5 Questions to Ask about ‘Special Needs’

The first weeks of school are packed full of so many new revelations for our children and for us as parents.  Moving up a year brings new academic and behavioural expectations.  This next level can often show gaps in our children’s ability to follow a typical curriculum.  Most teachers will have the SENCO into their classroom for an observation.

As a parent, it can feel like the rug was pulled out from under you when you learn that your child has additional needs.  This is new territory fraught with conflicting information and far too many opinions.  It is so easy (and completely normal) to feel overwhelmed and under resourced in how to help your child succeed.  Don’t worry.  It’s all a part of the process.

The best source for initial information will be the SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator).  This is the teacher that has the training and the resources to adapt the learning environment for your child’s particular strengths and weaknesses.  Like with any resource, you need to know how to utilize their abilities for you and your child. 

Here are 5 questions to see you through the first meeting with the SENCO:

What policies are in place to help Special Needs Children?

Whether it is the Local Authority, Academy Trust, Community Partnership or Private Educational Institution, there is a legal obligation to have specific policies in place that are accessible to parents.  The road to supporting and advocating for your child will be a long one.  You may need to refer to these policies when in meetings or making sure your child is receiving the interventions they need.

What Special Needs did you notice in my child?

It is important to know that most children have a school persona and a home persona.  It is perfectly normal for some behavious to be seen in one environment and not the other.  Needs vary from place to place.  Some needs are academic.  Some are social or behavioural.  It is important to know what the teachers are seeing at school.  It is also important for the school to know what is happening at home.  For example:  Many Special Needs children are quiet at school, but come home and explode.  This is a coping mechanism.  The opposite can also be true.  Share the whole picture and ask that this be reciprocated.  This way, you can have consistency with the interventions that are designed to help your child succeed.

What Community Resources are available for our family?

Support groups, socialisation groups, carers groups and counselling are only a few of the services that may be available to you and your family.  This may also include your neuro-typical children.  Whilst you may not be ready to access these services immediately, you will benefit from them eventually.  The SENCO will be able to sign post you to many of these.  Take advantage of the information.  Trust me.

What accommodations and interventions are in place to help my child?

Children identified with Special Needs are legally entitled to “reasonable adjustments” to the curriculum.  This should be more than just moving their seat.  There are many research-based interventions that can help your child succeed.  Have the SENCO document these interventions.  Also, ask how often they will review their effectiveness.  Make sure you leave with a copy of these so that you can refer to them later.

When can we meet to review?

It will take some time to decipher your child’s particular mixture of interventions for success, especially in the beginning.  The school needs to review regularly to make sure the gap in skillset is closing.  You will want to meet with the school to check on progress and share relevant information from home.   Ideally, you will meet again within 12 weeks.  This gives enough time to see what is working and what needs to change.  This does not mean that there will be no contact between meetings.  It simply is a good time to schedule for review.  Scheduling now will make sure that diaries don’t get too crowded later.  It will also put your mind to rest knowing that you will be a part of the team working towards your child’s success.

Getting through the first few weeks of identification feel like survival mode.  Remember that this is temporary and you are not alone in this process.  Take advantage of the resources that are available to you.  Starting work with the SENCO in an open and professional manner will pave the way for your child to succeed.

Should you have any concerns and not be getting the answers you need, we are very lucky to have Gwen Jones on the Educating Matters team. She is an experienced SEN teacher and mother of SEN children herself. She is available to provide 1:2:1 consultations to talk through any issues and also delivers a great series of sessions for corporates.

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