Entrenched ideas of what Special Needs and Disabilities (SEND) is, means that many SEND children are not even offered the chance to show their potential. One SEND parent talks about her child, the work experience opportunities they were offered, why it simply wasn’t good enough and how she made it right.
I am an adult with autism and adhd (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). I am married and have 6 children with various disabilities.
They all have Education Health Care Plans (EHCPs), which are statutory plans used UK schools to ensure appropriate provision is in place. All go to specialist schools and their ages range between 7 years old and 20 years old.
6 are diagnosed Autistic, 4 are diagnosed ADHD, 4 are diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, 2 are diagnosed Severe Sight Impaired. All have sensory processing dysregulation, 2 are dyscalculic, 1 is dyslexic, 1 is non verbal, 1 is PMLD (profound and multiple learning disabilities) and another has a moderate learning disability. So I’ve got quite a range of needs going on co-piloting with my husband at the helm of this ship.
I remember when we were all ‘aiming high’ for disabled children back in 2007 as part of the ‘every disabled child matters’ campaign in the UK. I think lots of us are still aiming high (I certainly am). But there are still little pockets of attitudes where I’m pretty sure some people are not aiming very high at all anymore. That is quite depressing to me.
A little while ago my 17 year old was offered some work experience by a special school. She was given various choices including litter picking, shelf stacking or warehouse packing. Nothing wrong with those jobs and I’ve done them myself and would do them again if needs be. Work is work. All work is good work.
The right choices please!
What’s wrong with those choices for me is the assumption that these jobs are the limit or expectations for particular groups of children. My daughter was mortified. She doesn’t want to do any of those jobs for a living. I mean she will certainly do those jobs if her other hopes don’t pan out (like we all would) but those are not jobs she’s aspiring to do.
My daughter wants to work within the beauty industry ideally but that’s tricky for her because she’s severely sight impaired. Tricky but not impossible!
All that is required is a bit of creative thinking by those supporting her. In this case that was me since the school hadn’t asked her what she wanted, and work experience options were pre-set.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that schools struggle to find work experience for certain types of disabled children. I’m betting that they face roadblocks when doing so. I’ve been facing similar kinds of roadblocks for at least 2 decades. However, I’m not one to give up easily. If I can’t go straight through to get where I need to go then I’m going to go around the side, over the top or underneath! One thing is for certain, I’m not giving up and I’m going to keep going.
The other thing about some of the job choices my daughter was offered is that they all tend to attract a minimum wage salary with little scope to rise up out of that into earning more money. I know my daughter likes nice things and she wants to work hard to get them. She would soon become quite demotivated if she could only ever earn enough to just survive. So, I put my thinking cap on and racked my brains for a solution.
My disability is my selling point!
What I’ve learnt myself as a disabled person is that sometimes your disability can actually turn out to be your best feature and selling point. People can often miss that as being the case. I spent years trying to hide and mask my autism. It turns out it’s one of the best things I’ve got! I’ve turned my autism into something useful to other people rather than something to hide or conceal.
On my Twitter (@SEND_PLIGHT), I did an experiment once. I dropped from my bio the fact that I am an autistic and ADHD adult AS WELL as a SEND parent. My new followers dropped overnight! The fact that I am also autistic and ADHD is what I suspect makes me a bit more interesting. So I tried to think like that for my daughter and I came up with the idea of massage for her. For massage you don’t need good vision and actually having no vision can often make your sensitivity to touch better! You can also earn £60 per hour if you are good at it!
Being visually impaired could actually be the reason you might be chosen for the job and not someone else! You might be better at it! My daughter loved that idea and is actively pursuing that as a career choice now, fully supported by her new school. It’s not all going to be plain sailing and there are some hurdles to get over but we are going to do that together.
Sending the right messages
She’s excited and it’s given her hope and a feeling of ‘I can’. I think litter picking, shelf-stacking and warehouse packing made her feel like someone else was saying that is all you are good for because that’s what I’ve decided your limits are. To that I say NO very loudly indeed.
There might be some SEND children that would like to do those jobs and there is nothing wrong with that. If that is what someone wants to do then I’d fully support them to do it but if it’s not then I’m going to find another way!
It’s also about messages we send to others. The obvious one is the message that was sent to my daughter with those options.
Role models are important
I’ll tell you another story! I’m involved with a law firm at the moment. The paralegal working on my case has quite a significant speech impediment. He’s intelligent, capable and well able to do the job but he does have a disability around his speech. He isn’t letting it stop him doing what he wants to do. He phones me up and some days it takes him a really long time to say what he needs to say to me but I wait patiently for him to get his words out. I want him and people like him to be in that job because why NOT! He’s a role model to me and I’m proud of him.
It’s a bit like seeing women in leadership positions it took a while, didn’t it? And we are still not quite where we’d like to be but we are making progress all of the time. No longer is it assumed that we are only good for childcare or being in the home/kitchen we’ve got so much more to offer than these dinosaur stereotypes. I think that with disabled people that we’ve maybe not made quite so much progress at times.
It’s about finding what is right for the individual.
There still are some people who are maybe not aiming quite so high for disabled people. I am not one of them. At the same time I am aware of disabled people who are in jobs that are quite straightforward but they are happy doing them and that is OK. I certainly don’t want to do those people down in anyway with what I’m writing here. Often being able to work at all is a massive achievement which I fully recognise and celebrate. I just don’t want to see young people written off as only good for one stereotypical kind of job. The skies the limit in my world and the only barrier is often just the thinking and attitudes of other people.
Flip and Spin!
Let’s not think lazy and let’s find a way around, over or under for those like my daughter who want to find a way. Let’s keep challenging dinosaur thinking and pushing the boundaries where they need to be pushed. Litter picking is fine, if that is what the young person wants but let’s not send the message to anyone that litter picking is “where it’s at for you sweetie”. Because it’s NOT. Let’s not stand back silent while anyone else does that to someone either.
I’m a firm believer in ‘flip and spin’ – within reason, pretty much anything no matter how difficult it might seem can be flipped on it’s head and spun around with a bit of creative thinking.
Lets think bigger and lets go beyond aiming high and lets aim even higher than ever before.
You can follow @SEND_PLIGHT on X or visit her regular blog here: https://www.theplightofthesendparent.co.uk/