So, it is soon school trip season.
It is a few years since I was introduced to ‘groups’ in social media and one thing I have noticed each year is a pattern whereby small children who were looking forward to their school trip are removed at the last minute. The accounts that distraught parents write are earily similar and go something like this:
Their child, who struggles every day as it is, seems to have been intentionally triggered, a meltdown was the result, closely followed by the predictable letter “Joe will not be allowed on the trip because of his behaviour/because he won’t be safe” (take your pick). It seems, with hindsight, there was never any real intention to make the necessary arrangements for Joe to be able to safely access and enjoy the trip in the first place.
Oh, and ‘their’ TA will be on the trip so their parents will be expected to keep them off for the day.
I see this pan out on social media every year and I wonder if it can be better prevented.
To start with, the summer term is very, very, stressful for neurodiverse children. There are TED days and bank holidays that mess up the week right from the start, putting children who need ROUTINE* to manage in an unsettled place.
There is constant talk of ‘transition’ to a new class. This is terrifying and adds a track of background worry that can pervade all waking hours for children that need CERTAINTY* to cope with the social and emotional demands of school.
Then there are ‘non-uniform days’. To be dreaded by many who need things TO STAY THE SAME*. Even worse are the non-uniform days with a theme. I challenge any human to witness the distress these days can cause to small children and then sleep well after they witness the hours of sobbing and eventual restless sleep of a small child over something that should be a simple bit of fun, a treat even.
Next, there is ‘sports day’ – to make it worse, sports days then get changed because of the weather and so it goes on.
All children (and adults) are tired at the end of a school year. This last half term is especially difficult for neurodiverse children to manage.
*Please understand that their needs, as marked with an asterisk, are not personal preferences, they are absolute needs. Without them a world that is difficult to survive in, never mind thrive in, becomes utterly impossible. Feelings of intolerable and relentless stress evolve. Being pressured against their ability to manage this level of stress has led Peter and other children to endure serious and life-changing mental health illness. With thought, much of this can be prevented, but make no mistake, expecting children endure these (often hidden) stresses day after day, week after week DOES cause harm.
So, in the last few weeks of term, with all of this to navigate, it doesn’t take much to tip them over the edge, to trigger a behaviour that can be used as a reason to illegally exclude them from a school trip.
So what can be done?
Well, hopefully, there will be ideas posted and shared below, but, assuming the child wants to go on the trip, then I suggest that everyone is proactive from the start. For parents who are at a school with dubious inclusive practices, I suggest you ask who the responsible adult will be, what risk assessments are being carried out and when. Check in every week until you get answers. Be clear you are expecting the necessary arrangements to be made for him to go – avoid the last minute school panic that seems to preceded the – trigger – meltdown – you can’t go on the trip – cycle.
Take a look at the summer term events that our children have to navigate (see above) and ask for some robust support at school so your child can successfully navigate this term. Comprehensive up-to-date timetables, someone to talk them through the more tricky days and someone that your child checks in with every morning and/or evening. Be clear that with all the extra challenges likely to come their way, extra thought and preparation is required.
Finally, again for parents whose children may be in a ‘less than inclusive’ school, my message is to be proactive about this. Ask for extra consideration and planning up front. Keep a log of any incidents including details of the 1)triggers 2)effect and 3)consequences. More information on this can be found if you google ‘NAS ABC chart’.
Here’s to ensuring a happy end of summer for all our children, and fewer posts from parents describing what seem earily like deliberate acts from adults to ruin the opportunities for children to attend school trips.
A final note to all of those school and staff within them that go the extra mile to ensure EVERYONE is included in ways they wish to be, in all of school life. You matter. A lot.