Helping your special needs child – a mother’s story

A mum called Tanya contacted me the  other day and asked to share her story about her journey to support her disabled son with everyone, which I am only too delighted to do. Here it is below and Tanya has some extremely useful suggestions so I urge you to read it. Please leave your comments in the comments section so she can see them.

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Hi everyone.

I am mother to a ten year old boy who was born with multiple birth defects. He required many surgeries and as a result was left with severe separation anxieties. When he started pre-school I had to attend with him and couldn't even leave the room. He could not attend school for more than 2 hours a day during his reception year because of his anxieties, medical problems and mainly because this school was less than empathetic to his and indeed, our whole family needs. Although they were classed as 'outstanding' in their OFSTED report, they never listened. They only told and kept referring to themselves as "experts", a term we all as parents hate.

I moved within the year and made sure I placed my son in a school where the headteacher was very empathetic. She listened attentively to my concerns and requests - I knew this was the right school for him and although I applied for a Statement as I felt and the school felt this would be needed, he managed to settle in straight away with very little problems although he was placed back into reception again (a year behind his age) and was placed on School Action Plus.

I gained employment at this school as a Teaching Assistant and worked with an Autistic boy for the three years he was in this school before transferring to Junior School.

I have been able to use my knowledge and feelings as a parent to help in my work with this boy. I have also witnessed how communication plays a huge part between schools and parents - I see how things can be improved, I see how schools can be too judgemental on parents without knowing the full facts and seeing the full family picture. I also see where parents can be too demanding on schools without knowing all the facts.

In the course of my work I attended courses. I found out about the Autism Toolbox. This is a valuable resource. I never knew this existed however, ALL schools have it [SNJ note: all schools in Scotland, this is a resource developed for Scottish schools]. It gives examples of language jigs and social stories. These can be used for anything i.e, trips out shopping, going to bed, playing with friends, school trip out, school photographs etc. PLEASE, PLEASE, if you are a parent of not only an autistic child but a child who has any kind of anxieties, communication difficulties, behavioural difficulties, ask your school if you can borrow this resource to help you with routines at home and also make sure they are using this resource in school for your child. The Autistic toolbox can also be downloaded from many LEAs websites under the special needs section. If I had known about this valuable resource I could have used it to help my son and am sure that it would have saved a whole lot of family frustrations.

When looking for schools it is important to use your 'gut instinct' as a parent. My son's first school did little to help him, even though as I said, they were rated as 'outstanding' in their OFSTED report. His new school however was rated as 'satisfactory' but they listened and helped him progress. It is also important as a parent that you not only get to meet the teacher but more importantly your child's keyworker or teaching assistant, as it is this person who will have the most 'hands on' time with your child.

Talk to them about how you feel, tell them what is important to you, be sincere. Most of us find it easier to be honest and tell medical people the difficulties we are experiencing at home but when it comes to schools we feel less able to tell them about our struggles. A good school will not judge you if you are honest about what you are having difficulties with. Suggest home/school diaries where the teaching assistant will record what went well and what was difficult in the school day. Then the parent can record what went well, was difficult at home - home and school working together where the child gets rewarded at home for what went well during school and the child gets rewarded at school for what went well at home.

The difficulties can also be addressed. Ask for the TA to make up social stories - examples of these can be found on the internet. These can then go home and be read as a night time story - they can tell stories about how your child can ask to play with children at playtime, problem solving, when things change, etc. The pictures from these stories can then be minimized and used by the TA as visual reminders that can be shown to your child when playtime begins etc.

Find out whether your child has support at playtime; in lots of schools the teachers, TAs have their break when the children are out playing. This is when your child needs the most help! Other teachers and TAs on duty in the playground may not fully be aware of your child's difficulties. Ask the school if you can go in and talk to all staff including teachers, teaching assistants, midday supervisors. It is important that everyone at school knows your child, their difficulties and how to help.

Schools have many resources which can help your child with their learning, homework. They also have special needs website addresses to help your child learn at home that can help with maths and also help develop fine motor skills. Just ask if you can borrow these resources or make a note of the website addresses.

If there is an important meeting at school about your child, ask the school to confirm the minutes of the meeting in writing. We as parents can only hold as much information as our emotions will let us. This often leads to us 'making up' the rest of the conversation without knowing it and jumping to false conclusions.

If your child has recently started school and you have been an 'at home mum' caring for your child, why not volunteer as a parent helper? If you enjoy this and a position becomes available at the school, ask to be considered. Don't feel that you are unqualified for the job. You can have a teaching assistant with all the qualifications in the world who lacks the passion and enthusiasm required to really make a difference when working with a child and then there's you - a parent who knows what it's like, who will treat the child they work with as if they are your own, being able to relate to how their parents are feeling.

I am so glad I applied for a job as a teaching assistant - I always think of how I would want someone to work with my son when I am working with a child. How wonderful it is to have played a part in helping a child succeed knowing that you put your all into working with that child and neither you nor anyone else could have helped that child more.

I would really appreciate your comments as to whether you feel your school is supportive or unsupportive - Do they always plan ahead and have everything sorted out so you are not worried at all or do you feel you have to constantly approach them in order for things to move forward.

Many thanks to Tanya for sharing her experiences. If you'd like to share what you have learned about helping your child to help others, please email me  

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Tania Tirraoro

Founder, CEO at Special Needs Jungle
Founder of Special Needs Jungle. Parent of two sons with Asperger Syndrome.
Journalist & author of two novels and a guide to SEN statementing. PR & social media expert. Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate.
Tania Tirraoro
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4 Comments

  1. Kerry

    Sounds like you found a very good school and a lot of hard work put in by yourself! I sometimes feel that it doesn’t really matter what effort I put in or strategies that I put into place at home, I am constantly at the mercy of the school and the day that my child has had. I can’t be there and the school become very defensive when asked about problems. Secondary schools seem to be much more difficult to communicate with.
    I thought the suggestion of making “minutes” is particularly helpful and will definately try that…. Thank you.

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