My name is Tania Tirraoro. I am an author, social media consultant and current co-chair of Family Voice Surrey parent-carer forum.
I have two sons who, a few years after this photo was taken, were both diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. I started this blog to help other parents, like us, who are entering the jungle of special needs education. It’s a scary, stressful place. I’m not a lawyer or an education specialist and can’t give legal advice, but you will find on this site links to places where you can get it. If you are such a person and would like your link added, please get in touch.
I was born in Prestatyn, North Wales, and raised in Culcheth, a village near Warrington, Cheshire, in a single parent, family and was taught that if you wanted something you had to go out and get it, which is what I’ve always done.
I may live in Surrey, but my northern working-class girl roots formed my character and I firmly believe the weakest among us should be supported and not vilified, victimised or abandoned.
I worked in broadcast news for a decade before we had our boys. Going back to work full-time wasn’t feasible because we knew instinctively that they were not “your average bears”. But it was a journey, and one that many others will recognise, to discover why that was, what it was that was different and how to find the help they needed.
There was little help from schools; not because they didn’t want, to but because they didn’t have the knowledge or the resources.
We have been through the process and come out the other side with statements of SEN for our ASD sons and funding for them to attend an independent special school. It wasn’t easy, it took a lot of research, time and hard work. We didn’t use a lawyer but did have support from the National Autistic Society’s Advocacy Service, which is an excellent port of call.
We were initially told our younger son wouldn’t get a statement because his needs weren’t severe enough so it wasn’t worth trying. However by the time he was in junior school his progress had stalled and because his learning style was so different to most children it became apparent that he could not be adequately supported in mainstream.
We applied for a Statutory Assessment but were turned down. We appealed to SENDIST and the LEA backed down before the hearing, agreeing to assess our son.
I realised if I wanted my son to get what he needed I had to put in the work myself. For many long hours, I researched all the policies and information available from the LEA on the internet, analysed all my son’s reports, and wrote an extremely long document complete with many appendices about why my son should have a statement. I included Ed Psych reports, Paediatricians reports, OT reports, examples of his work, lists of strategies tried and IEPs generated and quoted any relevant information I could.
I also built up a good relationship with our SENCo who provided me with as much information as I needed, without overstepping the boundaries of what she was “permitted” to do by the LEA.
My son was given a statement without further argument but the Draft Statement said the LEA thought he could be supported in mainstream. I wrote another long document, using the reports in his Draft Statement that I had not previously seen and went through the statement’s recommendations line by line finding it was full of holes. I sent my new document back to the LEA, including a basic cost analysis for the support it said he needed compared with the fees at the independent special school we had found that could meet his needs. I pointed out that having put this much effort in I would be fully prepared to go back to Tribunal if necessary.
Within a week, they had agreed to pay my son’s fees at his new school, much to our relief and that of our bank manager. Having learned so much during the process, I wanted to use the information I had gathered to help others in our situation. The moral of my story is, I believe, never give up on what you believe in, ask for help if you need it and be prepared to put the work in because no one else will.
A year later, we walked the same road getting a statement for our older son. I found the resources on this site useful for myself to refresh my memory! Again we were initially turned down butminds were changed and now he too is funded at the same school. I didn’t have to go to Tribunal myself, largely, I believe because of the case I put together, but I know many who have.
It shouldn’t be like this and hopefully with the new bill that’s now being trialled, maybe things will change. I am lucky enough to be able to take an active part in this – and finally parents’ voices are being heard. What will we end up with? That remains to be seen in 2014 but for now, the system continues as usual, dirty tricks and all.
Because it is so stressful I would recommend that you be sure of your case and your facts before you set yourself up for a potentially expensive and fruitless battle. You should be convinced that your child has little chance of success at school without the extra help a statement attracts. Good preparation is the key to a successful application or appeal and there is no doubt that this takes time and energy. Whenever it got too much, I reminded myself that I wasn’t doing it for me, but for my son and his future.
An adversarial system is not good for parents or children. I hope parents can use this blog to find useful information and resources and that you will feel able to share your own experiences and resources with you. I now have a book out that expands greatly on this site and includes excerpts from real cases. It’s available on Amazon.co.uk, priced just £6.99. Good luck and thank you for reading.