Special Needs: Focus on What Your Child Can Do

Special Needs: Focus on What Your Child Can Do
By James Mullan
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I have been asked many times during my career as a teacher, special needs teacher, principal and SENCO: “Why have I been told that my child has Special Needs? What does it mean?” I don’t have all the answers. I am not a doctor or theologian or psychologist. But I can tell you how and why you have come to this point if you have this heart wrenching experience, and that it is just a beginning of what can be a long challenging but rewarding journey for you and your child. The term special needs has become one of the buzz phrases in international education and is used in a multitude of ways for school admission, academic progress, behavioural issues and obtaining specialised support and help. It often has negative suggestions as it focuses on cannot do, rather than what the child can do. Maybe surprisingly, around 1 in 5 children are likely to have special educational needs of some kind during their school career, some for a short period, and others throughout their schooling. I remember a young boy from rural Norfolk beginning his first year at school and very soon being labelled special needs as he had very little verbal communication and huge behaviour issues such as leaping on other children and constantly biting. Matters in school were escalating rapidly and the child was on the brink of temporary exclusion. Whilst assessments and support were being put in place, I asked parents for a home visit. Home was an isolated farm and the child was an only child of busy older parents. Play mates were the working farm dogs. Suddenly all became clear… he was playing with the children in school as he had always played with his playmates, the dogs, at home. Subsequently, a couple of weeks of working with parents and the child in play situations with friends of the human kind, together with a focus on a language rich environment and this little boy’s problem solved. Not all cases can be resolved as easily as this and physiological and neurological problems are more of a challenge. Even so, when parents, school and therapists combine forces to tackle the underlying issues, progress can be made. In Dubai, I often see that there is a lack of acceptance or ability from either families or schools to address the problem. Understandably, parents often may want to keep quiet about any problems as they are anxious that the child gets a much competed- for place at their preferred school and then hopefully the problem will “go away”. The only alternatives to a mainstream school are usually special schools that cater for children with more severe special needs, and these may not be the right place for their child either. Therapies and support are usually very expensive, adding to the burden of costly school fees and the parents cannot always afford to go down that route. On the other side, schools in Dubai can usually afford to be choosy as to their pupils and with the pressure of academic results and wanting to attract the “right pupils”, they select those they know will be easy to educate and make good educational progress. Subsequently it’s a no win situation for those children who have difficulties in some areas of their learning. Of course, this is generalising about the situation and I have come across terrific parents, teachers and schools here who have fought for the needs of their children. However it is a quite common problem that we have to face up to and move towards correcting in Dubai. Though the Government is starting to put measures in place to help, it is only through collaboration and commitment by all those involved, that we can begin to tackle learning barriers and help all our children achieve the potential that is rightfully theirs. What is needed is a forum where we can all collaborate; parents teachers, administrators, school boards, owners, therapists, centres and all stake holders. By talking about our problems we can move towards addressing the needs of our children. By acting upon the ideas and commitment, expertise and strength we share, these children can take their rightful place in the Dubai (and international) community of tomorrow. Sally Evans is a highly experienced Inclusive Education Consultant based in Dubai.  She can be contacted at [email protected]  

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