Joining the dots of neurodiversity with Suzy Rowland

We haven't done a book giveaway for a while, so today we're offering a copy of SEND parent, Suzy Rowland's new book "SEND in the Clowns".

Suzy is the founder of the #happyinschool project aimed at educating teachers and parents about neurodiversity in education. Suzy is an author, autism & ADHD specialist & trainer, cognitive behavioural therapist and poet. She works with a range of parental and professional clients. Her son is fast becoming an autism/ADHD advocate, a successful YouTuber, a distinction-level guitarist, with a Jack Petchey Award.

She's written for us today about her book and has offered a copy to SNJ. Add your name to the form at the end if you want to be in with a chance to win it.

Joining the Dots by Suzy Rowland

Growing up in Birmingham in the seventies was interesting; a child of second-generation Caribbean immigrants. With my kinky curly hair, brown skin, gap-tooth smile, and skinny legs, I couldn’t hide my difference. Although my mother grew up in Jamaica and spoke the Queen’s English, I tried to adopt a local ‘Brummie’ accent and a zany chatter to cover my shyness. I couldn’t understand why I generated so much attention just by being me.

Later, I would see how neurodiverse kids experienced similar negative attention, discrimination and ignorance to that I experienced as a brown child in a mainly white school.

My son, the inspiration for my new book, S.E.N.D. in the Clowns, was diagnosed with autism and ADHD, aged nine, after difficult years at primary schools. Going through the diagnosis and school process opened my eyes to the sad reality that discrimination and poor understanding of autism and ADHD isn’t just about kids being mean to kids.

Dear Diary, my son's been excluded

S.E.N.D. in the Clowns began as a collection of diary entries to help me make sense of my son’s exclusions from primary school and difficulties with friendships. During writing, I discovered my own advocacy voice. There was a fair amount of parental blame levelled at me in the early days too.

"Exclusions were the soundtrack to Lucas’s primary education. The many years of exclusions before he was diagnosed with ASD and ADHD, created a child who was on edge, defensive and sometimes explosive in pressurised situations. He described the feeling before a meltdown as a volcano, which he couldn’t always control. By the time he got to secondary school his generalised anxiety led to a range of mental health difficulties and he was consumed with his ‘failure’, which was dimming the light of his lovely personality.”

S.E.N.D. in the Clowns

Years later, as my son prepares to go to college, the impact of his diagnosis has changed my life. I set up the #happyinschool project in 2018. I wanted to empower and educate teachers and parents navigating neurodiversity, particularly in education. I also wanted to inspire confidence and self-esteem in families raising autistic, ADHD children. Additionally, I create stimulating, neurodiverse communication programmes, working with mental health and education professionals and organisations.

This work has demonstrated the effectiveness of informed advocacy as a key link to break the chain of long-ingrained biases and misinterpretations around many forms of discrimination.

Discrimination is based in fear

The linkages between disability discrimination and other forms of discrimination are crystal clear to me. All discrimination stems from ignorance and fear. Both require change-makers to ask difficult questions who are willing to listen to the answers.

I am particularly interested in barriers to diagnostic equality in all areas of mental and physical health. The National Autistic Society (NAS) says “mental illness can be more common for people on the autism spectrum than in the general population, even so, the mental health of autistic people is often overlooked.” The NAS overview invites the question of how many people are detained under the Mental Health Act who have undiagnosed autism or ADHD as a key presenting need, creating a subsequent mental health condition?

Psychologists are in almost total agreement that child behaviours are nearly always functional in origin. It seems that autism and ADHD can be missed in certain groups of boys, if the function of their behaviour is viewed as attention-seeking or disruptive. It’s acknowledged that girls are underdiagnosed with autism, as they present so differently to boys. But what is less discussed is the rate to which black or black-mixed children, in particular boys, are left behind in this diagnosis jackpot.

Suzy Rowland

Joining the dots

Tapping into rusty research skills, I’m joining the dots between school exclusions, poor mental health, social exclusions and limited future employment prospects for specific groups. While there is a lot of information on social media about autism and ADHD, parents need to do a lot of work to find what they need.

In writing S.EN.D. in the Clowns, I wanted to provide the key elements around the educational information in one place, in a book that is easy for all for dip into, read and understand. I’ve tried to answer some of the key questions parents ask in the early pre and post-diagnostic stages. The book explains who the key professionals are, what they do, and walks you through diagnosis stages, with a handy checklist of questions to ask in key meetings.

It takes you through exclusions, pros and cons of different sorts of schools and much more. There are reassuring mantras at the end of each chapter to encourage a more accepting approach to whatever your current situation is.

“Early intervention is the key to preventing some of the unnecessary stress for autistic children, young people and their families face. Long wait times for appointments. Inappropriate support or needs not being met.”

S.E.N.D. in the Clowns.

If children are diagnosed at an older age, or misdiagnosed with depression or social, emotional and behaviour issues, which have different treatment protocols, they are missing out on the correct interventions.

The title of the book hints at the masking behaviour displayed by so many autistic, ADHD kids who often ‘act out’ especially in the classroom when they feel exposed, stressed or vulnerable. Showing off, clowning around to hide the fact they are highly sensitive individuals, masking the pain and confusion of their neurodiversity. I see my younger self in many neurodiverse children. I see her pain and her joy. I hope you enjoy the book.

Find it on Amazon in paperback or Kindle

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Tania Tirraoro

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