Mary Mountstephen MA (SEN) MA (RES)
When you ask about your child’s progress in school, the last thing you want to hear is that they are ‘not meeting expectations’, ‘having a few problems’ or ‘might need some extra support’. When pressed to explain what they mean precisely, there will often be information about learning objectives not met, observations on concentration and attention and a concern about overall progress. Many parents have been in teacher/parent discussion meetings and felt demoralised and upset by learning about their child’s slow progress in acquiring foundational skills and they are anxious to find out how they can help support the learning process. This can be a bewildering and frustrating experience, particularly if the school adopts a ‘wait and see’ strategy, that can lead to Alfie or Maryam, for example, falling even further behind their peers. Certainly, children develop at different rates, and in different aspects of their learning and behaviour, but the earlier potential problems are identified, the less likelihood there is of longer-term issues.
As parents, it can be difficult to understand precisely what the problem might be, and how to identify the best route forwards.
Having worked internationally for over 30 years, and with specialist qualifications in learning and sensory issues, my focus has always been on the identification of learning strengths as well as areas for development and early identification, based on research-led protocols, is essential in order to set in motion some targeted strategies and appropriate intervention programmes.
Five Key Strategies
● Don’t panic: Children develop at very different speeds in terms of meeting targets. Having said that, ask to speak to the school’s learning support teacher (SENCO).
● Be an active, intentional parent: That means mindfully thinking about engaging in activities with your child, based on your understanding of their strengths and areas for development. Try not to be defensive about what the school has told you and focus on the positive! Children need to explore and experience in ways that build their confidence and understanding about their world.
● Depending on the age of Alfie or Maryam, explore how they feel about school and learning: Do they like school? What emotions do they express (verbally or non-verbally) when going to school?
● Avoid internet self-diagnosis! It’s easy to become overwhelmed and to make judgments that are inappropriate or ineffective.
● Consult experts such as the SHINE Child Development team to help guide next step Care Plan for your child.
Currently it is encouraging to see moves towards wider thinking about inclusion and neurodiversity. This way of looking at learning differences recognises that we need a shift away from stigmatising Maryam and Alfie, and a shift towards understanding their unique profiles. This approach enables parents, schools and other professionals to work together more effectively towards success, even when steps are tiny.