Battle ready

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One of the strange side effects of having a child with behavioural difficulties is that you enter a bizarre new world. A world in which few people even speak the same language as you. But this is a world where you must be prepared for battle even when you are not entirely sure who the enemy is.

In our case, after a term of Jonah starting school, we were forced to learn a whole new vocabulary of words, most of them completely alien to our ears. Certainly in the four years our daughter Evie had been at school, we had never come across any of them.

The odd thing is that everyone speaks to you like you actually know what they are talking about. I guess they are so used to it that they forget that for most parents, this will be the first time they have ever heard these terms and names, let alone understand what they actually mean.

As a journalist, I’m pretty used to quickly digesting new information but it still took me a while to grasp all the abbreviations and figure out what was relevant to us. Fortunately I did my research and met up with other mums who had been in similar situations. But if English is not your first language or you haven’t the skills or resources to get help, this difficult situation is made much worse.

So here is my little guide to some of the key words that you should know if your child is having difficulties at school. Although the UK education system likes to put a label on everything, don’t Let them freak you out. Your child is still your child. No label will ever define him or her and the reality for many children is that with love, patience and maturity, the label that they were given at five will be a thing long forgotten by the time they are 15.

SEN or Special Educational Needs
This is a wide reaching name for a child who is displaying traits that will affect their ability to learn in school. It can include physical needs or impairments through to obvious education difficulties such as problems with reading or writing. It can also include children who are incredibly shy and unable to make friends through to those that have difficulty in moderating their anger. Although it is likely that your child will display many of these emotions throughout the day, it is those that display this behaviour at school who will be classed as having SEN.

SENCO or special Educational Needs Co-ordinator
This person is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the school’s SEN (above) policy. If you are worried about your child, a SENCO is good first port of call after the child’s teacher. The SENCO’s role is to co-ordinate with the child’s teacher, parents and any other professionals who are involved with them. Top tip: In my experience, the SENCO will be juggling a million different things so make sure you are note taking in all meetings and be proactive about following things up.

IEP or Individual Education Plan
This is a plan or programme designed for children with SEN to help them to get the most out of their education and moderate their behaviour. It is very target driven and will help inform the teachers and others working with the child of specific goals and how these will be reached. The great thing about an IEP is that you can really track progress. So if your child has had a bad week you can look at the IEP and remember the overall progress the child has made rather than obsessing over a bad few days.

It also monitors the effectiveness of teaching and provision in school to really get to grips about what is working and what is not. Top tip: he IEP is fantastic because you meet with your child’s teacher and the SENCO regularly. Also, if the school has promised you a certain provision, for example, a room where the child can go if he/she is feeling overwhelmed, then you can make sure that it will happen if it is included on the IEP. You can also bring up other stuff that you feel relevant for your child. EG Jonah developed many anxieties that the school were unaware of so this gave us all the chance to discuss the support he needed to feel better in himself.

School Action or SA
This is used when there is evidence that a child is not making progress at school and there is a need for action to be taken. However, it will only involve those within the school and can include the involvement of extra teachers or different learning materials. Your child may be placed on School Action if there is emotional and behavioural difficulties or they have made very little progress in their learning.

School Action Plus or A+
This is used where SA has not been able to help the child make adequate progress. At SA+ the school will seek external advice from the LEA’s support services, the local Health Authority or from Social Services. For example, this may be advice from a speech and language therapist or Specialist Advisory Services. SA+ may also include some one-to-one support sessions with the SENCO. Top tip: Getting outside help is possible but you will be at the end of a very long waiting list. We were advised to apply to outside agencies as early as possible. You can always cancel the appointment if no longer necessary.

CAMHS or Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services
This is a specialist NHS services offering assessment and treatment when children and young people have emotional, behavioural or mental health difficulties. Children and young people and their families can be referred to CAMHS if the youngsters are finding it hard to cope with family life, school or the wider world. ypes of problems CAMHS can help with include violent or angry behaviour, depression, eating difficulties, low self-esteem, anxiety, obsessions or compulsions, sleep problems, self-harming and the effects of abuse or traumatic events. op ip: Although the school can refer you to CAMHS, the process is speeded up if you go via your doctors. However, CAMHS are very busy so don’t skimp on the detail even if you are not sure that your child really fits under this organisation. We found that CAMHS were a terrific advocate for us as a family and offered us as parents lots of support when we didn’t always feel we got it from the school.

Child development specialist
This is someone who works with children, their parents and schools in assessing a child’s developmental needs, deficiencies, and goals. Specialists are highly knowledgeable and can quickly and easily tell you what is normal. Top tip: We were referred to an NHS doctor who was a lifesaver. I made a list and talked her through every aspect of Jonah’s behaviour and what I found was that she was able to completely put my mind at rest. Jonah displayed normal behaviour for a five year old boy, even when that behaviour was not always desirable. The best bit was when she said that we have a lovely, healthy boy p who actually was mentally ahead in many of the little tests she
set him.