By Rosie and Jo’s mum
I never wanted to be one of ‘those’ parents. In fact, I still don’t want to be one.
I need to send my child to school knowing that she will be looked after with integrity and that communications between me and the school will be honest and open. It is important that, when I hand over my child, her needs, as identified by multiple professionals, will be met consistently and effectively, wherever that is reasonable and possible.
I would like to feel that I need only share relevant information and listen in order to have a positive cooperative relationship with those caring for my child.
I was conditioned during my own school days that teachers are to be listened to and obeyed. They are not to be questioned or challenged and that conditioning runs deep. I do not want to rock that boat.
It took some time for this conflict to play out in my mind but, one day, after another very difficult conversation, I realised that I had a choice; I could ensure that my child’s needs were met consistently and effectively or I could appease the school staff and be the parent they wanted me to be.
There was a pattern to my relationship with each new member of school staff:
- They would receive information about my child’s needs.
- We would meet to discuss my child’s needs and they would assure me that understood completely and those needs would be met.
- A huge effort would be made at first to accommodate my child’s needs and, to an extent, this would work.
- As the staff began to feel that they were getting to know my child, they began to formulate an opinion on whether she needed the support that was in place.
- They would start to withdraw or change the support and, because they saw no evidence of a negative impact, they believed it to be the right thing.
- My child’s distress would escalate due to inadequate support.
- I would approach the school and ask for the support to be reinstated and the relationship would begin to feel tense.
- The support would, from then on, only be in place for as long as I was calling meetings, sending emails, asking for outside intervention and generally making myself a complete PITA.
- I was then one of ‘those’ parents.
There were often different reasons that the support was withdrawn:
- the teacher couldn’t see the need for it
- the TA thought she could do a better job by managing things her own way
- there was a simple lack of communication
- they believed that it was me who was anxious, not my child
- other children were jealous
- they were protecting budgets
- the support recommended challenged their view that they knew all about autism
- withdrawing support had worked for them before so it must be right
- senior management had vetoed the support because they couldn’t see evidence of the need themselves.
For whatever reason the support was withdrawn, the only way to ensure that my child was supported in a way that even approached being effective, I had to challenge school staff.
I had to document every conversation and remind people of their commitments. I had to send detailed emails of what had been agreed, put in place and then withdrawn. I had to openly disagree with teachers and senior management in meetings, in front of their colleagues and I had to find evidence from research and reports to back me up and put it in front of them.
In time, learned to be confident in my knowledge of my own child and to make it clear that my views were valid and to be treated with respect.
I learned not to let the tears fall in meetings because, of everyone in that room, the parent is the one who is expected to act the most professionally and will be subjected to the greatest criticism for showing emotion or vulnerability.
Years into my journey, I can now assert that I am a valid member of the team around my child and I am able to challenge calmly, politely, logically and professionally, anyone who implies that this is not the case.
I have also learned that, if I challenge a teacher and make him or her angry, the world will not end.
In recent months, I have been in the hugely privileged position of having my child in a school with whom the positive relationship has remained in place. The ethos is dramatically different from the majority of schools. Here, the parent is always seen as the expert in their own child and the staff have integrity and a strong desire to get it right for every child.
I no longer have to drive the effective provision of support from home, predict forthcoming problems and make sure plans are in place in advance or remind people of what they have agreed to do.
I am, at last, now able to stop being one of ‘those’ parents.
A little message to those who struggle with PITA parents…….