As milestones go, this one is pretty spectacular. The chances are that if you are at the point of starting a special school you have already won a number of battles to get you there. When our daughter started a special school two years ago I was thrilled and terrified in equal measure.
Mojo was not expected to ever reach school age and so putting her into her uniform and taking her to school for the first time was pretty overwhelming emotionally. We were very fortunate to have found a local special school we all loved and having been one of the early recipients of the, then very new, EHCP we were accepted for a full time place.
I'd been so concerned with getting her 'in' and taking that iconic (behind a kitchen door in my uniform on my first day) photo that I found myself a bit at sea with the realities of trusting other people to look after her, to 'get' her. What if they got the medication wrong? What if they don't understand her and she feels scared? What if they underestimate her and don't push her?
I read so many articles about dealing with your child starting school but very few of them addressed the things I was feeling, so this year with two years under our belt I'm offering up my top tips for starting a Special School.
1. Harness your inner control freak.
The chances are you have spent the last four or five years juggling a carefully co-ordinated (or if you're anything like me, insanely chaotic) conveyer belt of appointments, therapies, medications and care plans. You are Teacher, Pharmacist, Therapist, Nurse. You are at the wheel of everything that goes on in their world and letting go of that wheel, even just for a few hours a day, is HARD. It took me a long time to realise that I still had control I just gained a team of very experienced navigators.
2. Love your Home-School book.
One of my big concerns was that I would lose my holistic overview of Mojo's progress, the mini milestones, the minutiae that I'd been absorbed since she was born. Home-School books were the cure for my angst. A daily diary that travels with your child detailing what they have done that day. It isn't just the knowledge that the reason they have orange toe-nails is that they were footprint painting but these mini communications can cover whatever you need them to, ours for example, details fluid balance on my request. Your Home-School book helps you to build up a relationship with the classroom and provides a security blanket in times of control angst.
3. Know you EHCP back to front.
This could easily be a whole other blog post so I'll just stick the basics, know your child's EHCP inside out and back to front. While your child is in Early Years you will get chance to review it every six months so make the most of that settling in time to ensure you are completely happy with the content and the exact allocation of support resources before you move on to annual review in Year1.
4. There is such a thing as good nagging.
This one really relates to in-school therapy rather than teaching, I've never found I've needed to nag any teachers, but therapists can vary. Many (most) are very good but there are often strains on staffing or workload and especially in cases that involve notoriously frustrating equipment suppliers things can slip through the net. I'd advise you always make yourself known to the therapy team working with your child and ensure you have direct contact details for them during the holidays as well as term time.
Because you've got nothing better to do, right? I know, I know it sounds like pretty much the least appealing thing when you have 9 million things on your to do list but in the past couple of years the friends I’ve made and the chance to help provide resources that make a difference for our children, make it totally worthwhile. If you have the chance (and the time) to volunteer in the classroom or join a PTA or even bake a cake for a fundraiser it’s definitely worth considering.
6. Don’t fall into the comparison trap
Now it’s entirely likely that you are a far better person than me and therefore this may not be a problem for you but it was a funny one for me to get my head around so I’ve included it. Not having gone through any of the usual NCT groups or mother and baby clubs I had never really been in an environment where drawing comparisons between Mojo and her contemporaries was possible. I found myself worrying that of the 5 children in her class she was by far the most physically limited and her communication was the least developed. I worried that I might have been letting her down. Should I have done more physio? Should I be fluent in Makaton? The truth of course is that there is absolutely no mileage in drawing arbitrary comparisons about children with completely different physical and intellectual abilities. It’s just plain daft, don’t do it!
7. Remember you still know best
If you’re lucky enough to be in a brilliant school then it’s very easy to be awestruck. In general teachers who work in specialist education are pretty phenomenal people and they know their stuff. Don’t ever lose confidence in your own knowledge of your child. Your child’s needs are completely unique and you will always be the last word on what works for them. Learn from the school absolutely but make sure that they also learn from you.
So that’s my list, and if you're starting this September, good luck, you'll be fine.