Unfortunately I have been in the situation, as I’m sure many other parents of autistic children have been, of locking horns with the school. Not only did they have a complete lack of respect for us parents, an evident lack of knowledge of ASD and disregard for the fact that we know our son best, they also failed to implement the simplest of things that we had agreed would help him. Sound familiar? Then read on……
A few weeks ago, we all sat around a table (Me and MR AA, Head Teacher, Class Teacher, Education Psychologist and Head of Learning Support) and we all smiled, we were polite, we were offered glasses of water to which we replied “oh yes please” and “thank you”, but more importantly, we talked about Eldest Spawn and how he was getting on, and about all the things they had actually put in place now that seemed to be helping. Our suggestions of other things that could be implemented where met with nods and smiles and “we’ll try that” and “good idea”. A far cry from the last meeting where it was declared that his child’s plan had failed, and we were met with a stone wall of, “he doesn’t need that” and “staff have no time for….” In between these two meetings, we also received a vicious attack strongly worded letter from the Head Teacher, along the lines of she’ had never been spoken to in such a way!’ And ‘nothing the school does will make you happy!’ And so on and so forth. Whilst it is true that the receipt of this email at 5pm on a Tuesday evening, just I was popping some fish fingers in the oven (eat your heart out Nigella!) left me reeling to say the least, and I truly wanted to march to the school, keys ready to scrape her car before smacking her in the face and give her a few strong words of my own! But….I didn’t.
See my top 10 tips below on what to do when the school just ain’t listening. How we got from angry letters to polite nods and actually some progress.
- Document everything. And I mean everything!
This one might seem a bit laborious, but it is probably the most important one. It will help you later on in your fight when you need to remember what has and hasn’t happened. So anytime your child doesn’t receive their ASN support, or you have had a meeting, or an agreed strategy has not been put in place, write all this down with dates. It sounds like a lot of work, but if you just have a document on your computer that you can add to any time something occurs (or doesn’t) it makes it easier to quickly type it in and keep track.
- Only communicate by email (out with official meetings)
This may seem slightly over the top, but you would be amazed how quickly things can turn bad when a school feels under threat, so having everything in writing means having the truth on your side. Even if you don’t think you need this at this point, I still recommend it as it keeps everything clear. If you do communicate in person, or over the phone, always follow up with an email. “Further to our phone conversation/chat today –The main points discussed are as follows.” In my experience, most disputes are usually down to lack of communication, and doing this just eliminates any possibility of misunderstandings.
- Keep on at them!
It may be utterly exhausting and all consuming, but you cannot let them away with not doing their jobs and not meeting your child’s needs. If you have had meetings where things have been agreed, then you are within your rights to email them and check that these things have been done, and to check on progress. You are also within your rights to call meetings at any time to discuss progress. You are within your rights to say that you are unhappy and expect X, Y, Z to be achieved. This is where point 1 helps, instead of ranting, “you’ve said loads of times you would use a timetable and then another time you said you had but now you haven’t!” You can calmly and concisely say, “on 3 occasions (say dates if you wish) Mrs so and so had agreed to create a visual timetable, can you explain why this has not been achieved?”
- Be nice. Excruciatingly nice.
Ok, so this one is hard. Really really, sticks in your bloody throat hard! But, it has to be done, and here’s why…. Schools can close ranks pretty quickly when the feel under fire. Try not to give them anything to throw in your direction. Try not to shout, or lose your temper, or swear, try to remain level headed in the worst of circumstances, and when things go well, even little things, praise them. Show you are the bigger and give credit where it is due. This really helped us when we received the email stating they would “never be able to keep us happy”. We were able to refer to times when we had. For example, we sent a letter to the children and staff when ES had an excellent transition and we praised the pre-school staff at meetings. It can really help things go in your favour if things do escalate.
- Get an independent advocate.
This was a godsend to us! Having an independent advocate by our side was invaluable. When we received THE LETTER he was able to calmly yet forcefully reply on our behalf, but more than that, he attended the afore mentioned meeting that inspired said letter, so he was able to say, categorically, that we were not out of line. Had he not been there I honestly don’t know how we would have progressed.
- Educate yourself.
Knowledge is power, as they say. Unfortunately, some teachers/schools are not as educated on Autism and its many varieties as we would like, so having information yourself will help you stand your ground on what you know is best for your child.
- Don’t complain.
This is a really tricky one. We can be angry and, quite rightly so when we feel schools are working against us, and the Head Teacher that wrote that letter would have deserved to be complained about, to lose her job and have her name dragged through the mud. But what would that achieve? Yes it would feel good, she would get what’s coming, but would it really help your child, right now? I’m not saying be a pushover, you must stand your ground. You must say you will not be treated in this way and you expect better. This was where having an advocate paid off, as he helped us to remain calm. Instead, seek advice. Ask other professionals for more input and to attend meetings. Schools often take advice easier from professionals than parents.
- Draw a line in the sand.
If you do manage to make progress, try not to get dragged down by anger. It is easy to become obsessed, and turn even positives into negatives, but try to move past this and see the positives. Give praise where it is due and try to work together to resolve any ongoing issues.
Yes I know, this is contrary to number 7, but unfortunately sometimes things cannot be resolved amicably, and when push comes to shove, you are not out to make friends, you need to advocate for your child and ensure their needs are met. If you have tried everything and you are still hitting a brick wall, you may need to go down this road. This is where having everything documented and having all communications by email will help you. Local authorities are notorious for closing ranks but this is difficult to do with hard evidence available.
- Look after yourself!
Advocating for your child can feel like a battle. It can eat you up and drag you down. But you must look after yourself as you cannot pour from an empty cup. Do whatever you need to, run, do yoga, eat cake, drink coffee, have a beer, a glass of wine on a Tuesday, get a massage. Just do what you need to do to look after you. Your little one needs you.
Love AA xx