One of the most daunting prospects after getting Gs diagnosis was that she may have to go to a special school.
I can recall my determination that she would go to a ‘normal’ school. She would beat the odds and her diagnosis and be a ‘normal’ child.
I furiously chased physiotherapy appointments and became obsessed with all I could do to excel and propel her development. Because despite early indications that she might be delayed I didn’t want her to go to a special school.
I was so fearful of it.
The time inched around for when I needed to start looking at schools for her and in earnest, I began looking. The weeks and months that unfolded led me to visit nearly 20 schools. Mainstream schools, special schools and bases.
This experience changed my perspective drastically on what it could mean for my child to go to a special school.
My ‘tour’ highlighted the vastness in available support for a child with multiple needs. It highlighted the major hurdles a child with multiple needs might be expected to endure within a mainstream school. The whole process left me frightened for her school future and anxious about what may unfold.
There is a determination from local authorities to ‘keep children in mainstream school’. As it is cheaper. You have larger classes. Less staff. Less support. So the financial impact on the borough is less.
However, this short term cost cutting way of thinking by local authorities creates a paradigm for chaos for children and families.
Children who need extra help with self-care, social interactions and understanding, children who have no awareness of minor and major dangers. Children who process their anxieties through sensory differences. Children who have attention difficulties. Learning differences. Impacted physical senses (sight/hearing) are all at a heightened chance of developing mental health conditions.
It seems logical to me if a child has to endure years of struggling – struggling to learn, follow rules, understand surroundings, process their world and their place in it…eventually it will start to impact on their mental well being. It is stressful. It is scary. It is a constant battle.
This is not the fault of parents if they develop a mental health condition. It is not the fault of the child.
It is a consequence of not having suitable support, care and the right conditions for that child to thrive. And so choosing the right school environment is a hugely important part in creating the right conditions for that child to best thrive.
So you can imagine my fear when I visited mainstream schools which have classes of 30 + children in them. Playgrounds with 90+ children in and then being told the chance of my child having a 1:1 support in school was virtually a nonexistent chance!
You can imagine my fear when I visited bases that were they were linked to larger classes. That the bases wanted to try and share G across the mainstream class rooms and the base. G doesn’t cope well with changes. She doesn’t cope well in busy large environments, she can’t judge speed or see dangers quickly.
And though the bases were smaller than mainstream classes, they were for up to 15-20 children which is a MAJOR challenge for a child who distracts easily, cannot see or hear properly all the time. A massive challenge for a child that cannot use her speech effectively to convey her needs and cannot sign. So I believed even in this ‘supported’ ‘smaller’ environment she would be lost and struggle.
The visits to the special schools also made my heart sink. They were great facilities- for children with severe disabilities.
Not for a child like mine.
She didn’t ‘fit’ anywhere. Not mainstream. Not a base. Not an ASD base. Or a special school.
She needed a school that was small. That had small class rooms. Where she had a 1:1 or at least 1:2. She needed the chance to learn without distraction. She needed visuals. She needed Makaton. She needed a school that could accommodate her needs, a school flexible in the way they could teach her. I wanted a school that wanted to create the best environment so that my child can reach her fullest potential without the pressure of curriculum targets (school targets). A school that could be flexible in the way they taught, the speed at which they taught and varied in the way they taught.
So you can imagine my excitement when I found a school that did cater to her needs.
I could have cried. I was told she would not likely get a place as it was an independent school. Therefore it costs more for the borough to send her there.
But long story short she did manage after a struggle to get a place.
She has just finished her first year (reception) and I can say that this school has been fantastic. Upon starting she could say the odd word. She can now hold a basic conversation with you. She has gained confidence. She is slowly learning how to play with others. She is learning how to play by herself. She can recognise all of the alphabet. She can spell her name. She is starting to ask questions. She is learning to use the potty. She has started to say when something is hurting her. Her cognition and understanding have greatly improved. She is learning to cope with change. She is supported with her anxiousness. She has gained strength and coordination – through having the freedom to run and explore in a safe environment. I can confidently say this would not have happened in a mainstream school…she would have struggled.
And though children do need to learn what challenge is, they should not feel like everything is impossible.
There is an assumption by those who do not have a child with special needs that we try and cocoon our children. Try and stop them having little knocks and bumps at school so that is why we want 1:1 support – but that is so incorrect.
Often our children have had to endure pain in a number of different ways, whether medical intervention, pain from illness or from the consequence of unintentionally hurting themselves due to their limited physical abilities or unawareness of dangers. So we parents are accustomed to hunting out dangers before accidents happen. It makes us paranoid and hyper vigilant. It makes us understand the need for our child to be closely monitored. At ALL Times.
So the need for support in schools is so SO important and cannot be met in a mainstream facility.
So at the end of her first year in reception, I am so happy she is in this ‘Flexible, adaptive, supportive, encouraging, small and inclusive environment’ aka a ‘Special School’. And I can only pray that more schools like this are developed and instead of Local authorities limiting funding they instead invest MORE…so that the long term outcome will be more children will leave the education system with confidence and having met their fullest potential.
I can only pray that more schools like this are developed and instead of Local authorities limiting funding they instead invest MORE…so that the long term outcome will be more children will leave the education system with confidence, ability and awareness. More children will go through the education system facing less stress, more flexibility and create a climate for an enriching journey. I believe the consequence of this would be less children with Special needs would face mental health challenges and crisis’. All we want as parents for our children to grow up into healthy and as able as they can be adults. Giving them the best tools and opportunities in their formative years I believe is the key to this.