Special needs stories this week

Some interesting stories this week…

Empowering parents is the goal for Pat

I’m delighted today to introduce a guest blog post from Pat Bolton, who works with a small  team of Participation Practitioners at Parents In Power, Gateshead,  www.parentsinpower.btck.co.uk  Pat works at the coalface of special educational needs and helps parents every day to get the support their children need.

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Parents In Power is a Parent/Carer Forum. Every Authority has a parent/carer forum and to find out more information or where your own parent/carer forum is located in your area go to www.nnpcf.org.uk . We are independent and  work with some of the most amazing parents of children with disabilities, their strength and fortitude is second to none, no matter what is thrown at them week after week.

I have a son who is now a young man, 19 years old with ADHD, Dyspraxia and Autistic Traits and he is the most awesome of people. His brother who is 17, puts up a lot with his brother and is one cool dude, but one thing is for sure they love each other to bits and boy do they look out for each other.

So I have walked that walk, that long and frustrating journey and I have to say, sorry folks, but it doesn’t end at  16. But I was lucky enough to get my son in an Independent Special School and paid for by the Local Authority.

Every parent/carer that I come across without a shadow of a doubt tells me they are sick of fighting for what they feel their child simply needs and is entitled to in order to lead a normal a life as possible and for their child to reach their potential in whatever that means.

Their problems are nearly always linked with their child’s school and the frustration and energy it takes in trying to get this part of their child’s life right, I mean let’s face it, what a massive part of their lives it is.

Meetings are daunting at the best of times, but when you get into school for a meeting and there is yourself and 7/10 professionals around the table it can sometimes actually be frightening. To prepare parents for such meetings I go through all the issues that need to be addressed, and the points that the parents feel they must point out.  We write them down on what can sometimes be a long list, so in the meeting the parent is satisfied that they have said everything they want to. Or if it is too emotional for them, I will bring these points up for them.

I have gone into meetings where the parents have been an absolute quivering wreck, feeling sick and just wanting to go home, yet just by me saying, “I am with you, you are not alone, I am there to support you” brings out the best in the parent. They are assertive, they get their points across and work down their list of questions. I minute it all for them. When they leave the meeting, although they hardly remember a thing that has been said, they feel so empowered.

That is one of our main aims, to empower parents to be competent and confident in supporting their children.  My biggest concern over the years has been to ensure that when a parent gets their child’s statement to ensure that it is quantified and qualified. So it does not say something like a ‘ systematic programme of speech therapy’. What does that mean? One hour a day,  a week/month/term and by whom. If it isn’t quantified and qualified how can it be legally challenged? A school might interpret that as an hour a month, a parent might interpret that as a couple hours a month. It needs to be fully explained in the statement.

Another part of school life that has really annoyed me are exclusions and as I write this I am eagerly waiting  for the release of the results of the Children’s Commissioner, Dr Maggie Atkinson’s inquiry into exclusions: http://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/  This is due out 19th March 2012 and I will reading this with a fine toothcomb, hoping she has captured the inequalities of exclusions for children with Disabilities, especially those with disability related behavioural difficulties.

My son was excluded 11 times in one year, what did he learn from this? Simply that every time he wanted a couple of days off school to misbehave,  it worked. No matter how hard I worked with the school and I worked a lot harder than the school did on this one, they still excluded him until the day the big permanent exclusion came. My son and I cried together all weekend. The result was an independent special school which could not cater for his academic ability.

For those just embarking on this journey I wish you luck, get as much expert support as possible you will need it.  If you don’t know where to start contact your local parent/carer forum, website address above and they will advise you.

Get the Special Needs Jungle Blog delivered to your Kindle

I’m delighted to announce that Special Needs Jungle is now available as a Kindle Blog subscription. For just 99p a month you can have every post delivered wirelessly to your Kindle or Kindle app so that you can read it offline whenever you want, even if you’re not near your computer.

It means you’re always connected to important SEN news, views and information as well as guest posts from interesting contributors.

If you’re Kindle enabled, whether it’s through a Kindle, ipad or smartphone app, subscribe from the links below:

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SEN Stories in the news this past week

Recap of SNJ posts and other news about SEN this week:

Disability groups call for pause for thought in welfare reform

The NAS has today thrown its weight behind a call for the government to reconsider its plans for welfare reform relating to the Disability Living Allowance. The level of fraud for this allowance is very low and thr form that has to be filled in just to apply for it isn’t for the faint-hearted.

This is what the NAS had to say on their website:

We are calling on the Government to pause the Welfare Reform bill and carefully consider its reform of Disability Living Allowance (DLA). The Welfare Reform Bill which will implement these proposed reforms is now in the final stages of its Parliamentary passage but the details of how the reform would affect disabled people have not been fully investigated.

Last week a Responsible Reform report (known as the Spartacus report) revealed strong opposition from disabled people, charities and other interested groups to the Coalition Government’s proposed changes to DLA. The report showed worrying evidence that the Government’s decision to reduce projected DLA expenditure by 20% may have been based on incomplete or misleading data about the reasons for growth in DLA.  It has also been revealed today that the proposed changes will lead to 500,000 disabled people no longer being eligible for this benefit.

Independent surveys carried out by some of the signatories to this letter have shown that cuts to DLA will force more disabled people into poverty, which is likely to increase the burden on the NHS and social care system in the long run. Such a potentially risky change in policy should not be taken forward without a robust and accurate evidence base and the support of disabled people and the experts in this field.

Last year the Government took the bold decision to pause and reflect on its reorganisation of the NHS after similar levels of concern and anxiety from medical groups and patients. Today Papworth Trust, Action on Hearing Loss, Brandon Trust, Campaign for a Fair Society, Disability Rights UK, Disability Wales, Ekklesia, Leonard Cheshire Disability, MS Society, The National Autistic Society, Rethink Mental Illness, RNIB, Sense, Three Cs, United Response and the Westminster Society are asking the Government to show similar foresight and pause the Welfare Reform Bill to investigate the strong concerns raised above. We ask Peers to support amendments to pause the legislation that will affect so many people’s lives.

Source: National Autistic Society

Surely the government cannot ignore such a wealth of disability expertise all telling them that this most vulnerable group of people will be thrown into poverty (not that they’re living the high life now) if their reforms go through unamended. Can they?

SEN stories in the news this week

It’s been a busy week of posts on Special Needs Jungle. I’ve listed a round up below along with some other SEN stories of interest in the news. Next week, I’ll be answering questions about SEN on TheSchoolRun.com – why don’t you join us?

I subscribe to many RSS feeds bringing news stories about SEN, disability and general education. If I should subscribe to your RSS from your site or blog, leave your weblink in the comments.

A new SEN Advice service from Contact-a-Family

Contact  a Family, the national charity that helps support parents with disabled children has launched a new SEN National Advice Service.

This service will help families whose child may have special educational needs – we will be able to provide advice and information on any aspect of their child’s education. Help is available through their helpline 0808 808 3555, or post a query on Facebook or Twitter and a SEN adviser will get back to you. Alternatively drop us an email: helpline@cafamily.org.uk.

The service is available for anyone who thinks their child may have special educational needs – whether or not they have a disability or has already been identified as having SEN.

The Contact A Family Service can advise on:

The SEN process – including:

  • Early years
  • School Action and School Action Plus
  • Individual Education Plans (IEP’s)
  • Statutory Assessment/ Statements
  • Annual Reviews
  • Transition planning and education after 16
  • Appeals

Other general education issues as they affect children with SEN, which include:

  • Transport to school
  • Bullying
  • Exclusion
  • Medical needs in school
  • Attendance at school
  • Home Education

You can find out more about the service and Contact A Family in general here: http://www.cafamily.org.uk/families/SEN.html

IT teaching overhaul announced – about time too!

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary has today announced an overhaul of the way IT is taught in schools. This is great news and I hope our school, although not a state school will do the same. I know they already have some plans underway to beef up the computer science element.

I first talked out this subject back in November last year in the wake of companies like Google and Microsoft saying that our IT teaching was putting Britain at a disadvantage for its future in the tech industry. I back this view entirely. As I said in my earlier post, it’s especially important for children with Asperger’s to be exposed to coding at an early age as many (though not all) have an aptitude for IT and the sciences. Certainly Son2 does and it’s important to support and encourage him in a field in which he can excel as an adult. In fact, I suggest they go further and give extension work for more able students as they do in Maths and English.

Below is an excerpt from the Gove announcement:

The move, which is being supported by industry experts including Ian Livingstone – co-founder of Games Workshop, would give schools the freedom to create their own ICT and Computer Science curricula that equip pupils with the skills employers want.

Other experts, including the British Computer Society and ICT professional association Naace, confirm the current National Curriculum Programme of Study is dull and unsatisfactory. Some respondents to a 2008 e-Skills study said that GCSE ICT was “so harmful, boring and/or irrelevant it should simply be scrapped”.

Companies such as Microsoft and Google and Cambridge University are already working with technology education organisations, such as the British Computer Society, to produce free materials for schools. More are expected to follow.

The Education Secretary also said he was keen for high-quality qualifications in Computer Science to be developed, and welcomed industry-giant IBM’s involvement.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said in his speech today:

“As the chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, recently lamented, we in England have allowed our education system to ignore our great heritage and we are paying the price for it. Our school system has not prepared children for this new world. Millions have left school over the past decade without even the basics they need for a decent job. And the current curriculum cannot prepare British students to work at the very forefront of technological change.

The best degrees in Computer Science are among the most rigorous and respected qualifications in the world… and prepare students for immensely rewarding careers and world-changing innovations. But you’d never know that from the current ICT curriculum. This is why we are withdrawing it from September. Technology in schools will no longer be micro-managed by Whitehall. By withdrawing the Programme of Study, we’re giving teachers freedom over what and how to teach, revolutionising ICT as we know it.

Universities, businesses and others will have the opportunity to devise new courses and exams. In particular, we want to see universities and businesses create new high-quality Computer Science GCSEs, and develop curricula encouraging schools to make use of the brilliant Computer Science content available on the web. ICT will remain a compulsory part of the National Curriculum, pending the National Curriculum review.

Mr Gove mentioned that “We could have  11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations using an MIT tool called Scratch. By 16, they could have an understanding of formal logic previously covered only in University courses and be writing their own Apps for smartphones.”

Son2 has been able to use Scratch to create animations since he was about nine, and has moved on – but then he is exceptional. But because he is, I think an individualised approach needs to be taken where, as I mentioned earlier, the most able are progressed as fast as they can manage with extension work. Teaching Son2 Scratch wouldn’t do much for him. He’s ready to write apps now. But the elephant in the room is – who’s going to teach them? Are we going to sack existing IT teachers and employ people who are experts in what needs to be taught or just send the current IT teachers on courses to upgrade their skills. Either way, it needs to be done soon.

It’s unacceptable to be told, as I was a year ago that, “We don’t really teach coding here.” Well you should and I hope this announcement will also resonate with private and specialist schools like ours who are not bound by the diktats of  the National Curriculum.

To join in with The Guardian’s campaign click here

To read the full Department of Education report, click here

Questions please for my stint at TheSchoolRun

TheSchoolRun website is packed to the gills with great ideas to help your child’s learning. It’s bright, colourful and is a fantastic resource. The site aims to demystify school for parents, giving you all the tools you need to understand what and how your child is learning at primary school. Their informative articles, packed with advice from experts and practical tips from teachers, help parents get to grips with new educational techniques and feel confident about supporting their kids’ schoolwork.

And the week starting 16th January, they’ve kindle invited me to host a Question & Answer board about Special Educational Needs statementing. I’m not a legal expert so I won’t be dishing out legal help but I will certainly be able to offer some great signposting and answer lots of your statementing queries. The board has already begun registering questions that I will be answering as best I can from next week.

To take part, head over to this part of the site. It’s a members site so you’ll need to register if you haven’t already – and if you’re new, a huge amount of great resources awaits you from the site as a whole. Even if you don’t have a specific question, you may find someone has asked a question you’d like to know the answer to.

Report finds government misled MPs and peers of disability benefit reform

A NEW REPORT entitled Responsible Reform, published today by disabled people (9 January 2012), finds that government misled MPs and peers over the hostility to disability benefit reform.

It finds that Parliament has been given only a partial view of the overwhelming opposition to the Coalition’s planned reforms of a key disability benefit, Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

It also finds that this opposition was previously not released to public scrutiny by the Government.

The report is based on the responses to the government’s own consultation on its planned DLA reforms, which were only made public once disabled people requested them under the Freedom of Information Act.
Findings include:

* 98 per cent of respondents objected to the qualifying period for benefits being raised from three months to six months
* 99 per cent of respondents objected to Disability Living Allowance no longer being used as a qualification for other benefits
* 92 per cent opposed removing the lowest rate of support for disabled people

In all three cases, as well as many others, London’s Conservative Mayor, Boris Johnson also objected to the proposed changes. He said in his response to the official consultation:

“The Mayor would call for the Government to retain the three-month qualifying period as the increase to six months will mean that people with fluctuating conditions have increased difficulty meeting the qualifying period. People with fluctuating conditions face the same barriers that all disabled face in relation to higher costs of living and DLA is essential to maintain a decent quality of life.”

“We would recommend that the passporting system remains the same as under DLA, as it has worked well when signposting people to additional benefits to which they may be entitled.”

“The Mayor does not support this change, as those on the lower rate care component may have additional costs as a result of their impairment but may lose their access to this benefit as part of the proposed removal under the reforms.”

The new report, Responsible Reform, suggests that the government’s DLA consultation breached the government’s own code of practice and was “highly misleading”.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of the mental health charity Mind, said: “The ‘Responsible Reform’ report is essential reading for everyone with an interest in Disability Living Allowance (DLA) reform including the Government and Department for Work and Pensions Select Committee. It is a vital contribution to the debate on reform and a huge achievement for the volunteers who have produced it.

“As well as forensically deconstructing many of the arguments offered by the Government for their proposed reform, the report shows that much of the rise in claimants over recent years has been down to better access to the benefit for people with mental health problems, whose needs are often fluctuating and invisible.

Among the report’s conclusions are that:

* Only seven per cent of organisations that took part in the consultation were fully in support of plans to replace DLA with PIP
* There was overwhelming opposition in the consultation responses to nearly all of the government’s proposals for DLA reform
* The government has consistently used inaccurate figures to exaggerate the rise in DLA claimants
* The report shows that nearly all of the recent increase in working-age claimants of DLA has been associated with mental health conditions and learning difficulties. Between 2002 and 2010, the number of working-age DLA claimants – excluding those with mental health conditions and learning difficulties remained remarkably stable
* 98 per cent of those who responded opposed plans to change the qualifying period for PIP from three months (as it is with DLA) to six months
* 90 per cent opposed plans for a new assessment, which disabled people fear will be far too similar to the much-criticised work capability assessment used to test eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA)
* Respondents to the consultation repeatedly warned that the government’s plans could breach the Equality Act, the Human Rights Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Use the links below to read the full press release and to access the report and the blog of Diary of a Benefit Scrounger, one of the report’s authors.

Source: Ekklesia | Full report for download | Blog from one of the report’s authors

Which learning resources help SEN kids? Take this survey

Ann Beck, of  The Gift of Learning has asked me to help get her message out about a survey  she’s devised to assess what kind of learning resources SEN children need. See below for details and a link to the survey
“Can you help me to help your child learn?
I have recently started a new business venture with a view to supplying learning resources to parents of children with special educational needs.  As a mum I found it difficult to find affordable resources to help my own son who is dyslexic and suffers from anxiety and so ‘The Gift of Learning’ was born (www.thegiftoflearning.co.uk) .
I’m currently researching which areas of education parents feel they need the most help with and what better way than to ask you directly?  I value your opinions and hope that you can spare me a couple of minutes to answer 4 short questions.
If you’d like to help follow this link http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/8VRRDNG
Thank you!

Teachers didn’t understand my bright sons’ ASD, says Tania Tirraoro (SEN Magazine)

I’ve just been sent a pdf of my article that was in the last issue of SEN Magazine.

The magazine is a great read – lots of useful ideas for anyone – parent or professional – involved in SEN. The have a free trial offer and it’s just £32 a year to subscribe. I take my copy to read while I’m waiting in my car for my boys to finish at school

Click the link here to read  in full about whether teachers find it hard to recognise special needs in bright pupils.

An interesting addendum to the piece, we often hear (and experience) how teachers miss signs of SEN or fob parents off saying, they child is ‘just young’. My sister, herself a teacher with SEN qualifications (a rare bird, is she) says she is often leery of mentioning to parents when she spots a potential SEN problem such as ASD or ADHD in a child. This is because often the parents don’t want to know and can be quite aggressive when the matter is raised by a sharp-eyed and concerned teacher. The pendulum swings both ways….

Click the image below to open the story. SEN Magazine can be found online at www.senmagazine.co.uk. Twitter: @SENMagazine

2012 brings a School Run SEN Qn’A and a win for Pat! #specialneeds

SEN-Getting Started With StatementsIt’s January 6th and my boys are still off school; they finally go back on Monday. It’s been an interesting Christmas break with my eldest having a party for 12 of his closest teen pals at our house (my sister who was staying with us cleared off to the pub). This was preceded by just minutes by my 12 year old slipping off his bedroom ‘Balcony’ (he doesn’t have one) and me seeing him tumble past the kitchen window to the floor. He was mercifully unhurt, though I had to reach for the Christmas sherry at 4pm.  No surprise that I was almost catatonic by Christmas Day. Still, Jamies’ turkey was a hit, the gravy went down a storm and the brandy for the pudding ended up in my glass.

The teenage years bring their own set of issues and these are intensified by their Asperger’s. They are both completely different in their needs and idiosyncrasies – as they say, if you’ve seen one child with Asperger’s, you’ve seen one child with Asperger’s. Finding new ways to parent in adolescence is challenging and exhausting. 2012 looks to be an interesting year for us!

It’ll also be interesting to see how the SEN Green paper progresses though its pathfinder stages in the coming months. Our LEA, Surrey and that of neighbouring Hampshire are among those chosen to test run the proposals and Special Needs Jungle will be watching closely.

When the changes, in whatever form they come, are implemented, I’ll have to update my SEN guide to Statementing book. The name will have to change for a start, though I’m quite certain all the advice to parents having to gather evidence to prove their child’s needs will stay exactly the same. They may abolish the word ‘statement’ but if you want your child to get high level SEN support, you’re still going to have to prove your case and my book can help. Nothing is going to change in the next few months anyway, so if you’re thinking about applying for an assessment, don’t delay – the process is long and often arduous so start gathering your evidence as soon as you can.

I’m soon to be hosting a Q&A on The School Run website about statementing – get your questions in now and I’ll be answering them during the week beginning 16th January.

If you’re interested in the book – and it’s sold quite a few copies it seems, so there’s a lot of people who are looking for advice – it’s just £6.99 on Amazon or £5.18 for Kindle. If you fancy a free copy, I’m offering two for people taking part in The School Run Q&A, check out their site at the link in the para above.

Also, congrats to Pat Bolton Arkless who won the free copy in my Christmas giveaway. Son2 wafted down from his Technolair that he’d scented with cinnamon Glade, graciously leaving his 32″ TV (thanks to fab pre-Christmas sales) Xbox experience to select a name from the hat. Pat, it turns out, runs Parent Power in Gateshead that helps families with special needs kids, so I popped an extra copy in there to help her very valuable work. And now I’ve found her, I also cheekily asked if she could find time to write a guest post about her work. Even though she’s a busy woman, she’s kindly agreed so we’ll feature this in the coming weeks (No rush, Pat, if you’re reading!).

So, Happy New Year to you all and if you have any ideas for great posts, or want to write one suitable for here, get in touch!

Resilient Parenting – A Guest post by Lesley McCall, NLP & Hypnotherapy Practitioner

Happy New Year! At this time of the year, we’re often thinking about how we can change our lives, and those of our children, for the better. I’m delighted to have a New Year guest post from Lesley McCall, an NLP practitioner and Hypnotherapist. She is experienced in helping people with parenting issues and with children who have special needs.

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Lesley McCall

Nobody ever warns you do they?  When you have a baby it’s all excitement and blue sky with no hint of a cloud. Nobody ever warns you of the pain you will feel when your child is struggling – it’s like having your own little voodoo doll – they get hurt and you feel the pain. Suffering by proxy.

However if we can learn to be resilient parents it will help our children be resilient too and many studies have shown that resilient children make happier adults.

So what makes us resilient? The short answer is learning to cope with adversity. The gardeners amongst us know that if you raise seedlings on a warm windowsill with no draughts then they grow ‘leggy’ and weak. These seedlings will wilt as soon as they face the cold winds of outside and will struggle to survive. Far better to allow them some cool breezes now and then while they are growing to prepare and strengthen them for the outside world. In the same way our children would never have learned to walk if we had never let go of their hand.

So how do we become resilient parents? How do we maintain our perspective when our children are unhappy?

Think of it like this – if you are drowning then you can’t save anyone else—all that happens is that you both drown faster if you try. But get yourself into a boat and you can pull them in too.

Some Techniques that may help:

1. Positive Future Pacing

Anxiety is all about the future – anxious people imagine all sorts of disasters approaching. If all you can see is oncoming disaster, no wonder they are scared. When your child has challenges it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing the worst – but that’s no use to either them or you.

The truth is that you really don’t know what lies ahead. No matter what you have been told by medical professionals, health workers, well-meaning friends – they don’t know for SURE how it will turn out – nobody does. If someone tells you that in all probability such and such will happen say ‘How do you KNOW ?’ Always believe in the best possible outcome – you never know, it might happen.

2. Challenge negative thoughts – yours and your child’s.

The most influential person you listen to is you– so be careful what you say to yourself. Challenge negative thoughts – are they really true? How likely are they to happen?

3. Learn to be selfish from time to time- without guilt

Your child needs you to be strong – if you are stressed to the point of illness how is that going to help them? So take care of yourself so you can take care of them – eat well, learn to relax, take time out for you when you can. This all makes you stronger – better able to support everyone else.

4. Think Straight- perspective!

Don’t make problems worse than they are – and don’t invent them. If it hasn’t happened then don’t think about it – it may never happen.

5. Reframe the negative to the positive

‘My child can’t do ….but they can do

‘This is never going to happen…..but something better might’

‘I can’t see a solution to this ……yet’

6. Remember – you and your child see things differently.

What hurts you might not bother them. Your child is not you. For example: if you are an extrovert then you might hate being on your own but if your child is an introvert then they may need to be alone to ‘recharge’ their batteries. They may not see being alone as a problem. Do not impose your ‘model of the world’ on them – they have different ideas, beliefs and views to you. If they say they are okay – believe them.

Finally always remember that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. If you offer your child unconditional love, support and approval then you – and they – are doing well.

If you would like my free relaxation techniques please contact me on

Lesley@thirdattic.com or contact me via my website, www.lesleymccall.co.uk