We’re currently stuck between a rock and a hard place. The Monsters ASD diagnosis happened in November. We are led to believe he will be granted an EHCP for school. For anyone that has been through this process or is about to embark upon, this takes 20 weeks from the date the initial paperwork lands on the relevant desk with the council – wowsers, that’s over a third of a year to get some paperwork in place!! By my back of fag packet calculations, that will take us to April time (ish)….having spoken to the council last week they said they still haven’t even received his referal. Apparently a month, give or take isn’t actually allowing sufficient time from diagnosis to getting the ball rolling. If only the same manner applied in all work scenarios….but you only asked me to do it a month ago so no, your work hasn’t been actioned yet! Can you actually imagine!?
Right. So we’ve established that the EHCP should be in place by April(ish). That’s OK, because he isn’t due to start reception until September, perfect hey? WRONG! *said in tone of Judge Rinder*. You see, all school applications (in Birmingham at least) have to be done by January for a September Reception intake with places being offered in April. Having spoken to the council several times, I have to submit school choices for mainstream, eventhough it is highly likely The Monster will need to attend a specialist school. Just in case he doesn’t get an EHCP at all / in time etc.
So just how easy is it to find a suitable mainstream school for a non-verbal child with autism and sensory processing issues? To put it bluntly it is like looking for rocking horse shit.
I’ve now looked at 4 mainstream schools, all of which had lots of positives for a typical child but absolutely no provision for The Monster at all.I kid you not these are some of the statements I received when looking around the schools, bearing in mind that it was the SENCO that showed me around each:
“Do you think he will ever be able to talk?”
“We don’t have funding to offer additional support so it would be a case of him fitting in with the rest of the class”
“You might want to look at alternatives”
“Most children can say at least a few words by the time they leave our nursery”
“We have several autistic children in the school, I won’t tell you who they are but you will probably be able to spot them”
“You’ll have a tough fight on your hands to get any support, even with an EHCP”
These are just a few examples. Filled me with no end of confidence that The Monster would fit in and be able to manage…..NAAAT! I even said on one visit that I was getting the distinct impression that not one of the schools I have visited wanted him. Let’s just say I didn’t stand corrected!
I have a few reliable sources that inform me that a typical teacher receives less that 2 hours training on autism. Hardly surprising given that it only affects 1% of the population. Totally get that and I am no way going to enter an argument that teachers should be able to adapt to manage all pupils in their class despite their differing needs. Geez, I have way too many teacher friends to even go there! What I am critical of is that I am being forced to apply to mainstream schools, even though they are the complete wrong environment for him to flourish in just because his diagnosis happened at the wrong time for applications.
Aside from the typical difficulties in communication that The Monster has, let’s look at the sensory side. Display boards so bright and shiny that they would brighten up even the dullest of days. Shiny mobile displays hanging from the ceilings. 30 children crammed into a tiny classroom where the ceilings are so high the noise is going to bounce around like a wrecking ball. Halls so vast that would make the perfect space for stamping around, shouting and seeking any feedback possible. Schools can be very scary places!
I am petrified of The Monster being sat at the back of class (I’d be willing to bet he wouldn’t sit for longer than 5 minutes) not being able to communicate to anyone verbally. Teachers not being able to communicate to him any other way but verbally. Pupils left wondering what’s wrong with him. Him getting so far behind and not understanding anything. The frustration getting so unbearable that he pinches someone, anyone, so hard that it will leave even the hardest nut job in tears.
It is keeping me awake at night. A lot. Geez, I never thought I signed up to this and he’s only three years old. I will be grey and wrinkly by the time I’m 40 at this rate.
As part of my due diligence (check me out with the big words!) I have obviously looked at alternative options. Home schooling is a definite no go, for lots of reasons, although get why it might be perfect for some. Mainstream schools with a resource base (a unit with special needs attached to the school) is a possibility, I was supposed to look at one the other day but had to cancel so the verdict is still out on this option. That said there are only two relatively locally, one with a specific autism unit, the other which specialises in something else. Or a special school.
Only a few months ago the thought of sending The Monster to anything but a mainstream school hadn’t even entered my head. All parents assume they will go the “normal” route right? I’m now totally ashamed to admit that my vision and understanding of a “special school” was way off. In my minds eye, they are full of severely disabled people. People much different to The Monster. It wasn’t until I researched them that I realized that they aren’t all like this. That there are places catering for different needs. So obvious when you think about it. Sometimes I am dumbfounded by how narrow minded I have been! Anyway, after much desk research I found two schools, virtually on our doorstep which both specialize in autism and speech delay. Queue the lightbulb flicking on! I’ve since visited one of these schools and knew instantly that this is the right environment the monster needs to be in. Why? Here are just some of the benefits:
- Class sizes of less than 15 pupils
- Up to 4 teachers per class
- Makaton (signing) part of their ordinary communication
- Visual learning pivitol – PECS and picture based learning an essential part of teaching the curriculum
- Teachers specialised in ASD and SPD
So what happens now?
We have to apply for mainstream schools so we will make a judgment on the four that I viewed. That said it is highly unlikely he will go any of them. Not without a fight from me first. Because of the silly application system I’ve been told that he may need to attend mainstream for a term or two until a place in a specialist school becomes available (assuming he is granted an EHCP- something else I will fight damn hard for if I need to). Over my dead body will he be settling in one place and then moved to another. Difficult enough for anybody never mind someone on the spectrum. Besides it will be me dealing with the sleepless nights because of disruptions to routines. Nada, not happening.
We sit, wait and fight for his EHCP to be in place ASAP so we know EXACTLY what provisions he needs.
We battle it out for a place at a specialist school until we get one we are happy with. We won’t settle for anything.
We hold the monster back a year and get everything in place for the following September. A fairly likely option as he already has the disadvantage of being a summer baby.
Whatever option we are dealt, there’s one thing that is a cert. It looks like we have a battle on our hands. My sleeves are rolled up and ready to go, I will fight hard to get what my precious boy needs. Lets not also forget he is THREE YEARS OLD. THREE!!! a lot can happen in his short life between now and then. His needs could change….vastly.
Are you in, or have you been in a similar situation? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Perhaps you’re a teacher and can offer some advice?
Watch this space folks, watch this space!