Claire Campbell is a Thanet mum-of-three and SEN teacher working in a specialist school in Broadstairs where all children have a diagnosis of autism as well as other severe and complex learning needs.
She teaches in KS1, lead on sensory integration, and is also PA for a child in the class, taking him out at weekends or in school holidays to support his mum getting respite and the youngster accessing activities.
Her monthly column aims to raise awareness and cultivate change:
I am an SEN teacher working in a specialist school for autistic children with other severe and complex learning needs. I also PA for a child in my class (I will call him ‘B’) which just means that I take him out at weekends or during school holidays. And it is this area of my experience that I wish to share.
During the summer holidays, my three children and I spent one day each week finding places in Thanet to explore with B. Although this was lots of fun and we were able to be creative with what we could make work for us, my main take away thought from this experience was how difficult it must be for these children and their families to access their local communities. And it is for this reason that we set ourselves a family new year’s resolution to do what we can to support improvement to this access for families with children with SEND.
First, we decided to explore what Thanet has to offer in the way of specific SEN sessions. We found only two places that provide this offer, although later learned of a third. Under1roof on Pyson’s Road was our first choice. It felt like the easiest choice to start with, mostly because we have been there before.
We have now taken B here, and also met up with other friends for whom this session meets their needs, five times over the last 2 months. We love it. It is a very calm, relaxed and understanding environment. When B grabbed a chocolate bar from the counter and demolished half of it, wrapper included, before I even had the chance to think about where my purse was, no one even batted an eyelid (I did eventually locate said purse and pay for the spontaneous snacking!).
When one of our friends took a rather appealing looking slushy drink from another table and swiftly started sucking away, I was met with smiles and stories of similar happenings when returning it to the parent. I am not an SEN parent. I am merely an advocate but I do not underestimate the relief and gratitude that comes with receiving this kind of understanding. This understanding can be missing in society and contributes greatly to deterring these families from accessing their community.
Children with SEND will explore the world in different ways and find joys in sensory rich experiences. It may be that the sound that the slide makes when you jump up and down on it is a far more appealing experience to them than actually sliding down it. Parents of these children may feel the need to stop their children exploring these settings in their chosen way, apologising for the ‘incorrect use’ of play equipment. That need is not felt at under1roof between 9 and 10 on a Saturday morning. No explanations needed. No apologies necessary.
I wondered a little at first if the perhaps slightly unknown nature of the session was part of the appeal as it is generally very quiet. But reflecting on this, I realised that this is not the case. In weeks where the soft play has been much busier, the kind and relaxed feel is still there and it is at these times that conversations with other parents are more frequent. It can be very isolating being a parent and so these conversations, smiles, or seeing another adult interact positively with your child, make these sessions very special.
So if you are a parent to SEN children, looking for a non-judgemental space to visit with your children, we would love to see you there! And do please check in on this space next month to see what progress we have made on achieving our new year’s resolution!
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Well done to the teacher who is teaching these children and helping them overcome difficulties