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14 tips for dealing with SEND professionals

We all need a moan once in a while. However, if that moan is not followed by action, it does not help our children get better care. We can get angry and rant about how this is wrong or that is wrong. Or we can channel that energy into helping our children. Here are some tips for creating a good working relationship with the professionals that are working with your child.

1. Whatever happens, be professional. If you want professionals to take you seriously and listen to what you say (and help you), you must be a professional yourself. This means doing your research, preparing your case, standing tall and presenting information in a calm and firm manner. I’m not being patronising; you want and need them to help you! Attitude is everything.

2. Don’t be emotional. If you want to be taken seriously, going in all guns blazing will put people on the defensive and make them far less likely to want to help you. I know it’s emotional – we are talking about our children. However, emotions must be set aside as much as possible.

3. Decide what you want. What is your desired end result? Why do you want that? How will your child benefit? If it’s a school issue, how will the school benefit?

4. Make an appointment. If your child’s teacher can’t talk when you drop your child off at school, make an appointment at a time convenient for both of you. Sometimes this takes a bit of reminding, but don’t give up.

5. Scrub up. Seriously, if you want to be heard, appearance is important. I know we are often exhausted and just getting out the door for the school run can be a job. But it really will make a difference if you make an effort with your appearance when meeting with professionals. Have a look at the clothes that the person you are meeting wears, and try to match that as closely as possible. Or if you work in an office, wear work clothes. Have a shower, wash your hair. Again, I’m not being patronising. This will help you.

6. Be realistic. I met with a senior paediatrician recently who told me that even she could not put through a referral for an Occupational Therapy appointment for a child who is struggling with handwriting, because OTs are currently only taking on extreme cases, such as a child who has lost a limb. If you can’t get what you want (and it’s not something that is a statutory requirement that someone needs to provide), don’t shoot the messenger. Search the internet for home therapies. Ask a question in our 3,000+ member Bristol Autism Support Facebook group. Hire a private OT. Buy a book. I’m not meaning to be flippant here – sometimes we just have to do things ourselves.

7. Take notes. You may even want to ask if you can record the conversation using your phone so you can remember what was said. (They may say no, and you’ll need to respect that decision.) Write down everything you can during the conversation. Ideally, have a friend or relative come along and take notes for you, so you can focus on what’s being said.

8. Don’t interrupt. Again – be professional. Let the person or people you are meeting with have their say.

9. Don’t be emotional, part 2. I know, it’s easy for me to say, sitting here writing this post. But it’s so important! Before you go into the meeting, try a visualisation exercise. Imagine you are made of steel, or that you put on a suit of armour, or that you are in a protective bubble where nothing can touch you. Sounds silly, but it works. If you are spiritual or religious, ask a higher power or God to give you the words to say.

10. Set a date. …or dates. During your conversation, decide on dates for when the action points discussed (both things that they must do and that you must do) need to be done by.

11. Follow up. After the meeting, write up your notes and email them to the person or people you met with. Write out what was discussed and what you understand the next steps will be, and include the dates that were discussed.

12. Follow up, again. Keep tabs on those agreed dates. Let the person you are dealing with know when you’ve done your bit, and gently remind them if the date is getting close for when they are meant to have delivered on their promises.

13. Cut some slack. When I was a child, I thought that my teachers lived in the school I went to. I believed they existed just for me and the other students – I had no concept of them having lives or families outside our school day. As parents we are sometimes guilty of this, too.
If we feel a teaching professional has failed our child, it’s easy to forget that they have a life, too, that may be affecting their work. They may have a difficult partner. He or she might be recovering from the death of a parent, or a close friend. They may even have a child with a disability. The point I am trying to make is that teachers, NHS and local authority staff are humans, too, and as such it’s important that sometimes we give them the benefit of the doubt.

14. Stay organised. I’m sure you have already realised this, but having a child with autism generates a huge amount of paperwork. It’s important to keep everything together so you can find it when you need it. Invest in some storage boxes or lever arch files. Keep subjects (e.g. ‘Diagnosis paperwork’ and ‘EHCP paperwork’) in clearly labeled files or folders. (Here is a blog post I found with tips on how to do this – it’s American but the info works here: Organised Special Needs Paperwork.) If that’s too complicated, do what I do and just keep it all in one lidded box. Also be sure to create an email folder to hold all of your sent and received education-related emails.

These ideas will help you get what you need for your child. They may require some uncomfortable behaviour changes for you. Most things worth doing require effort, and aren’t easy. However, if you can work alongside and not against the professionals caring for your child, you can find yourself working progressively through issues instead of fighting a battle.