18th June 2020
A couple of days ago I got a call from the Educational Psychologist, to assess J's needs for school. In fact, more and more letters are coming through the letter box for various appointments and paperwork and I'm starting to see why an autism notebook I bought a while back has space to write in weekly appointments!
So today I want to write about what the process can look like getting a child with additional needs the required support. Luckily, J goes to a very accomodating school and their response at every point has been excellent. Still, if I hadn't had my sister-in-law's advice on this, I wouldn't have known what to push for and felt like I was in something of a foreign land.
A child with autism may or may not struggle to learn at school. It doesn't matter what their IQ is or their natural abilities in a certain subject; it's more about the environment around them which causes sensory issues.
When we went to a Parents Evening back in January, J's classroom teacher told us very clearly that the progress she had made was, she felt, down to all the things they had put in place to make sure she was okay. These included a delayed start to the nursery day, followed by 15 minutes with the Teaching Assistant, access to the quiet room and three 1:1 sessions, or small group sessions, throughout the day. J would do any activities in a 'learning tray' which the whole class were working on, to make sure she was keeping up and accessing the learning. We were told that next year things could be different, depending on staff availability. So we needed to be pretty proactive in terms of applying for extra support.
What we need - on my sister-in-law's advice - was to apply for something called an EHCP. This would involve assessing J's needs and coming up with a plan, accompanied by any necessary funding, which J would have. It could follow to another school, potentially, and would be a legal document. The first time we applied we were rejected but this is quite standard. We appealed the decision and it's led to the Local Authority agreeing to the EHCP. I write this to help any other parents - especially those with a child around 4 years old - if they feel like they've entered a minefield.
So a couple of days ago the Educational Psychologist phoned (they would normally do the assessment in a school setting, but of course Covid has changed all that for now) and we talked about J's needs. It felt great to have the support and feel like things are moving. I thought I'd write about some of the ideas we came up with together, to support J's needs.
The first was the ability for J to access a quiet room at certain points in the day. I suggested this could be before lunch time, when she tends to get tired, so that she could socialise at lunch and have had the chance to 'self-regulate'. If that doesn't happen, the meltdown tends to occur once we're home after nursery.
We also talked about where J could sit, so that she didn't feel overwhelmed, in whole-class teaching activities. She suggested J sit at the back - possibly on a beanbag - so she didn't feel people were behind her all the time and wouldn't feel the discomfort of people brushing against her. She suggested she have her own desk, as well, to help with this overload. I suggested perhaps a desk with one other pupil with similar needs, if possible, so that she could form a friendship. J often finds it easier to talk to someone if she can share something she's creating with them. She'll often talk to Grandad about a picture she's done or a plasticine creation.
To help with social and communication skills, J will also going be part of a small nurturing group, which helps her to form friendships and the ability to initiate conversations, which started last term before the lockdown.
To help with J's tiredness during the school day, I suggested that she be allowed to draw or colour in when she felt unable to continue with an activity. Creating things helps to calm J and I've read that creativity is very common in girls on the spectrum. I voiced concerns that this might single her out as different and cause a bit of tension in the classroom, but the Ed Psych assured me that the children are very used to several children doing thing slightly differently these days and they adapt to it.
So, for those of you who feel your child needs extra provision at school, don't be afraid to be proactive and apply to the Local Authority for an EHCP ahead of school doing so. It's standard for applications to be rejected the first time around, but don't lose heart. The benefits of having extra funding ringfenced for your child, is that they are then entitled to the support they need - for example, time with a Teaching Assistant every day - even when things are stretched at school. You might hesitate to do this if you feel your child can cope academically, but the thing to assess is whether your child can cope emotionally. If not, they may fall behind in other ways.