Due to a combination of a tricky weekend and dodgy laptop I'm late to respond to the recent YouGov poll of over 800 teachers which was published in The Guardian this weekend. (As laptop isn't working and blogspot's full potential cannot be reached on an iPad I can't add a link, but will edit this post as soon as I can to do so).
As I read the article, whilst choking down a cup of tea, I hastily wrote a speed-rant on Facebook which went something like this:
OK, brace yourselves for another lecture (or ignore, because it's easier to stick your head in the sand and deny the struggles that so many people go through every day because I'm alright Jack!).
A very distressing article to wake up to, a poll by teachers about special needs in school.
According to a YouGov poll, parents are pushing for special needs diagnoses for their children.
Any of us in this position knows how difficult (and for difficult read heartbreaking, hair-tearing-out sheer bloody frustrating) it is to get your child's difficulties recognised in school, almost to the point of it being a deliberate ploy on the school's part to hang on to their precious cash (and who can blame them when the government keeps taking it away from them!), but the only loser in this case is the child, who without their needs being recognised and supported cannot reach their potential.
Teachers are held up as the ultimate child experts, and as such, this article and the unfair statements within will be held up as Truth, carved in stone, and proof yet again of pesky parents trying to find an unfair advantage for their little darling (for heaven's sake, can we not call children thick anymore? Do we have to "label" everything?).
So I thought I'd put a few things straight. If nothing else it'll ease my mind.
Parents work on the assumption that assessment and diagnosis will bring timely support. This is because too often an undiagnosed child will have zero support whatsoever. You have to have a diagnosis (particularly when it comes to invisible disabilities like autism and ADHD) before anyone will take you seriously, or the child is treated as naughty, and parents are treated as poor weak saps, allowing their child to manipulate them.
Parents think people will be less judgemental of a child's behaviour, and their parenting skills? No. Parents know that ignorant people will still judge to the pits of hell, we put up with it from all sides until you withdraw for your own protection. A diagnosis brings with it peace of mind that enables you to grow a thick skin to ignore said ignorant comments.
Other parents want to avoid the stigma of a special needs label? Yes, because they're thinking about themselves and not what's best for the child. Yet this allows the stigma to continue, when it really shouldn't. This is being written on an iPad, whilst reading the article in question on a laptop, technology which is almost certainly invented in companies with high rates of autism. Why is there still a stigma when some of the greatest scientific and creative discoveries are by autistic people? As Temple Grandin once said, without autism, humans would still be sitting at the back of a cave banging rocks together!
Teachers believe there are many misdiagnosed children? Well what a surprise! To be fair, teachers are not paediatricians or autism specialists, it shouldn't be in their remit to judge whether a diagnosis is accurate or not, they simply don't have the experience or qualifications to make those judgements, and when the autism spectrum is so wide and varied, they tend to fall back on basic, stereotypical knowledge in order to make their judgements, and because the world at large also falls back to these judgements, those of us affected by these unfair opinions that come from a comfortable place of ignorance are stuck in a hard place. Do we give up? Do we continue to push knowing that we are placing ourselves in decidedly vulnerable positions?
There's also the little point that diagnoses aren't handed out like smarties. The process to diagnosis is horrible, traumatic, distressing, you don't choose to go through that unless you feel there is a genuine need.
A classroom solution is better? Ah yes, the classroom solution that ensured my son felt suicidal. A solution that meant, after only a few short weeks at secondary school, my son was too anxious to go in? Yes, that sounds like it's working, doesn't it?
Suggesting that private ed psych assessments mean that wealthier parents are at an advantage? Yes they are, but this doesn't mean their child doesn't have needs, it just means that yet again the poor will be at a disadvantage, because their children are at the mercy of LA ed psychs who are well known to assess in favour of the local authority's coffers and deny any difficulties, or not have the experience to spot more complex presentations.
With articles like this there will be a greater divide between teachers and SEN parents, but it's the child who will be the biggest loser. An unsupported child will grow into a disengaged adult, an adult more likely to have chronic mental illness, an adult likely to have fewer qualifications, an adult who has gone through the school system knowing they are crap, because no-one has seen how important it is to recognise who they are and support them adequately.
If schools were supporting these children well, as this article suggests, why then are so many pushing and pushing for assessments? If our children were supported there'd be no need for us to do this. We only push because it is the only way for our children to be helped, although in our case, most teachers must have assumed he was misdiagnosed because no-one would do a thing to support him. Isn't that shocking? And we're not alone.
I imagine if YouGov did a poll alongside of parents experiences, it would tell a very different story. In fact I might contact them to ask them to carry out a poll, to even the balance.
For children with invisible disabilities, school is not some rose tinted place where teachers are falling over themselves to support them, more often than not the opposite is true.
There is loads that could be done to help, things that wouldn't cost the earth, but the rigid, OFSTED led structure means that pupils are increasingly unable to cope, but the system doesn't care, even though arguably many of these children will shape the future's technology, art, film and music.
Everyone needs to know that disabled children are not in education utopia, despite what we are told!
Having had the weekend to mull over it, whilst spending most of my time dividing and conquering children I have been assured by teachers are fine, I have more to add.
Sadly I'm not surprised by this weekend's revelations. The figures confirm my suspicions given the support (or lack of!) that my children Brian and PDA boy received over the last ten and five years respectively. And given the countless fob offs we were given for both boys whenever we expressed any concerns, and to that you can add a year of fobbing off for my youngest too. In one family that's sixteen years of what I would consider to be poor treatment and denial of any needs. If I added incidents from other families in the area we could easily be heading for at least a century, if not more, in total of crapness from our local schools.
I'm kind of in awe at the sheer arrogance displayed by the small majority (57%) of teachers questioned who believed children in their care were misdiagnosed, and baffled at the point of the poll. Asking people questions that they are not qualified to answer then publicising this information as meaningful is extremely damaging, particularly to children with invisible disabilities.
Over the last five years it has struck me how very careful people are not to tread on teacher's toes. From our GP through support workers to psychologists and paediatricians. All extremely cautious in their wording of reports so as not to offend, to ensure teachers are kept in the loop, keen to make sure the teachers have been listened to (a little too much in our case!). It's a given that teachers are the education experts, and I have never seen anyone openly question that, even when it would have been entirely appropriate.
Over the same time period though, it has also been noted that all but one of PDA boy's teachers have ignored his difficulties and his eventual diagnosis. That's a lot of teachers assuming they know better than an experienced occupational therapist, consultant clinical psychologist and consultant paediatrician. That shows a lot of balls, and highlights a mystery - how the hell are they getting away with this blatantly shoddy approach to our precious children? Not only are parents being ignored, but people who spent years gaining qualifications to enable them to accurately diagnose our children.
It must also be noted that on the several support groups I'm a member of, mainly online, one of the most reoccurring issues for our children is school, with the same themes being repeated again and again; parents not being believed, appropriate support difficult to come by, and suggestions that parents are to blame. These are not isolated incidents.
Throughout the years, when it comes to neurological disabilities, it has become tradition to blame parents, usually mothers.
We've seen the refrigerator mother theory (cold mothers not giving their children enough love and affection), more recently there seems to be a fashion of diagnosing attachment difficulties, even in absence of any evidence of neglect. We see accusations of fabricated and induced illness (Munchausens by proxy as it was formerly known), particularly in families with autistic mothers.
So we really should have expected this, just another finger pointing at us bloody pushy parents because, well, how fucking inconvenient are we? How selfish of us wanting the best for our children, and wanting their difficulties to be identified so they can be better supported, how bothersome of us to feel anxious when we are ignored, and troublesome that we would like to be listened to and believed.
I'm not surprised, but I do feel a deep tiredness as the article, or more specifically the poll, has neatly spelt out that for so many families this is the beginning of another round of misunderstandings, miscommunications and a whole load of ignorance.
We need a break.
I don't know one parent of an autistic child who isn't exhausted. Exhausted from never being able to relax, but also because so much of our energy is wasted on schools, and we now have clear evidence that their opinions of us are as low as we suspected. I know we are no longer in the system with PDA boy, but it's still recent enough to still be raw, and not all parents are able to home educate their children, so are still having to face these same difficulties.
I'm saddened that a newspaper who only recently ran an article highlighting the unfair difficulties with services that so many autistic mothers have (link will be added as soon as I can), can publish this article based on a poorly formulated and biased poll whose only purpose has been to highlight a poor attitude towards SEN from many teachers, and shows a great need for better training, and possibly a word or two about professional conduct and the inappropriateness of disregarding information from highly experienced and qualified experts.
So there we are. Late to the party, but feeling a lot better to have that off my chest!
Thank you for reading.