Guerrillamum's Blog


So how’s it been going…..?

Peter has now completed his first term at sixth form on his A level course.  For him, sixth form and A levels were the only choice really, he is still in a mainstream school, but has a place in the school’s Asperger’s Unit, which started the year he did at the school, and has now extended into the sixth form to continue to support those of its students who have progressed  there.  

He still has a similar package of support to that he had in the lower school, only TAs now perform the task of note takers.  They are on hand to help with organisation and planning of work and to help Peter manage his private study time.  In reality, much of the private study work lands with us at home in the form of homework.  This is because I think that Peter is really enjoying the social side of being at a sixth form, in a way that he didn’t in the lower school.  Out of necessity, the Aspergers Unit had its own place in the school, as children who have AS can cope poorly with the social aspects of being in a big school during break and lunch time.  This is when friendships are forged and Peter missed out.  He is really enjoying the fact that there is no separate social area for the young people with AS to go, (even if they need a refuge from the racket and noise) and he has had to learn to make friends.  This was very difficult and stressful to begin with and to be honest, I really missed the AS unit on his behalf, but he has actually made more friends than he ever did in the lower school.  I am very happy about that, and I know how lucky we are that he has been able to cope.  I know some  young people with AS struggle to make the transition.

In terms of work, he has kept up pretty well.  He has kept up with the essay type of work, and the practical side of his courses pretty well.  However, he is struggling with some aspects of the extended coursework in terms of planning and organisation, but is developing (with help) some strategies to cope with this, so I am optimistic that he will catch up.  He is also enjoying the enrichment courses.  These are things like rock climbing, football, business courses and Music.  He came home very happy today as he is now involved in music group and has been singing and playing music all afternoon.  

We are tremendously lucky that Peter has a place in a sixth form with the continued support from the AS unit.  His AS level predictions are optimistic and if he manages to keep up with the work load and to adapt to the unexpected demands it is making on him (lots of extended course work), I am hopeful that he will get some reasonable A levels.

We can only take things one step at a time, but I think it is fair to say that we are cautiously optimistic for the future.



Last GCSE exam…

I haven’t blogged for quite a long while. With two boys with special needs at home, requiring help and support to access the curriculum at school, it is fair to say that we took a decision to put all our energies into helping them achieve their aims at school, and to achieve their dreams in their out of school lives. So blogging has I am afraid gone by the by. However, today I am hit by the knowledge that Monday will be the date of William’s last GCSE exam and he will wear his school uniform for the last time. It marks the end of fourteen years of planning, plotting, fighting, hoping and praying for him to reach this time happy and with some qualifications and with options to go on to A levels. The signs are very positive that he will have passed his exams. He has worked hard, and knows where he wants to go – he will start sixth form in September. I am still anxious for the future as I look at the way the government says it would like to develop education. I know that this is not the end of the road. I know that both of my children have a way to go in overcoming the obstacles that will be placed in their way by their disabilities, but I am struck dumb by their tenacity and will to work hard and to succeed.



NHS told that autism diagnosis in children must improve!

The NHS has been told by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) that autism diagnosis in children must improve. You can see the Guardian’s article on the matter here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/jan/27/autism-diagnosis-children-nhs-guidance

According to The Guardian, the NICE guidance ‘calls for every child with an autism spectrum disorder to be assigned a case co-ordinator to act as a single point of contact, and to have an individual profile created that sets out their needs.’

Surely they are missing a point? The new guidelines only call for children already diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to have a case co-ordinator. Don’t get me wrong! I welcome the introduction of case co-ordinators to work with children with ASDs but what about all the other children with equally difficult special needs? I do not think access to a case co-ordinator should be dependent on the child being formally diagnosed, or on any specific diagnosis.

Furthermore the article says that NICE has decreed ‘NHS staff need to liaise more and to engage better with schools, social care providers and voluntary sector organisations.’ They do, but surely they also need to liaise more with parents and families who know their children the best?

A case co-ordinator could be of so much help to families right from the time that concerns are first raised about a child’s condition when they first engage with NHS services. This would result in a diagnosis being made more quickly and in needs being met more effectively. Most parents of children with special needs have to go through a huge learning curve before they can be effective advocates for their children and this process can take years. A case co-ordinator who has experience of how the system works could be such a help to parents and children if they are brought in at a much earlier stage as soon as concerns are raised about a child’s development or condition. This is the time when families most need this help and when they are the most vulnerable. A case co-ordinator could pave the way for a child to access early intervention services. Early intervention is the key to children overcoming special needs at school and in life.

So I say to the new NICE guidelines on autism diagnosis, ‘Yes Please!’, but please don’t discriminate against those children with special needs who do not happen to have an autism spectrum condition, and please bring in case co-ordinators much earlier in the process of the identification and meeting of special needs. It is a fact that most children who have their special needs effectively met have motivated parents who learn to navigate the system for identifying and meeting SEN. Case co-ordinators for all children with special needs who access NHS or special education services would have the effect of levelling the playing field and – (I’m going to use a coalition buzz word here) would also make things much fairer.

If we had been presented with a case co-ordinator when Peter was nine years old, had received his diagnosis and also his statement (that came along straight after the diagnosis), we would have had no use for them. However, the early involvement of a case co-ordinator in Peter’s case would have been invaluable to us and would have saved Peter so much time, distress, sadness and despair and many wasted years at primary school.



Book Review: Working with Asperger Syndrome in the Classroom – An Insider’s Guide By Gill D Ansell

Gill Ansell has over 14 years’ experience of working with children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders in special school and mainstream settings. She begins her book by explaining something about Autistic Spectrum Disorders and how these impact on children in the classroom. She describes her first job as a TA when she wasn’t sure what to do or what was expected of her with a refreshing candour. Now she is someone who has valid and relevant experience of working with children with AS and much to share with both parents and education professionals alike.

The book contains a wide range of strategies to use with children with AS and Gill explains in detail why they work so well. These include strategies for visual learners such as ‘The Good Book’, ‘The Feelings Book’ and ‘Oops! Cards’. There are also sections on small group work and working one to one, behaviour/anger management, and a range of strategies regarding the child’s physical working environment such as individual work stations. She talks about the stresses of break times and bullying and helping children deal with feelings and emotions.

There can be huge variations in the training and effectiveness of TAs. What is noteworthy about Gill is that her creative strategies are quite clearly aimed not just at emotionally supporting children in school but also at engaging the child in learning. She keeps going until she gets as close to this aim as possible in a bid to give the children better educational outcomes. Also many of her strategies are low cost which makes it much more likely that a school will take up suggestions from parents.

If a child’s needs are not being met at school it can be really difficult for parents to get across in meetings exactly how they would like the school to help their child. This book with its practical advice and its accessible explanations will offer lots of ideas to all parties taking part in discussions about how a school might best meet the special educational needs of children with AS in primary and secondary settings.

I have been involved with special needs education for 10 years now since my oldest son first displayed difficulties at school. I still found some new strategies in here that we can use, and I wish that this book had been available to me 10 years ago.



Belated Happy New Year!

A very belated Happy New Year to bloggers and readers alike! Thanks to the ‘flu, it has taken me a little while to feel like my old self and to ‘get going’ again in the blogosphere.

This year I thought I would spend a little time on reviewing some of the other books on the market that are aimed at parents of children with special educational needs. Of course, I am sure that my usual blog posts will also feature!

Here’s to another year of blogging possibilities!

Ellen P



New term – same old problems!

New term – same old problems!  Some of the optimism has already worn off.  Peter came home yesterday with standard-sized Maths and Science worksheets.  The Language Dept has been producing enlarged worksheets and vocabulary books for the past three years …. why can’t the Science and Maths Depts get on board with this?  Simple answer – there is no reason: a differentiated curriculum doesn’t just mean speaking slowly!! Grrrr!  It means providing appropriate materials in an appropriate setting.

So what can be done about this?  On Monday morning Peter’s teachers will get an email from us asking for a meeting in which we will go through his needs regarding visual processing (needs bigger work sheets), and recording work (needs bigger answer boxes in the work sheets).

How will we get on with this?  Watch this space for the next exciting instalment – da da daahhhh!

I do feel like qualifying all of this by saying that we are still very happy with Peter’s current placement.  Indeed, he came home from school very happy, and lots of things had clearly been done right.  However,  if you don’t keep on top of the small things, unworkable situations quickly develop. You are allowed to feel grateful for the things the school does get right but you are absolutely entitled to tell them when they don’t. If you do not , nobody else will do it for your child.



Guerrilla Mum’s Top 5 Back to School Tips
My boys go back to school next week. I can’t believe how quickly the holidays have passed by!  In addition to all of the usual preparation, next week I will be performing some extra tasks to make sure that the school year gets off to as smooth a start as possible.  Here are my Top 5 back-to-school Guerrilla Tips.
 
1. Prepare your child for the start of the new term! Implement a new (early) bedtime at least a week before school starts.Talk through new processes, where to meet after school, which bus to catch, etc – even if routines have stayed the same, go over things again. Be very specific, discussing what time to be there, where to stand, which is the bus number, etc. Talk about moving up a year, and their new teacher if applicable. If your child is very young, use stories to open up discussion. This can be particularly beneficial in aiding communication between parent and child if the child has worries or anxieties. Update contact details with school so that the school can ALWAYS contact you, the child’s other parent or other appropriate person.
 
2. Communicate well!  Decide that this year communication between school and home will be better than ever. Try to agree with your child’s class teacher or form teacher how this will work. Does the school provide parents with specific email addresses for teachers? Will you use a home/school diary? Put parents’ evenings/consultations/curriculum evenings/whole school meetings in your diary so you don’t miss them. Could you offer to help in class, on school trips, or in the school library? These are opportunities to be at school when your child is there. You will learn a lot about how they are doing just by being there.
 
3. Meet the teacher! Attend general parents’ evenings/curriculum evenings, etc at the beginning of term by all means but it is essential that you make an individual appointment with the child’s new class teacher or form teacher early in the term. Use the meeting to outline your child’s unique needs and difficulties and your concerns. If you already know the teacher this can be an opportunity to give updates. Be polite, be specific. Provide copies of relevant reports (never the originals). If the teacher is new, give them a written brief history of your child, including strengths, difficulties, and behaviour strategies used at home, your child’s areas of interest and any other relevant information. 
 
4. IEP Review!  If your child has an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or a statement, look back on these with their end of term report. Have the targets been reached? Are any new targets becoming apparent? Be ready to advocate for your child in the IEP review/meeting with their teacher and Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO). Request that an IEP meeting is set to happen early in the term, so that targets can be agreed and provision can be arranged early on so as to give the child the optimum chance of making progress. 
 
5. Watch out for cuts! The Local Authority (LA) will have been told to expect huge reductions in their funding, and they will be looking to make savings. Make certain that the provision you are expecting to see in your child’s statement/IEP is exactly what is actually there. This is particularly important if you have recently received an updated or final statement, for example, following an annual review. If you do see a reduction in provision, challenge it. If you do not challenge these things immediately, it will become increasingly difficult to have provision reinstated. I know it sounds pretty unbelievable, but we have found out about this the hard way!
 
Remember the Guerrilla Mum Mantra: Don’t take no for an answer; never give up. If in doubt, telephone, email and write letters.

First published on the Jessica Kingsley Publishers blog – http://www.jkp.com/blog/