Not really. I feel a certain amount of relief that we are now at the end of a long haul of assessment and report gathering but that is all. Reading my daughter’s statement has been hard. It emphasises the negative side of her aspergers and it makes us wonder how on earth she is going to get on in life. That pesky thing called grief has once more come a calling; it has slapped me in the face and reminded me of my daughter’s difficulties and rewoken my worries about her future. I hate feeling like this; I want to feel positive but at the moment I don’t. I feel a mix of sadness, anger and worry as I consider my daughter’s statement and what to do next.
My biggest worry is which school she will go to. For all the work that has gone into drafting her statement, the real problem is educational provision or rather the lack of it. As I’ve mentioned in this post, the provision for children with high functioning autism or aspergers is dismal in my area. We have mainstream schools and special schools that deal with moderate learning difficulties or severe disabilities but there is nothing for those with high functioning autism and asperger syndrome. Many children in my area are forced to travel outside the area to access specialist ASD provision but that provision isn’t always suited to girls in my opinion. My son’s school for instance is male dominated; there are few girls and I know that however good that school is my daughter does not want to be in such an environment. She has told me so. In fact she says she wants to go to our local mainstream secondary (now an academy). I think she wants to go there because she is familiar with it (her elder sister attended) and it is nearby but I have my doubts that she will cope with the busyness of the school as well as the social demands that will be placed on her.
Nevertheless we recently organised a meeting with the academy and were met by a kindly SENCO (special educational needs coordinator) and his staff. The SENCO was already in receipt of a copy of my daughter’s statement and had gone through it before our meeting. He told us that as it presently stands they cannot meet need. I wasn’t surprised to hear this because the way the statement is worded suggests that my daughter should attend a specialist ASD school which would be fine if there was one nearby but there isn’t. The only alternative is to amend her statement so that she can get a teaching assistant but of course this then raises questions as to whether a TA will be trained and experienced enough to support her adequately. Ideally I would like my daughter to have access to a trained autism teacher but this school has no specialism in autism and aspergers. So what to do?
I have not accepted the statement in its current form because I need further clarification of what is written in the educational psychologist’s report to fully understand the extent of my daughter’s difficulties. I hope to have a meeting with our local authority about this very soon. I also need more time to look around schools. With the end of the school year soon upon us the opportunities to look round schools is running out. The academy has agreed that if we do amend the statement to enable her to attend with TA support (they’ve suggested 25 hours) that we will meet again in early September but we are having doubts that this is the way to go.
Receiving a statement so late in the academic year has made me angry at the incompetence of her primary school. I raised my concerns about my daughter at least three years ago which was time enough to get her assessed and statemented in time for transition to secondary school. However the SENCO was obstructive and refused to accept that my daughter needed a statement even when challenged by the educational psychologist. The SENCO was so obsessed by statistics and academic levels that she could not see that my daughter’s aspergers was a barrier to learning. She did not understand autism and aspergers and no matter how hard I tried to help her understand my daughter, she didn’t want to know.
Now we’re in a situation where the statement has come in too late to access a specialist unit at another local mainstream secondary school which accommodates those with language and communication difficulties. This is the only place in town which I think could have suited my daughter but now the unit is full and we are in the dilemma of either sending my daughter into mainstream classes or outside the borough to a special school. Neither are particularly appealing.
Going out of town requires a lengthy journey either by taxi or minibus. As my son experienced, children are picked up by a mini bus on a round robin trip which means they are on that bus for nearly an hour before they even start their school day. My son found the travelling very stressful because it took him away from his home town. Not surprisingly he suffered a lot of anxiety which probably contributed to his latest bout of school refusal. I find it disappointing that council officials think it is acceptable to put vulnerable children through this. Do they not realise that autistic children can be overwhelmed by the sensory difficulties of being on a noisy and smelly bus and in close physical contact to others? Of course part of the problem is due to insufficient provision in our town and the need to buy special school places out of borough.
If only they would stop shoving our children out of town and establish a new unit or school that is local to our children. This is what I would like to see; a unit equipped to support those with high functioning autism/aspergers. This unit could be linked to a mainstream school so that when these children are ready to join the mainstream environment they can do so. I know I am not alone in wishing this; there are many parents in my area who think the same but it seems that the lack of will (and resources) are the factors for this not happening. Of course the latest fashion is for free schools but how can someone like me who is already busy caring for two special needs children find the time and energy to do this?
So here I am, with a draft statement of SEN in my hands, about to embark on another part of the journey – finding a school. Out of everything we have gone through, finding educational provision for my autistic children is the most challenging part of this journey.