Jenna’s 10, has missed two years of school, and is campaigning for SEND inclusion

Title image with the words: Jenna's 10, has missed two years of school, and is campaigning for SEND inclusion

I'd like to introduce you today to 10-year-old Jenna, who has anxiety and ADHD and has missed two years of school. She is still waiting for her council to find her an appropriate placement.

I first heard about Jenna on Twitter and as soon as I learned she was campaigning outside of the Department of Education to demand an inclusive education for all children, I knew I had to meet her. Her courage and conviction at such a young age won my admiration.

In person, Jenna is delightful. She’s bright, witty, fun, arty and insightful, which makes her story all the more heart-breaking. Jenna desperately wants to go to school and it's a travesty that she's missed two years of formal education and still doesn't have a suitable place. Our education system is robbing her of the education she is entitled to, and the opportunity to socialise and engage with children her age.

Jenna and Siena when they met for SNJ recently, outside of the Department for Education

Jenna is one of hundreds of children who are forced into home-education not by choice, but by necessity, because of an under-funded SEND system that callously casts aside children who are different. Despite this bleak landscape, it is children like Jenna who are standing up and demanding change, and who provide hope and glimmers of a brighter future.

Jenna has written her story for us at SNJ, so please help Jenna by sharing her article and message. To use Jenna’s own words, please support an inclusive world, because all children deserve an education.” 

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Jenna: Why I'm campaigning for inclusion at 10-years-old

Hello, my name is Jenna and I am ten years old. I have acute anxiety disorder and ADHD. ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactiity Disorder and means that my brain is wired differently. It is hard to stay focused, it is hard to start tasks, and I get very big feelings and it is hard to control them. I found it difficult to fit in so I got bullied and now I am very anxious and worry more than other people. 

Jenna, in a pink puff jacket with a protest sign asking to support an inclusive world as she is campaigning outside the Department for Education
Jenna campaigning outside the Department for Education

I am writing this blog because I want to raise awareness that more support is needed for children with special educational needs in schools. If children like me do not get the right support at school, it is really difficult for us to do our best and be happy.

When my teachers did not understand me, they did not know I was panicking but thought I was being naughty. They would lock me in a room by myself, or crowd around me and shout at me. They ignored it when other children called me names and bullied me. These things didn’t help at all – they just made feel bad about myself, and that it was all my fault, even though I couldn’t do anything to control my worry. It felt like no-one believed in me at school.

It also made it difficult for me to be friends with other children, as all the other children thought I was naughty and they knew that if they were mean to me, everyone would just blame me, not them. All of this made me so worried that I didn’t want to leave the house, and I kept fainting and having seizures. I had to stay in the Evelina Children’s Hospital to check my brain was working properly. During this time, the only thing that made me happy was doing art – and I’ve kept on working at my art ever since.

Getting mental health help

After I came out of hospital, I was referred to CAMHS – this stands for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. In CAMHS, I have seen two amazing psychiatrists - one of them was once on an episode of My Life about mental health (you should all watch this!). These doctors diagnosed me, and found the right medicine for me.

I was very relieved that my feelings had a name and the medicine really helps. I have also seen two clinical psychologists, who have helped me to find strategies to tame my worry. Now I have done the work with them, I am much more in control, so the feelings don’t take over my life like they did before. I also see a psychotherapist who helps me talk about all the horrible things that have happened at school, because it is good to talk! I want to say a big thank you to all my CAMHS team for helping me feel like me again.

I need the right school place

Now I am feeling lots better, I desperately want to be back at school. It is so lonely and boring being at home, and I just want to make friends and have something to do with other children during the day. But it takes AAAAGGGEEESSS for Surrey (my local authority) to arrange the right support. There are lots of children in the same situation as me, and I think this is really sad because we all deserve an education!

I think that if you are not a child in this situation, then you don’t even know that these problems exist and affect everyday life for families like ours. It makes me sad that my Mummy has to work so hard to arrange everything for me because it’s not her fault. I hope that local authorities will listen to children like me and arrange the right support more quickly in the future.

Jenna with some of her artwork, an abstract of colours running down a page and a picture of the world with the words Jenna’s voice, support an inclusive world
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It's cool to be different

Although I need extra support in school, and I have been bullied, I think that it is cool to be different and I use lots of strategies to turn my ADHD into a superpower!  I can do something called “hyperfocus”, which is when I am really interested in something and it feels in my head like I can just do it. And I concentrate so hard that the time passes really quickly and I don’t notice anything else around me. This feels amazing, and at the end, I think, “Oh wow, look what I just did!”

The other thing with ADHD is that I am really creative, and I imagine ways of doing things and solutions to problems that other people do not think about. I love starting my own businesses, and I have three businesses where I make things and sell them outside my house, at the park and at craft fairs for pocket money. I really enjoy selling things and trying to think of different ways of getting people to buy my products.

Lots of people with ADHD are entrepreneurs, like Richard Branson who started Virgin Atlantic. I think it is important to have people like me with ADHD in this world to help solve all the problems we have and make it a better place for the future.

You can follow the Twitter account that my mum runs for me, Jenna’s Voice and sign up to my website, https://www.jennasvoice.com

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Siena Castellon

Founder at QL Mentoring
Siena Castellon is a 17-year old neurodiversity advocate and anti-bullying campaigner. Siena is autistic, dyslexic and dyspraxic, and has ADHD. In researching her conditions, she found that most of the resources were aimed at parents. When Siena was 13, she decided to change this my creating www.qlmentoring.com, a child-friendly website she designed to support and mentor children and young people with learning differences and autism.

Last year, Siena launched Neurodiversity Celebration Week, a campaign that aims to encourage schools to recognise the strengths of their neurodivergent students. Over 350 schools and over 318,000 students took part in Neurodiversity Celebration Week 2019. In 2020, Neurodiversity Celebration Week will take place on March 16-20.

Siena has won numerous national awards for her website and advocacy, including most recently winning the BBC Radio 1 Teen Hero Awards and being honoured with the British Citizen Youth Award. She is a Young Ambassador for the ADHD Foundation and for Anna Kennedy Online. Her book titled "The Spectrum Girls' Survival Guide: How To Be Awesome and Autistic" will me published by Jessica Kingsley Publishing in March 2020.
Siena Castellon
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