relating the that of Special educational Needs (SEN). Now reading the Children and Families Bill it is only fair to say that those initial concerns have now been greatly heightened and with good cause too.

1: One of my major concerns surrounded that of the removal of school action/action plus. The green paper offered little indication on what was therefore being implemented to make things easier for those children without Statements/Education Health Care Plans [EHCP] to obtain appropriate support and services. Looking at the bill it seems that as I feared, “Nothing” is actually being put in place that will truly benefit the child who doesn’t fit the criteria for SEN. The Department Of Education (DFE) has stated that these children will have some degree of support through that of the “Local Offer” Though it should be noted that the bill as written states that the Local Authority (LA) are required to make information available relating to the education, health and social care services it “expects” to be available within its local area! This seems to hold no legal duty and therefore leaves these children in a somewhat similar situation than the one they are already in.

2: The Bill states that it has expanded the list of schools parents can request as a preference when naming the school in their child’s EHCP. This maybe so, but the fact the LA can still claim that for the child to attend the parents preferred school would be an inefficient use of resources, therefore meaning they wont name that school, actually means parents are in no way a better position than the one they are currently facing now! Well, I fail to see the difference.

3: At the start of the process the green paper promised a much quicker assessment process, with timescales being greatly reduced and parents not having to battle their way through the SEN System. However, the Bill fails to reflect this and actually fails to make known any sort of timescales for assessments, reassessments or appeals whatsoever.

4: The suggested requirement for parents to meet with LA officials before an application is made to tribunal is just pointless. It was first suggested that Mediation would become compulsory, meaning parents needed to take this route before applications for appeals to the tribunal were omitted. However, it was later agreed that this type of requirement was somewhat unfair, one making little if no sense! But then the the bill has stated the possibility of a meeting to discuss possible mediation etc is to be held before submitting an appeal to the tribunal! Come on… This will again make an already long process longer. If parents thought they could just pop down the LA and sort the whole mess out over a cuppa then don’t you think they would? No mother likes to endure the whole stressful notion of having to battle the LA at the tribunal, don’t you think we’d avoid it if we could. Again the whole lacking of timescales contributes here greatly. Why shouldn’t appeals be submitted at the first instance of it being denied. Its already known that it is only then that most LAs will actually start putting things into action and communicating with parents.

5: Another huge concern for me is the lack of information given on how the integration of the new EHCP will affect those children who currently have statements of SEN? Given a great deal of the law and SEN code will need to be rewritten to fit in with the new sen reforms how is this going to work with the statement! After all, if statements are going to be replaced this cant possibly be done by the time the new laws come into practice! With many of the laws that relate to those statements being written off, where is the legal protection to ensure the provision is still provided to the child who obtains that statements? Will statements be gradually phased out, scrapped and reproduced as EHCP as a result of annual reviews? What about those who have had annual reviews shortly before the legislation is made official? Will they hold a statement that offers no protection for a year? What happens when they are older will they receive the same protection if they remain in education? How will these new changes incorporate the social care side of things? Will those who have SALT on part 3 of their statement find that it then becomes a requirement of the health care system, no longer the duty of the LA to provide? A health care system that has no legal duty to provide it?

Which brings me to my next concern…

6: The lack of duty with the health sector. As it stands most of the areas which the LEA consider to be non educational are tossed over to part 5 of a child’s statement! I don’t think anybody from the health sector currently ever sees that part of little man’s statement or that of any other childs! Why? because they have no duty to provide any advised provisions, thats why! So, I guess I should be excited about the LAs joint commissioning with the health sector. Sadly I’ve already lost faith in this proposal.

The fact is that the LA have a duty to provide educational provision and regardless of joint commissioning it will stay that way! So, them “non” educational support needs will fall in the hands of the health sector right? With the guys at the LA actively communicating with those in the health sector things will now be hunky dory, right? Don’t be fooled! Their will be no legal requirements made of the health sector so basically… Nothing’s changed! Its just like having the non educational aspects of a statement tossed in part 5. The only difference is the health sector will know they are there, but in no way does this mean they will have to provide such services! What with waiting lists for a basic blood test on the rise and government funding cuts that have already had detrimental impacts on the NHS and related services, it looks like even more children will be left without the support they need to succeed. Yes, they made it sound so promising when talking about it all in the green paper, but in reality, it isn’t really that pretty no matter how much you dress it up!

As mentioned Little man receives SALT and OT which the LA tried its best to toss into part 5 of his statement. It took two independent assessments and reports, a pending tribunal case (that luckily didn’t make it to the hearing) for the LEA to throw the towel in. Which brings me to the issue of legal aid, if this ends up restricted then I guess children all over England and Wales are gonna be in huge trouble.

7: My next point to make is that of the funding issue. Again the bill has been very careful not to give many clues on the budgeting side of things. Delegations of school’s budgets for those children just outside the SEN scoop have not been discussed, and very little information on the individual funding of a child’s EHCP has been offered. Ok, so we know about the idea of personal budgets, yet the finer details are still up in the air. However, at this early stage my concerns currently surround the area of passing money to families and letting them go about it themselves. Ok, this way we know what our children are getting and we can hopefully obtain the services needed to cater for our child’s needs, but isn’t this just another way of removing the responsibility and the workload from the LA. I want to know how they are going to monitor the situation to ensure that the provision on the EHCP is being implemented? Will the parents be required to document spending of the budget having to knock up an annual spending report for the LAs records? I don’t know about you guys but I’m to busy being a mother and an advocate for all that!

8: Is this just another way to lower spends? Honestly this is a serious question, one that deeply worries me! How can we as a country struggling against a Recession with cuts already hitting children’s services the hardest, have faith that our children’s needs will be met this way. The bill is missing huge chunks of legalities that although haven’t been great have all the same protected us somewhat, giving us a case to fright for our children. With the bill being very unclear when it comes to appeals, timescales and a duty to provide services who can blame me for thinking that this isn’t a way to slowly help refill the governments penny jar. After all legal expenses are just that expensive so by removing many of the legal rights associated with the statement, less appeals can be lodged and the expenses decrease… Sad but logical!

9: Has anyone else noticed that the idea of a key worker, a single person to point us parents in the right direction, has suddenly been dropped from the bill. I’ve read many of the governments responses to the concerns raised, though I failed to uncover concerns relating to a family key worker! I therefore wonder why it suddenly disappeared without trace, especially considering it was one specific aspect of the green paper most of us parents applauded? Too expensive an idea maybe?

10: The EHCP is for those with SEN between the ages of 0-25 years. However, what most people fail to realise is that this is not exactly true! Its pretty clear from reading the bill that once your child/young person leaves education then the plan will crease. This actually makes sense, after all the only aspect anyone really plans to fulfil is those provisions given in the EHCP is that of the educational part of the plan. As mentioned the area of health and social care will have no legalities attached meaning it won’t be worth the paper its written on. It will be this part that your child will probably need most when leaving education, yet it seems that more assessments from social services to obtain the help needed to help young people with the transition into adult life may well require that of you having to fight for it… Again!

Thanks for reading my thoughts and opinions on the Bill. I actually have some strong views on the sections covering adoption and children in care and have decided to express them in a separate post which I’ll try and publish sometime over the next couple of days.

Now I would love to pick my readers brains a little and ask… “What would be the most important aspects of the bill you would want to raise with the Minster?” Please it would be great to hear your thoughts.

To access the Children and Families Bill and associated documents, click HERE

Ensure Your Child With Asperger’s Syndrome Gets The Education They Are Entitled To!

8 Jan

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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.

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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.

Look How Happy He Is Now!

24 Dec

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I never thought I’d see the day my son smiled like this… His at school, has a great role in the secondary years Christmas production and I’ve never felt so proud.

When your child is never ALLOWED to take part in the schools yearly Christmas nativity or play it tends to become somewhat disheartening. In mainstream he was either told he wasn’t allowed to be part of it all, coincidently excluded from school that day or just pulled out and told he couldn’t take part at the final rehearsals or worse on the day itself.

Some parents feel a Little disheartened for their child when they Become upset at having to preform as a star, Camel, or even tree year after year. Us… We would have been happy with just that.

Seeing him up there on the stage, contributing, being a part of it all, was amazing. Did I cry? What do you think?

He has been in his Independent special school For around 18 months now. I remember he’s harvest festival assembly Back when he first started. She was excited about doing a reading but he wasn’t used to this type of thing, given he had never been given the opportunity in the past, The poor boy just froze with stage fright.

Now look him up there, With his mass of red hair and great big smile Ironically playing the gingerbread man. He couldn’t have been happier And honestly neither could I!

It was a wonderful day that had followed a school Christmas dinner the day before. This gave me two opportunities to witness my sons happiness within his new school environment.

It feels somewhat weird Being involved in the school community. Watching your son perform in the school play and eating Christmas dinner side by side with fellow parents and your child’s teaching team. Let’s not forget my experiences of school especially when associated with my son, were anything other then awful.

Looking back to how things were, the discrimination, tears and even self harm. I would have never imagined us being here.Things were horrible and I couldn’t see the light past the darkness. We are the perfect example of hope for any parent with a child on the autism spectrum facing the same trying battle when it comes to their child’s educational environment.

There is hope… No matter how dark things may seem right now. Good, understanding schools do truly exist so please don’t give up the fight!

Big thank you to my sons school for a wonderfully festive few days and for giving my son the opportunities he deserves as a 12 year old boy.

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Learning Disabilities, Autism and Internet Safety: A Parent’s Guide

19 Oct

A new guide to help parents of children with learning disabilities and autism is being launched today. The guide, a collaboration between charities Cerebra, Mencap and Ambitious about Autism, aims to help parents limit the risk of their child having negative experiences online and understand what action can be taken if they do. It also suggests resources that will help children get the most out of the internet at home and in the community.

Tracy Elliot, Head of Research at Cerebra explains: “as a national research charity, Cerebra strive to improve the lives of children with neurodevelopmental disorders and brain injury, through research, education and direct ongoing family support. There are real benefits to young people with learning disabilities and autism using the internet, but also potential dangers. We wanted to support parents in making informed choices about internet use and enable them to help their child get the most out of the internet. We know we share this aim with other charities like Mencap and Ambitious about Autism and believe that this joint approach helps all of us promote the message more widely. Some excellent resources already exist around this topic and we have referred parents to those resources, promoting wider awareness of these resources without duplicating effort”.

Use of the internet is on the increase with 77% of households in Great Britain having an internet connection in 2011. Increasingly, children and young people are learning and socialising using online resources. Many children with special educational needs are supported to use information technology in schools to allow them to access their education more successfully. Children use the internet to do their homework, to play games and to socialise with their peers. There are real benefits to young people with learning disabilities and autism using the internet for learning and social interaction and increasingly the internet caters for their needs with accessible design and simplified language.

However, alongside the many benefits it brings to children and young people there are also a number of risks. With access to technology comes the potential for cyber bullying, online grooming and risk of exposure to inappropriate content. This is a risk for all children and young people using the internet but the risk can be more profound for young people with a learning disability as a result of increased vulnerability, tendencies towards obsessive compulsive behaviour and social naivety. Studies have shown that pupils with Special Educational Needs are 16% more likely to be persistently cyber bullied over a prolonged period of time.

Mark Atkinson, Director of Policy, Ambitious about Autism said: “We know that children with special educational needs are more at risk of being bullied online, and for longer, than other children. Such a negative experience can be distressing and disorientating for a young person with autism and learning disabilities, especially as it may take longer for them to understand what’s happening and to tell their families. This type of bullying not only affects a child or young person but their family’s wellbeing too, as we know parents and carers often feel upset and powerless about not being able to protect their child online. Cyber bullying has exactly the same devastating implications as face to face bullying for vulnerable children and their families, and this guide provides helpful strategies to counter it”.

The comprehensive Parent’s Guide gives advice on how to make both home and mobile internet safe and how to prepare your child to use the internet. It identifies a range of potential risks and gives advice on how to prevent/deal with them as well as suggesting how to safely explore the many benefits using the internet can give.

Elizabeth Archer, National Children and Young People’s Programme Manager at Mencap and author of the guide, says: “we so often hear about young people with a learning disability having negative experiences online, but the internet can actually provide great opportunities for learning and socialising. The problem is that many parents don’t know where to start when it comes to protecting their child online and this is where we hope our guide will help. It provides information on how to make your home and mobile internet safe, guidance on how to support your child to use the internet safely, advice on various risk factors such as cyberbullying and criminal activity, and links to useful websites and organisations. We hope the guide will help parents to feel empowered to help their child make the most of the opportunities available to them online”.

The guide can be downloaded from www.cerebra.org.uk or to receive a copy please contact Catherine Hylton, Research Officer at Cerebra on catherineh@cerebra.org.uk.

#Silent Sunday

1 Jul

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SPECIAL FREE SCHOOLS – ARE THEY WORTH IT?

30 Jun

I recently attended the “New Schools Forum” to gain some information about the setting up of Special Free Schools and to write what I had learnt into a report for the blog “Special Needs Jungle

Below you can find out just what I learnt from the forum!

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Is it worth the hassle (a 100+ page bid and one hell of a load of work) that comes with starting a Special Free School!

Well, there are many factors needing careful consideration as well as a number of different circumstances each need applying to. For example, Is the School already up and running, therefore requiring just “Free School” Status? This could apply to any school (independent & non-maintained) this excludes that of state schools who can instead apply to become Academies.
Maybe you are considering starting up a Special Free School from scratch. It may only exisit on paper or an idea in your head. Maybe its because there is a gap in SEN provision that needs filling, therefore an idea of a Special Free school makes sense.

So, as not to confuse anybody (as we all know these things can be mind boggling) I’ll therefore take this one step at a time and will try to be as clear as possible.

Firstly, What is a Special Free School?

A Special Free School is one that is funded by the Government yet run independently. So, you may ask how these are any different from independent schools? Independent schools are not reliant on the government for funding, instead these schools are funded by a combination of tuition fees, gifts, fundraising or in some cases income investments (for profit organisations). Non-maintained schools are normally ran by Not for profit charities approved by the secretary of state to take children with statements of SEN.

SO, What must a Special Free School Provide & how must it be run?

Provide education for children assessed as needing statements of SEN between the ages of 5-19 years of age.

Provide education to a minimum of 5 children

Only teach children with SEN or those being assessed as having SEN

Have Regard to the SEN Code of practice

Provide a curriculum that is one tailored to an individuals needs

Ran by an acedemy trust (Charitable trust/not for profit)

Admissions to Special Free Schools will continue to be made via the LEA who retain responsibility for assessing a childs SEN

Important factors…

Applications must only be made by those schools that are new (meaning ones not already funded by the state as already mentioned above)!

So… Who can set up a Special Free School?

Well, I should really rephrase the above question to, “Who can apply to set up a Special Free School?” Because the answer is just about anybody can, but this doesn’t mean to say your application will be approved!

This isn’t just a case of knowing that their is a gap in SEN provision (though it helps) groups of parents, charity groups ect… will struggle unless they have a member of their group who has strong knowledge of the education system (basically how to run a school on a senior level)! Head teachers and board of governors make a good starting block. From what I have heard, many parent groups have formed wanting to start Special Free Schools but due to their lack of knowledge on the running of a school (including costs) they have therefore fell at the first hurdle. This isn’t just a case of coming together, forming a group and filling in an application… No, it’s a lot more long winded than that.

Parents/groups/charity groups looking to apply to open Special Free Schools need to do there homework and should realise this isn’t the only option (setting up fully independent schools may be a better, if not slightly easier process). If wanting to apply to set up a Special Free School, groups should appoint a director(s) and as mentioned, preferably someone who has some inside senior knowledge on the running of a school and importantly the likely cost that come with it.

Writing the bid is also a far from easy task, this normally exceeds a 100 pages and no stone should be left unturned! Only then is there a chance you will make it to the “Interview Stage” The Governement has set up the New Schools Network which is there to help groups throughout the process and should really be your first port of call.
Understandably, given the state of the SEN system at present (the fact that there just isn’t enough special schools in most areas and the gaps in provision is huge) many groups, especially those consisting of parents of children diagnosed with SEN, will be looking into Special Free Schools. However, I feel that when looking more closely, they may well discover things are much more complicated then identifying the need for a school, finding a site and opening one! I’m not stating that people assume its easy, just it seems much harder than I first thought, plus it may not be all its cracked up to be (just read on to see where I’m going with this)!

So, what about that of already set up independent schools? Is it beneficial for those groups of applicants? It sounds so considering these will continue to be ran independently yet receive state funding to do so! What’s the catch? Of course like everything there is one!

Firstly I should start by stating that special schools that are already setup and established will not be provided with the “Start up funding” However, it should be noted that there are some exceptions, these being special circumstances such as expanding there pupil capacity but there is still no guarantees.

The next big factor is that of admissions. Once Special Free School status is granted to those independent schools, the LEA will have the right to make them take children with varying needs, ones the school claims not to cater for. Therefore this technically means that independent schools that for example only provide education for children on the autism spectrum, will maybe be made to take children with other needs, social emotional, more complexed SEN or varying disabilities. Actually for me this is a massive issue, one that would make me consider such a change much more carefully if I was making such a decision about an independent school.

My son is in an independent special school just for children with autism and aspergers. Its a school who teach in small groups and have quite high pupil to teacher ratios. I would honestly worry if it was to convert to that of Special Free School status. I’m not being selfish, I just feel that by admitting children outside this status of SEN may result in all children not having their needs met, not mentioning the school becoming over capacitated.
I also slightly worry that dependent on how many independent schools within my postcode convert to Special Free School Status, the local LEA may try to move my child in order to save money (his at an independent out of borough school).

So… with the bad points out of the way, is there any good ones! The only ones I can actually think of is that of the reduction in tribunal cases. It’s quite simple really… Independent special schools convert to Special free school then the number of parents bringing cases to the SEN tribunal will fall. LEA’s will be much more willing to now send a child to the school as it wont be charging the independent fees it once did. This would also mean that more children would possibly be educated within their borough. For me, neither outweigh the issue of admissions (this for me just creates worry).

Whoever you are, if a Special free school is something you are seriously considering their are important issues to consider. One of the biggest is that of the pending Green paper. I ask you, with SEN provision still up in the air, is now the right time to be making such huge decisions? The Green Paper will mean a complete SEN overhaul. This includes the scraping of the SEN Statement with the “Education, Health and social care plan” taking its place. Other factors include everything from the way a child with SEN is assessed, the funding a school will receive and the possibility of a personal budget. We don’t even know what the new education heath and social care plan will even look like and if the social care part will hold any legal and statutory duty whatsoever.

Can’t this government do one thing at a time, it makes no sense to me to open Special Free schools when the way such children are provided for remains so unclear.

OK… So heres the nitty gritty on the issue of Special Free School funding
Now, there is no set capital (not that anybodies letting on) this is therefore allocated on a project for project basis. The secretary of state must take into account the estimated or “potential” costs of each individual groups bid. As already stated there is no start up funding for existing schools, only new schools (special circumstances will be given consideration)!

Do your homework, this is a government funded scheme which will mean that they want to see low costs and good value for money!
Remember, the government is still consulting on long term funding for special schools. As it stands the interim funding arrangements put in place is to receive base funding level funding of 10k per place (note there may be additional funding from some LEAs dependent on an individual’s needs (SEN statement)! Well, lets be honest, 10k isn’t much, especially for a child with complex needs who requires a number of provisions put in place like SALT and OT given on a high level.

Lastly, special free schools like other free schools should receive a bog standard grant to compensate for services that state maintained schools recive from the LA.

If considering a Special Free School, remember these only cater for children aged 5-19. This is regardless of the pending education, health and social care plan which covers children aged 0-25! This therefore gives a clear indication that before the age of 5 and after the age of 19, it may well only be the social care side which applys (here’s hoping that has some type of statutory duty attached or otherwise what’s actually different)?

So, there you have it! I hope I didn’t confuse you!

Thanks to Tania (special needs jungle) for asking me to attend the New Schools Network forum which enabled me to write this report
Please visit the New Schools Network for detailed information and advice on Special Free Schools and Free Schools

Chocolate Cake = Independence

16 May

Little man came home from school today carrying a smile on his face and this very yummy craftsmanship of his.

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Now little man is 11 years old and attends a day special school for children with Autism and Aspergers Syndrome, it’s this school who have converted my son into a budding master chef who’s destining for the championships of any cook off.

Now it’s not just the cake his brought home. Over the last school year his brought home an array of taste bud tickling delights.

His gone from baking scones to quiche, curry and more. This whole double chocolate cake has to be one of my favourites… Its dangerously yummy and really does taste as good as it looks

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Seriously, I’m no cake baker, I will shamefully admit with head hung low, that my baking skills are not great! Little mans are however far greater and I’m bursting with pride as a result!

But this isn’t just about cooking and baking! No, for children like my Little man it’s much more than this! It’s independence something his special school are teaching very early on to enable the children they teach, a good chance of succeeding in the quest to become a fully fringed independent young adult.

As well as cooking up a storm the children also take weekly trips to the supermarket in order to purchase the essential ingredients for their culinary delights.

As a mother of a child with Asperger’s syndrome I believe that learning the skills to become fully independent is just as important as learning the skills of literacy and mathematics. Most will take it for granted that their children will be fine in the big wide world, this is something I never do.

For this I am extremely grateful to my son’s school for teaching him such a needed skill!

I’m also immensely grateful for them teaching him how to bake such a deliciously, chocolatey, yummy scrummy cake…. Amen!!!

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