It's been a term since David started at his specialist unit attached to a mainstream school. I've learned lots whilst getting David in here and getting the support for Anthony, his older brother, via an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). Here I'll post some information based on our experiences with our ASD kids about getting their special educational needs (SEN) met. I'm not a legal or council expert, just a parent who's gone through the process a few times.
1. There are systems in place to help and support children in mainstream (that's ‘normal’) schools before you need to seek help from your borough or apply for an EHCP.
Every school gets a special educational needs (SEN) budget to spend within the school to help and support their pupils. It's different between schools as to how this is spent. Some could spend a lot of it on pencil grips and wobble cushions. I've also heard another school basically funding a 1:1 support for one of their pupils. It totally depends on each schools application of this budget to meet their pupils' needs. So if you've got concerns about your child's educational needs ask their teacher or the schools SEN-Co (special educational needs coordinator). They can create an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for your child and you may find their needs can be met without further help from the borough.
Additionally, when you seek an EHCP, the first thing you are actually requesting that your borough assess your child to see if they need one. If your child is not getting this built-in support from the school, then your borough may turn your request for assessment down as it's possible their needs could be met within school already.
2. You do not need to have a diagnosis to get an EHCP.
This is something I've seen a lot on social media. Parents desperate to get a diagnosis so they can get help for their kids at school. It can take months, even years to get a diagnosis of some conditions. The National Autistic Society has a campaign 'Why the wait' because in some places diagnosis takes so long. Some parents of children with very rare conditions have told me that actually, the diagnosis didn't help in the end because no one really understood their condition anyway.
The good news is that an EHCP is not reliant on a diagnosis - it is reliant on your child's educational needs. Our eldest son Anthony started school with a SEN statement (the predecessor of an EHCP) and a diagnosis of ASD. Another boy in the same year started with the same support via a statement but he didn't actually get a diagnosis until four years later.
What you need is to be able to show your child needs more support than is currently available to them. Your child may be accessing school help already but needs more support or they may be getting occupational or speech and language support or something else. Usually, a child will already be on an Individual Education Plan (IEP) too. All this is the evidence to support your request for assessment for an EHCP. A diagnosis may add to this evidence but is certainly not essential. It also takes quite a few months after requesting an assessment for an EHCP to actually get one so you can send in your confirmed diagnosis later if you get it.
3. You do not need the support of your school to apply for an EHCP
I see this one a lot too. A school is being unsupportive whilst a parent is pulling their hair out. You do not need the support of your child's school or setting to apply for an EHCP. It helps to have the school support your request for assistance but it is not necessary. We requested the assessment for our eldest's SEN statement. We applied with our nursery for the EHCP for David.
It can be harder to show that your child needs more support if the school is not providing some already. However, the borough is likely to respond saying that the school should be providing certain services and this then highlights to everyone what the school can and should be doing to support your child.
4. There is nothing wrong with having extra SEN support for your kid
Some parents have raised concerns that their kids will be labelled if they get extra help whether that's by the school SEN budget or an EHCP. Lots of things that can be done either via the school or an EHCP will go unnoticed by their classmates. It could be anything from working in smaller groups or sitting nearer the teacher to help with concentration to handing out textbooks so your child gets a movement break.
There are different statistics but some figures suggest between 20-50% of kids in primary school have some extra SEN support.
What's important is that your child gets the education they are entitled too. Everyone's different and our very busy and pressed education system doesn't fit everyone. The system can need tweaking your child can access it.
Without support, Anthony would not be able to access the teaching on his classroom, but with it, he keeps making progress at an appropriate and enjoys school.
5. You are not alone
In addition to not being alone because many kids have SEN, you don't need to feel alone as parents seeking that support.
There are organisations that will help you organise your request for and help you during the process of getting and submitting information for an EHCP. It's important to remember that you are applying for an assessment for an EHCP. Without some evidence, the borough may refuse assessment or even after this assessment your views on what support your child needs may not have been met. These organisations and others can help you through this and at a tribunal if necessary. Here are a few but you may also find them listed under SEN in your LA website.
You can call the Contact a Family helpline for help and advice.
Contact a Family helpline
Telephone: 0808 808 3555
Monday to Friday, 9:30 am to 5 pm
Find out about call charges
You can also get help from Independent Parental Special Education Advice (IPSEA).
IPSEA advice line
Telephone: 0800 018 4016
Monday to Thursday, 10 am to 4 pm and 7 pm to 9 pm
Friday, 1 pm to 4 pm