31 March 2021
The I CAN Assessment Service, based in the Meath School, provides multidisciplinary assessments to find out what a child with Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) may need to help them in education and provides individual recommendations for parents, carers and schools. I CAN’s Meath School provides education and care for children whose primary barrier to learning is their speech, language and communication. Two parents shared their experience with their daughter’s assessment and her teacher discussed her progress after attending school. She is described as a fun-loving little girl who tackles most things with enthusiasm.
She is four and a half years old and was born with a unique chromosomal disorder. This has impacted both her physical development and her speech. She struggles with the ability to communicate and the ability to understand communications. She needs the pace to be slowed down and a lot of repetition to give her the space to understand and to not feel overwhelmed.
We think she understands a lot, but she cannot reproduce the speech. Even with speech that she knows very well, such as Mama and Papa, her speech is very laboured and it’s a concerted effort to develop words.
We were able to work on our daughter’s physical challenges through exercise and physiotherapy but the one thing we felt she couldn’t overcome was her speech. There are so many things involved in speech. We weren’t sure whether the problem was about understanding, motor planning, the muscles or anything else.
Another reason we did the assessment was because our daughter’s Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) was out of date, and the assessment was a really useful tool to put steps for her future in the EHCP.
Our daughter was diagnosed at 9 months old. The household is bilingual, so we knew there would be some delay with speech because of that but we were able to see that she was not progressing as time went on. We expected some speech at age one, and this didn’t come, and by age two there was still not much speech and then we realised there was a problem.
We focused on her speech when she was 18 months, once she was able to crawl and walk. We were able to act quickly as we diagnosed her early.
We had input from a speech therapist early on, which opened the investigative process. Meath came about as we had explored many options. We didn’t know whether to send our daughter to a specialist school or a mainstream school, as we didn’t know whether it would be better for her to be away from the society she would have to integrate into in future, or within that society, but where they wouldn’t necessarily have everything that she needs. Eventually we decided, because her communication needs are so severe, that we would be doing her a disservice putting her somewhere where she wouldn’t be able to communicate with anybody.
Meath was the only school that provided a communication route. We felt that it was an environment where we could take a step back and let someone else teach our daughter, which we wanted. Although Meath is far away from where we live, we visited and saw many children that looked like happy kids, just like our daughter. All of the children were communicative, trying to communicate and we saw all these amazing teachers and therapists who were passionate and involved. The children were very outspoken, either using signing or an Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) or speaking out loud. It was an environment of joy, which was something we hadn’t observed anywhere else.
It was really great. We had done so much in-depth research online and it was a real struggle to find a school that we felt our daughter would fit into. We wish that Meath was better known so that other parents in the same situation as us could find the answers they need.
We had an assessment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although we didn’t directly observe the assessment, it came across as very professional.
Even before the assessment, we had a relationship with the assessment team. Sarah who runs the team was able to impart a lot of knowledge and we felt we had a great support in her. We reviewed with Sarah what we could really get out of the assessment, and we felt that the assessment would be very in depth about her communication. We had a really good baseline with what to expect, what the school was able to deliver, how our daughter may potentially fit in and what the assessment would look like.
Sarah even helped us with our mediation and gave us a lot of insight that we had not heard before, for example giving us persuasive arguments for funding and links to extremely useful articles. We felt that she put our daughter at the heart of what she was doing and wanted to make sure that she was placed into the right environment, which was really positive.
Our assessment was partially remote with a half day of face-to-face assessment. The remote part was spread across a few conversations, which meant we could give lots of information to the staff. When we sent our daughter in for the face-to-face assessment, we met Sarah and the Speech Therapist and the Educational Psychologist at the door. They were really lovely; they completely enamoured our daughter and she was very happy when she came out at the end. The following day we had a session with the three professionals where they talked to us about how the assessment went prior to the report coming out to put our minds at ease. That was very informing and enlightening. They took a different approach to what we had seen before – it was on multiple levels. They had an assessment for her ability level and her cognitive level, which nobody else had approached, and assessed her capability to learn.
The three ladies were warm and funny. They cared and loved their jobs which was really great and something we don’t see very often, so we really welcomed that.
The report was really excellent. The one thing we didn’t know was the extent to which our daughter understood things. We found out that her expression and understanding of language is behind, but her brain is ready to process information on par, which was good news. It reinforced the need to enhance her understanding and speaking to let her cognitively develop. It gave a bit of insight into how Meath is able to help her.
In terms of school placement, there are a combination of three positive things. The attitude and behaviour of the school – the school want to make a difference. The skills of the staff with AAC and signing. The general environment feels very welcoming.
We are working on communication through Makaton and through an iPad application that can be used as a talking interface. We are also working on verbal expression. Whilst she is not precise with her Makaton gestures at the moment, she is still very young and we anticipate that these will improve as she grows and becomes stronger.
Our daughter has adapted very well to life at Meath. It's a wonderful school and the environment is perfectly designed to give confidence and provide structure for children who would not necessarily fare well in typical environments. It's shown only love and care for our daughter's wellbeing, and everyone was so patient and sensitive to us as parents coming into a new environment under unusual and difficult conditions.
She's made friends and loves her teachers and all the support staff in the classrooms as well as around the school. She is excited every morning and we can see her willingness and enthusiasm for expressing herself verbally as well as using her VOCA and Makaton growing every day. It's clear that the school has the most dedicated approach and Kim is leading from the heart.
We couldn't be happier that we were lucky enough to gain a place for our daughter at the school, right before things became so different and difficult in the world for everyone, but especially for children with special needs. We are thankful everyday for the care, education and continuity.
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