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Does your child need an EHCP?

We hear in the media about the failure of children with SEND by the education system. There are so many horror stories of children and their families being let down again and again. For anyone who is starting the journey with their autistic child the system alone can appear to be totally overwhelming and often there is a lot of misinformation given to parents which makes it even more challenging. Sadly, lots of the problems people experience come from different teams being determined to save money. The majority of autistic children can cope in mainstream schools and don’t necessarily need EHC plans. The reason that there is often a failure at this stage is that there isn’t clarity over what support is available without a plan.

SENCOS are often perceived as the key to getting a child an EHCP and they only get involved at that point. The role of a SENCO is to coordinate the SEN provision in the school and to ensure that every child with SEND is able to access an appropriate education where they can thrive and reach their own personal potential.

The step before an EHC plan is called SEN support and whilst it isn’t legally binding in the same way that an EHC plan is, the school have a statutory obligation to provide the support. SEN support can sound quite ambiguous with little rigour but according to the government website for a child aged 5-16 this level of support can include:

  • Specialist learning programme

  • extra help from a teacher or assistant

  • to work in a smaller group

  • observation in class or during break

  • help taking part in class activities

  • extra encouragement in their learning, for example, to ask questions or to try something they find difficult

  • help to communicate with other children

  • support with physical or personal care

This list is not exhaustive but shows the range of additional support that can be accessed without an EHC plan. We are going to do a series of posts over the coming couple of weeks which will give some ideas of how parents can support their child ensuring that their child has access to the support they need. It is a pre-requisite of reaching an EHC plan threshold that the school has exhausted all the support that they are obligated to offer. This support can also be accessed during the EHC plan assessment process so it doesn’t exclude being able to be assessed for a plan.

Social development is a key part of a child’s education journey and is particularly essential for autistic children. The government website suggests the following support options for children who are eligible to access SEN support which have a social development option:

  • help to communicate with other children

  • observation in class or during break

  • Help taking part in class activities

  • Work in a smaller group

Every child who is struggling with their social development will obviously need different support and interventions. However here are some ideas:

Observation in class or at break - for this purpose the break observation is crucial. A child who is coping in a structured classroom setting and appears to be able to suitably communicate and socialise with their peers can be completely stuck when it comes to break time. It is important that you request that these observations are done by a staff member that is familiar with the child in the class environment so that there is a clear comparison. To get a clear idea of how the child is coping socially. It is important that lessons such as the arts and PE are also observed as these require different social skills to more academic subjects.

Help to communicate with other children - this is another element that can encompass both the class and playground setting. Remember that communication doesn’t just mean the ability to talk. It is about understanding social and unspoken rules. Whilst these are not part of the school curriculum they are an essential part of education.

The sort of help that you could request includes:

  • short individual sessions to talk through events that they struggle with.

  • Social stories to help to demonstrate expected communication.

  • Communication cards

  • Supported interactions with peers both in and out of the classroom

  • Explaining to the class about autism and ADHD and how they can help autistic pupils and pupils with ADHD to be happy, accepted and included.

Help taking part in class activities - again this is not exclusively academic classes. The sort of help you could request includes:

  • Support before, during and after school trips

  • Support to take part in class assemblies, concerts and plays

  • Support to be able to work in a group activity - this may include using visual scaffolding or having an adult working or closely monitoring that group.

  • Making sure that your child is given support but is still challenged academically. Even if your child finds group work difficult it is important that they are not grouped with lower-ability children if they don’t need to be.

  • Preparation before an activity so that they have time to process what is going to happen.

Work in a smaller group.

Smaller class sizes are one of the things that are often sighted as a reason that a neurodivergent child can’t cope in mainstream. For some, this is very much the case. If your child attends a mainstream school and has SEN that means they would benefit from a smaller learning environment at certain times of the day this is something that can and should be facilitated at required times. A smaller class size can mean that socialising isn’t so daunting and this can encourage a child to interact more appropriately with their peers.

These are just a few ideas of the sort of support a school can give your child’s social development without the need for an EHC plan.

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