Shock and confusion reign when you first receive a SEN diagnosis for your child. BBC presenter Carrie Grant is a veteran of the system, as mother to four children with SEN. She offers the wisdom of her experience.
When my three daughters were first diagnosed I erroneously thought that someone took over from there, informing you of everything you needed to know, what to expect, where to seek help, what to ask for from the school and which strategies to use to get the best from your child.
It was a few years before I realised it is the parents who initiate most of the help, fumble around in the dark to find strategies, fight for their child’s rights and sadly, all too often are left to pick up the pieces of their own frazzled headspace.
This is not to be too negative - parents of children with SEN are amazing warriors.
I have four children: Olivia, who has ADHD and dyspraxia and is an actor; Talia, has Asperger’s and dyscalculia, she is highly talented at Tai Kwondo and was World Champion (2012) in her age/belt bracket; Imogen has autism and Tourette’s, she has perfect pitch and is an amazing singer and gymnast; Nathan is adopted and has attachment disorder, he is brilliant at construction.
All of the children have a great sense of fun and make for the most extraordinary family life.
All appear ‘normal’ but inside carry huge levels of anxiety and sometimes struggle to make sense of the neuro-typical world around them. They are also ‘out of the box’ thinkers. It is people who think differently who change the world, so our children are an asset, not a burden to society.
How to move forward from the diagnosis
From my experience, what I would say to any parent whose child has just been diagnosed with a special need is:
- Without a diagnosis it is very tricky to fully access help so the diagnosis is positive. Remember it doesn’t suddenly change your child, they will continue to be as they have always been. The label is not the sum total of the child, they are ‘themselves’, they just have this part to them which is different. The key is to own it but not be defined by it, to love and accept them just as they are.
- Knowledge is power. Learn as much as you can about the special need your child has. We find going on one-day courses much more helpful than reading huge amounts on the internet. Try not to look too far ahead but just deal with the age they are at now, each day has enough worries.
- Find strategies that work for you and your child. You will be embracing a whole new way of parenting, different to your friends, different to what you’d planned. Once you’ve found a strategy that works it will empower both you and your child. To encourage independence let your child know this is a strategy; they will then use it when you’re not there. You may have to ‘sell this in’ with your partner/family so learn how to negotiate!
- Begin a collaborative relationship with the school. You can initiate this and lead in your child’s school experience. Get as many professionals involved as you can. A team offers a well-rounded experience for your child. Thank everyone!
- Be assured that there are many people in society today with SEN who lead successful, fulfilled and purposeful lives. Your child is a whole person, a gift and an asset.
Carrie Grant is a broadcaster and vocal coach