04 February 2020
11-year-old Carlton is currently a pupil at Meath School, I CAN’s specialist primary school for children with speech, language and communication needs. But as his mum Sarah explains, finding the right support for him was an uphill battle.
“Carlton was about six when I started to notice his speech and language difficulties. He struggled to find words and his speech was difficult to understand. It became apparent that he wasn’t keeping up at school.
Our battle to find the right support began: whilst his mainstream school had their own speech and language therapist, she was snowed under from supporting children with very severe needs so no provision was offered to Carlton at all.
By the time he reached Year 2, he already had six different diagnoses, but no one knew what his primary need was. We went to tribunal for a placement at a dyslexia school, but lost, meaning he was left in mainstream education for two years.
We managed to get an EHCP (Education and Health Care Plan) and he was offered weekly sessions with an occupational therapist, speech and language therapist and dyslexia tutor, but on top of the mainstream routine, it became hard for him to cope with. His speech and language therapist told me he was too stressed to engage in his sessions.
His mental health suffered hugely; he was struggling to cope with the pressure at school, wasn’t sleeping and was crying all the time. The GP had to sign him off sick, meaning he lost nine months of education. It was awful to see such a change in our lovely, bubbly boy.
I kept fighting, insisting he would never reach his potential in this environment. We reached a turning point when a speech and language therapist referred us to I CAN, and we were able to receive a full assessment from the Bill Harrison Assessment Centre. They confirmed my concerns; Carlton had severe speech, language and communication needs. He was offered a place at Meath School straight away.
However, the council turned down our request to fund his placement. It felt like we'd got so far only to be let down again. We took up another appeal; I already knew a lot about the system as we'd had to go through it with my elder son too – by chance, I found another parent on Facebook who told me you could apply for the appeal process yourself, so by the time I was appealing for Carlton I knew how to fight for support.
I had to learn all about the EHCP and tribunal process. I had to read up and become an expert in this area of law, and there’s so much to learn. How would a parent who has special needs themselves possibly cope? There must be so many parents who give up on the process because it’s too stressful.
After a long battle, Carlton finally won his place at Meath School. They’ve been amazing – we’ve got our little boy back! He doesn’t cry any more, he’s made lots of friends, and he’s understanding so much more. The school teaches life skills so they can more independent. The strategies they’ve given him means he doesn’t need any additional support which is really empowering. He’s even back on track with wanting to be a scientific engineer. He talks to me a lot about Einstein’s theories – I don’t always understand!
Now that he’s at Meath, he doesn’t need as much emotional support: he’s supported and I’m supported too. I no longer feel like I’m on my own and Carlton’s strengths shine through.
Last term, the school did ‘Meath’s Got Talent’ and Carlton sang Linkin Park’s One More Light, because he said the song meant a lot to him when he was at his lowest and he doesn’t want anyone else to feel like he did.
If there’s any advice I could give to other families it would be not to give up. Take time out, cry lots, then seek others on social media for support. We are there. Just keep fighting.”
I CAN are here for every parent and child struggling with speech, language and communication difficulties. To help us empower parents like Sarah, donate here.
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