If we are to do the best for our children with SEN, we must always support, listen to and learn from their parents, says Adele Devine…
Mum bustles George into the cloakroom, removes his coat and puts it on his peg. Next she tugs off his welly boots and puts his shoes on. You say nothing, but feel a pinch of frustration. You have mentioned already that George could be a bit more independent. “Given the time,” you explained, “he could do these things himself.” Mum’s reaction was to roll her eyes and shrug off your ‘advice’.
Later George is going out to play in the puddles. He stares at you blankly when asked to put on his boots – of course he does; at home this would be done for him! If only Mum would support you in building his independence instead of undoing all your good work.
Now let us shift the focus to how Mum might feel in this situation. What if Mum believes that your setting is undoing all her good work? What if she thinks her Jimmy is losing skills instead of gaining them, withdrawing rather than interacting, and regressing since he started with you? And what if, dare I suggest it, Mum is right?
Mum might not tell you how she feels, but before Jimmy joined you, his progress may have been her entire focus. She may know more than you about his special educational needs because she has researched them on the internet, read the books and consulted professionals as well as other parents who have been there and done that. Mums do not wait for a diagnosis or statement of special educational needs to seek ways to help their child.
The following case studies come direct from a Mum. Beth Heinemann has 13-year-old twin girls and a five-year-old boy, who is diagnosed with autism…
Freddie’s first preschool (Age 3)
Dear Mrs ‘Can’t’...
Before Freddie turned three I’d learnt so much about autism. We’d started to use Makaton signs and PECs for communication, and worked hard to teach him social skills. Before he started at your preschool I asked for a meeting. You gave me a standard 10 minutes, during which I filled in your standard ‘About Me’ form. You admitted to knowing nothing about autism…
You mentally grouped Freddie with two other boys on the spectrum – one diagnosed and one not. There was no extra support, and you referred to this ‘situation’ four times in front of me, saying, “I have been stuck with three autistic kids in my setting with no extra help.”
Freddie was coping, though – not getting the best, but coping.
Next thing, you decided to physically group Freddie with the two other boys, who were not coping so well. They were all to arrive and leave through a different door to the other children and spend the first and last 20 minutes together in a room with you, doing ‘IEP’ work’. Freddie started to regress. When I bathed him I noticed bruising caused by another child. I asked you to include him back with his peers and explained why, but you replied with, “He can’t do this. He can’t do that…” I tried, in vain, to explain that he never would if you weren’t willing to give him the opportunity to learn.
I felt I had no choice but to take Freddie out.
A lady from early years came and listened to me after that. She observed Freddie at your preschool and got it… From then on Freddie was back with the main group. I felt at least he was getting play and social skills if not much else. It’s heartbreaking to look back on that time and write this down; I would never settle for that now…
Freddie’s second preschool (Age 4)
Dear Mrs ‘Can’...
Before Freddie started with you, we had an amazing two-hour meeting where we discussed autism and Freddie… And you got it! Hooray! I could have cried. I think I did… You came to see Freddie in his home environment. You observed him for about 20 minutes, then started ‘working with’ him, getting him doing stuff I knew he could do but nobody else (outside the home) had achieved.
We had visits to nursery before Freddie started at his pace. You provided a booklet for Freddie with pictures of the staff and the different areas of the nursery, so I could visually prep him over the summer. While still waiting for Freddie’s Statement, the school funded a full-time one-to-one for him, so he could have the best start possible. Lots of meetings were held. I was always involved in the decision making and got to meet all the staff who would be working with Freddie.
Freddie’s one-to-one had a basic knowledge of Makaton, and you provided extra visuals for her to use with Freddie. You all used a lot of visuals anyway, which helped with inclusion.
Freddie has been extremely happy and successful with you from day one. Each day was clearly structured, and this helped greatly with his expectations and understanding. He conformed from the very start, doing everything that all the children were doing with no issues at all.
I got verbal feedback daily as Freddie still struggles with this type of communication. He also had a visual strip that he filled in showing what he had done throughout the day, so he could share this with me. You supported us through toilet training, drinking from an open cup, drinking water, extending speech, play, social skills, etc. etc. – everything really. Thank you!
P.S. When I saw the Christmas play and you had taught all the children the Makaton signs to go along with the songs, what a fantastic sight that was!
When a mum leaves her child in your care, she is handing over someone absolutely precious. That child is her everything and his happiness is her priority. Mum has to know you are doing everything to support, encourage and protect him. We must build bridges by communicating, listening and learning. Mum will never forgive you or forget if she feels that you have got it wrong, because you will not only have failed her child but left her feeling guilty too. Strengthen Mums. Support them. You have your children during the day, and plan for a year, maybe two… Mum is at the start of what could be an emotional roller coaster. She will carry the memory of your early support in her heart for life.
Adele Devine is a teacher at Portesbery School & director of SEN Assist.