So your child has problems. You have been through some assessments and treatments, been given medical advice. Or, maybe you just know that your child isn’t as quick at learning as your friend’s child, or has the same difficulty you had when you were at school. One of the best ways we can help our child is to work in partnership with the people that educate them. Evidence shows that children thrive better when parents are involved in their education but should parents disclose a child’s disability to the school or nursery? This is a very difficult dilemma for parents in Dubai who desperately want their children in the best school possible and want to avoid the possible costs of extra assessment, therapy or support. They realise that rejection often means either no school place or placement in a less desirable setting. Some face the prospect of home schooling or even returning to their home country. Every situation is different and it is often hard for you to know what is right for your child. However, as a long term educator and advocate for the right education for each child, I would always advise parents to work with the school 100%. Whatever your child’s difficulty, you do need to talk with your child’s school about it, if only because your child will be at school each day for up to 7 hours of his waking time, and school staff will definitely notice a problem. It will delay getting the right help for him right from the start and the school will find it harder to help the child and you, his parents, because you haven’t talked to them about his needs. If the school rejects your child, there is a valid reason why, and you need to find out what it is. It could be: 1. The school does not want any challenges or problems and is more interested in keeping high academic standards and pleasing other parents. If this is the case, do you really want your child to be part of a school with this philosophy? Your child is likely to struggle to keep up with their peers and the school is not likely to have a support system in place if needed. 2. The administration/ learning support/ teacher feel that it would be unfair to accept your child as they cannot provide for their needs. As a principal I have been in this dilemma when my heart has wanted to accept the child but my head knows that the school is not set up for, nor has the resources to ensure that they have the best possible education. No school has the resources or expertise to meet all special needs. If it is a more simple solution such as a physical problem, then lessons can be timetabled on the ground floor. However some problems bring with them a risk, either to the child himself or other children. For example, if your child does not understand fear and could be at risk on playground equipment. Or simply their area of need is so specific, such as dyslexia; it cannot be dealt with adequately within the learning support department or classroom. I had to make the heart breaking decision to ask parents of a child in one of my schools to make alternative arrangements for the following year. I felt I had let the child and their parents down but having personally supported this child during the previous 2 years; the gap between him and his peers was getting so much wider that socially and emotionally he was beginning to suffer. Six months later I met mother on a shopping outing and was surprised to see her smiling as she approached me. She said her son couldn’t be happier where he was and that he now had friends and was keeping up in class. She admitted that she had been upset and angry that her son had been asked to leave the school but realised now that it was the best decision. If, after being made aware of all the facts, the school does accept your child, it is important to ask them specifically how his/her needs will be met. Do they really feel able to support your child’s needs so he/she can learn well or are they simply filling a school space and will hit you for the cost of lots of extra support later? A quick check on expat forums will usually expose the charlatans. Other parents’ experiences are often your best point of information. If the school has a great reputation for including learning difficulties and offers you a place, then you need to begin the collaboration early, preferably before taking up the place in the school. You will need to ensure the right support is in place, include other outside support agencies in the team if needed and build an honest, open relationship with the school/ nursery staff. Remember that you are the main person in the team. You are the one who really knows your child. Spend time passing on your knowledge of strengths and problem areas so you can really work in partnership. A caring school will welcome this although do remember that your child is one of many and they are all equally important to the school. Try to set up an initial meeting with the school/ nursery and any therapists involved. Make sure you have up to date assessments. Ensure you have a record of what has been agreed by all parties in that meeting, so progress can be monitored. Don’t always assume that the school/nursery will have knowledge about specific disability issues. Provide articles or support websites that could be useful. Be positive-focus on your child’s skills and strengths. Offer your support and tell the staff about the small things that help your child. It is often the small things that get overlooked, but can make a big difference, such as making sure he has his glasses on, or that she really hates bright sunlight. One concern about telling your child’s school may be that you feel much of the information is private and you don’t want this all shared with school staff, or that people might view you or your child negatively. However, schools are bound by professional standards and are not allowed to share your confidential information. You can also make sure that you do not give private family information if it is not relevant to your child’s condition. Above all, in these difficult times, try to stay positive for your child’s sake. Encourage your child’s confidence and self-esteem and make sure you are honest and realistic with yourself. Not all our children can be brain surgeons. The most important job for any parent is to ensure their child is a happy, well-adjusted human being who is able to fulfil his/her potential. It is vital that your child goes to the right school, where his/her needs are understood and valued. Yes, your child’s school or nursery does need to know about any special needs. That way, there is the best chance of you and your child succeeding.
-- xx --Sally Evans has had a varied and exciting career in Special Educational Needs and Disabilities which has taken her all over the world. She has helped set up schools for Autism and Special Needs in Malaysia and Sri Lanka and also been Headteacher of mainstream International schools and a Special School in London. Now in Dubai, she supports children and their families, liaising between schools, therapists and families to find the right place for each child. Sally can be contacted on: [email protected]