I'm seen as a mum who is strong and proactive (some call this passionate, some call it bolshy, and others call it, well I leave that to your imagination). I am the mum who knows the law, knows the regulations and knows the Code of Practice inside out however, what people often forget when they are working with me is that I am first and foremost just a Mum. A mum who struggles with the system like everyone else, one who struggles with sleep deprivation, one who struggles with negative comments about me and my children and one who is really struggling when it comes to knowing how to ensure my children's social and emotional development needs are met.
Now, I can handle some of these when we are at home. My children know who they are in our home. We are very open about their "differences", they also all know that they are loved and that as well as loving them, we actually really like them too.
When we're home, we also know "how they are feeling" by their behaviour but often, we don't know why they are feeling that way and they don't understand how they are feeling, they just know they are not happy.
Any parent will know how difficult it is to find out what has triggered a behaviour - when your child has any special educational need, that difficulty increases ten fold. We often find that something will happen in school and they won't react there but we get the fall out once they get home. Have you dealt with a behaviour at home and then the school says "oh we don't get that here"? Doesn't that make you feel like parent of the year?
Then we come to "what they can expect to receive from other people", well that is the current mountain I am trying to climb. It gets so much harder as they get older. When they were young toddlers, they were cute and mostly, due to the number of appointments we had as a family, they interacted with adults.
Of course, there are some adults who like to give their negative opinions in front of my children ("It was called naughty in my day", "a bit of discipline, that's all that's missing for that child", etc) but I just stick my fingers in my ears and blow a very loud raspberry to those people! I have given up trying to validate my child's meltdown or explain my son's sensory system. After years in the Jungle, I choose my battles.
As our children get older though, they leave the safe and happy home and suddenly the dark scary playground arrives and we are not allowed in there. We have to hope and pray that other children will be nice. However, children will be children but how do I explain this to my children? How can I explain that if you do a, b and c, you will always get d, if in the playground, this doesn't apply? How do we explain that "please and thank you" don't always have the same effect on children as they do on adults? How do we explain that some children like to say things which are not nice because they know it will make you sad? How do I explain to J, my son who is blind, that there will be people who will say things such as "oh J can't do it, he's blind". How do I explain to R that girls very often do this strange thing of being your best friend one day and then not wanting to know you the next?
How do I explain the complexities of relationships when some children play by their own rules. The rules seem to have changed since I was at school, our dinner ladies and teachers just didn't tolerate bullying and you absolutely knew the consequences. Schools had the time to work with children rather than filling out paperwork and ticking boxes.
I have spent hours reading books on self esteem but so often, these books are aimed at mainstream children and don't take into account any additional challenges, specifically children who are as literal as they get. However, I have learned from these books that their social and emotional development influences all other areas of development, including cognitive, motor and language development, How a child feels about themselves is hugely affected by their cognitive, motor and language development and this therefore also impacts on how they are able to express ideas and emotions.
Children with well-developed social and emotional skills are also more able to:
- Display empathy towards others
- Manage their feelings of frustration and disappointment more easily
- Feel self-confident
- More easily make and develop friendships
- Succeed in school
So how do we climb this mountain?
Nurture groups - a great idea but what if your local school only does what is written in stone? Nurture groups may be something the DfE think are a great idea but there is nothing to say a school has to provide them.
Unfortunately, the DfE often appears to live in this perfect world where good practice is displayed in every school. They assure us they have spoken to Head teachers, parents and other relevant stakeholders. However, for me, that's a bit like the story that the Queen thinks the world smells of new paint because everywhere she goes, they have just decorated. In the real world we know the world doesn't smell of new paint in the same way that we know not all schools or local authorities give a hoot about Best Practice. We have a saying up North "Fur coat and no knickers" and unfortunately I think the DfE, OFSTED and other similar bodies get to see the Fur Coat far too often.
One of the schools my children attend decided that nurture groups were not a budget priority. This is a school in an area of high deprivation. A school with a much higher percentage of FSM children than the national average. Was this best practice? What do you think? Many schools and Local Authorities practice what I call the "Ronseal approach". It does what it says on the tin, nothing more, nothing less. That's how many school and LA's provide services. If they have to, they will, but otherwise, not a chance.
What have you used to help your child cope with the playground and other children? I am genuinely interested as often this support only comes from home. We now have four weeks of the holiday ahead of us, so I have some time to work on this, so please give some ideas or suggestions.