If your child has recently been diagnosed as Autistic and/or having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), you may be wondering how to help get the understanding and support they may need at school.
HELLO! spoke to Dr Susanna Pinkus, a specialist in thinking and learning differences, for her advice.
Dr Susanna says: “It can be so important to finally have acknowledgment of your child’s profile of strengths, needs and challenges and to understand how to best support them. For your child too, having a meaningful explanation of why they experience life and learning the way they do can be deeply affirming. But it can often be difficult for parents to know how to work together with schools to make the most of their child’s diagnostic report. After all, having the report can be very helpful but what comes next?”
‘Should I send the report into school and assume it has been actioned?’ and ‘I want to discuss the report with my child’s teacher but what should I be asking?’ are questions I am regularly asked.
“Schools will have different ways of working with parents through this phase but whatever the situation, working together as a partner with your child’s school will be key.”
Dr Susanna Pinkus shares her tips below…
1) Communicate the findings
Your child’s school was likely aware that the assessment was in process and may have contributed to it. Therefore, they may receive a copy providing the permissions have been given.
However, if the report has been commissioned independently of the school, do send a copy to the school’s Special Educational Needs and Disability Coordinator (SENDCo). At the same time, request a meeting to discuss the report’s findings. You will want to develop an ongoing Relationship and will hopefully meet regularly. Before the meeting, highlight the most important parts of the report to discuss and make a note to meet at the start of each year to ensure that information is passed on to key staff.
2) Get it right from the start
Check whether the clinician who undertook the assessment can attend a school meeting with you, even remotely. This can add weight to explaining the findings and getting the provision right from the start.
This is especially true if your child also had a cognitive assessment that looked at areas of their learning – such as handwriting speed, verbal comprehension, and processing speed – because interpreting scores can require specialist knowledge.
3) Understand how information is shared
You will want to understand how your child’s school manages this post-diagnostic phase and it is fine to ask. Often this may first be about the SENDCo providing tailored guidance to teachers stemming from the report in collaboration with you, and your child too wherever possible.
Each school will have its own system of recording this information but a format of diagnoses/ needs/ strengths and supporting strategies for the classroom can often be helpful for teachers.
But don’t leave it here. You will also want to be sure how this information is being communicated to wider staff involved with your child. This may include those supervising break times, clubs, and school trips too, for example.
In addition to being included on the school’s Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Register, you could ask for a separate email to be circulated to teachers to bring your child to their attention, describing their challenges, emphasising their strengths (they are always there and should be highlighted) and how teachers can best support them.
4) Explore what provision is needed
The report may recommend that your child receives additional support or provision.
Find out where these can be put in place, where gaps might lie, and work creatively as possible with the school to see how these gaps can be filled.
For example, perhaps your child finds doing homework at home very stressful, could they perhaps be permitted to drop one subject to have supervised support at school or to work quietly in the library if appropriate for them?
Or maybe your child struggles with the noise of the lunch hall – could they be allowed to bring in a packed lunch to eat in a quiet place each day or to get their lunch five minutes earlier or wear ear defenders?
Also ask what support can be accessed from local services too for both you and to support the school. For example, is there an autism specialist teacher who can advise on your child’s support programme? Or can the school request the support of their attached educational psychologist if needed?
5) Keep your child’s voice central
Ensure that your child is included in the discussions at a level that is appropriate so that their views are central to whatever is put in place. This is about working out what will work for your unique child in their unique circumstances – this is about them after all!
Sometimes strategies might sound good on paper but may not be quite right for your child.
For example, your child might benefit from dropping a subject but if they need to work in the library during this time and this makes them feel uncomfortable in front of their peers, a more discreet solution may need to be found.
6) Discuss access arrangements
Access arrangements may include rest breaks, prompter, scribe, ear defenders, extra time, and typing amongst others. Also, discuss this with the clinician who undertook your child’s assessment beforehand and seek their steer on what would be beneficial.
During your meeting, find out what access arrangements for tests and examinations (if any) your child might require and are eligible for within the exam board regulations.
It is also important to understand that there are strict regulations for senior schools to follow when considering the provision of access arrangements.
Schools will also require evidence from teachers to support the recommendations of professionals. It may also be that your child had arrangements in the past but may no longer be eligible or require them now.
7) Share the report (it is rarely too late)
Even if your child’s assessment was a while ago, do share it with your child’s school so that you can work together to best meet their needs.
It is rarely too late to revisit previous assessments and to see how these may shed light on what is happening now.
Dr Susanna Pinkus is a Specialist in Thinking and Learning Differences. Follow her on Instagram @drsusannapinkus where she posts about education, neurodiversity, wellbeing, and parenting.
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