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  • Writer's picture1marthasmith


I love September, it always brings fresh hope and this year has given me the opportunity to put my mid-life crisis on ice for a while - during daylight, at least.

Good things have been happening here. Big things. My son, whose sensory issues impact massively on his diet (see my post Sausages) requested and ate a tomato. It may have taken him several months to gear himself up for it and all the courage in the world once he saw it next to his plate, but he ate it whole and now he has an actual fresh red food in his diet and all the nutritional benefits that come with it. Ok, probably not loads as it was a cherry tomato but it was home-grown and straight off the vine and he will now eat one most evenings, despite his face expressing deep displeasure. He is now able to understand WHY it is important to eat different foods and he has a couple of things on his list that he is planning to try over the next few months. It is a minefield - any pressure instantly derails progress and parental suggestions are unwelcome. It all has to appear very casual whilst being meticulously planned and all celebrations must take place privately. Step forward onions; red and white, you are the chosen ones... I only fear that the adamant demand that they are tried raw first of all wasn't so, but never mind, I will put a peg on the end of my nose because if he is going to be in charge of the New Food Introduction department of our relationship, I am up for it. On the rare occasions that a new food makes it into his diet, if the moon is high, you can find me at the bottom of the garden performing a stiff, sober, embarrassingly British version of the electric boogaloo.

Both kids are back at school and are happy to be there once they arrive. One is now capable of getting himself up and ready unaided and checks his own list on the door before he leaves. The other remains a work in progress - most days are horrendous but once at school the day becomes happy and productive and she is excited that her hard work over Lockdown has been recognised by her teachers and this has helped her move forward.

I will never, ever take this for granted. Children with SEND are disproportionately represented in so-called school refusal issues, a better term for which is children who experience 'school attendance barriers', according to Not Fine In School , a parent-carer led organisation to support those whose children struggle to attend school. You may have seen photos on Facebook of front doors without children standing in front of them, posted on the first day of term to represent the fact that their children are not in their uniform heading back to school. Either their child cannot access school or schools have fallen short in terms of support. Many have felt forced to opt out of formal education entirely. I am fortunate, for now, as I know that once my daughter gets to school the assistance she receives, funded by her Education, Health and Care Plan, is not only tailor made for her but is flexible around her mood and the staff still remain ambitious for her progress. This is a mainstream school but it is one with an excellent SENCo and a staff who work around her challenges whilst meeting her needs. More than anything, they do not present meeting her needs as either 'extra' or a favour, for which I, as her parent, should express constant gratitude. It is worth every minute of the daily commute. But there are days when the only way I can get her into the car is by lifting her into it myself and that won't last forever; she is growing fast.

Children who have the same sorts of additional needs as my daughter carry huge amounts of shame and a general mistrust of adults. Coupled with the fact that early trauma has contributed to the fact that her current ability in reading, writing and maths match those of a significantly younger child and you have all the ingredients you need for school refusal. I fear it and I have seen the devastating impact on friends whose children also struggle. At the moment things can be done - perversely Lockdown provided the perfect opportunity to improve her reading as it was so long. I was not expected to follow the school curriculum and her teachers were happy that we organised our own work. It may have taken weeks for her to accept that we needed to study a little bit every day but once the routine was cemented, on we went, equipped with a pile of borrowed reading books written specifically for children like mine which have proved to be a triumph. It is also handy when a child has no concept of time - it is amazing how long 'ten minutes' of reading can take... The maths was tougher; revision books don't work if there are gaping holes in knowledge and only really serve to highlight what cannot be done, which is crushing and frustrating for all those concerned, so once we were allowed visitors inside the house I enlisted the help of a teacher friend. Not only can she tutor expertly in maths, she is an ELSA (Emotional Literacy Support Assistant) and is therefore pretty unshockable. Her perseverance, her skill at honing in on a gap in knowledge, even the way she casually introduces a topic that they will tackle the following week in order to avoid the fear of something new, put my efforts to shame. The relief of having someone else take over an aspect of my child's life that needs help and support is almost over-whelming. I feel like the cavalry has arrived.

The improvement in these two areas is having an unexpected effect on the last. My daughter now has PROOF that her hard work is paying off and she is beginning to understand that she has the power to improve her writing herself. In her case, it is simply practice. Boring, yes, but absolutely within her hands as her sensory processing issues are a significant delay rather than the actual disorder. We have decided that we don't give a fig about joined-up writing - if she can work on her letters so that everything she puts down is legible, that is good enough. I hope that one day she feels proud enough of her work to have a piece of writing up on the wall. Her confidence is growing, it just might be possible.

So, I am holding my breath. Every day that the kids are back in school is a bonus and represents a day that I do not have to support the day's learning myself. Long may it last.

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