Though a tad bit misleading considering Dylan isn’t getting an education at all, the only access our boy has to his legal rights of education is the one I am providing him as his unqualified home tutor. Now I know you don’t have to have any qualifications to be a home tutor as a parent; my issue with it is that I don’t want to do it. I have no interest in being any kind of home tutor to my children; I am awe of many of my friends who indeed home educate their children. I considered it at one point; one of the aspects I took onboard was how I could travel so much more with the kids and not be restricted by them needing to go to school. But this was not enough to completely sway me, Dylan needs to be in school like he deserves to be as a child of the state. Sadly getting him into one isn’t as easy as it might be for a child who doesn’t have special needs.
It would probably be easier if I explain what’s going on with a timeline format, I’ve been saving my tweets ‘Dylan’s fight for a school place’ on Twitter so that I would have all this to keep track of what is happening basically.
Summer 2018 – From the moment Ireland started to become a possibility we told Dylan’s SEN (special educational needs) school that we might be moving and there for Dylan wouldn’t be going up into the next class. Then over the next couple of weeks we researched our options on the Irish side to what his education possibilities would be, this was a stressful time for so many reasons, we had to find a house in Ireland as well as a school for the other kids and then pack up a house and move it across the sea. All very chaotic, but the biggest worry was Dylan.
As soon as I knew which area we were moving to, I contacted the SENO worker to touch base, told her we were moving to the area. She took our details, and I remember talking to her a couple more times during those times.
The move was confirmed, and we let Dylan’s school know. I didn’t want to leave that reception area on his last day, I actually stood froze to the spot with Dylan in my arms, Oh how I didn’t want it to be my last time walking out those doors, I was so emotional at the idea and I felt like I was leaving a piece of my heart behind. He has been there since the age of 2, when we attended a weekly stay & play group which then led to his nursery place which then went on to him going into reception (English equivalent of Junior Infants for any Irish people reading this) and then year 1 (senior infants) and year 2 (first class). We got his official diagnosis half way through reception, but we already knew that he had Autism, it was just a piece of paper confirming it. The teachers and learning support had known him all this time, they felt like family, and I know they shared in our sadness that Dylan was leaving their amazing school.
End of Summer 2018 – We moved to Limerick with Oli & Charlotte due to start at the school in our village at the same time as all the other kids, the local SEN school had no places, even it’s waiting list was closed, and the sad thing is it’s just several minutes away from our house, in the next village.
September through to December 2018 – I make various enquires to schools in Limerick which have ASD units attached to them to try and find Dylan a place. During this time we register with our local GP who meets Dylan and gets to know him over an hour’s appointment, we thought this guy was brilliant and was glad to have him in our corner. He took all the paperwork we have inherited since those first appointments we had all those years ago so that he could read it as well scan in what he needed as well give us all the details we needed to apply for DCA (domiciliary care allowance – Irish version of DLA, disability living allowance) for Dylan. He was referring Dylan on to the services which he would need.
In the meantime I was hoping that the SENO had our name on some list and would also be helping to find us a place, of course, I was wrong on this front. And once we finally get Dylan somewhere, I’ll be writing a letter to discuss how they need to revamp their system. The moment a SEN child enters their area they should have he/she on record and be keeping tabs on them as well helping them find a placement.
January 2018 – The day Oli & Charlotte went back to school, Dylan once again got his shoes and gave them to me. As he cried, I cried, and I made a promise to him that I would have him in school by the end of the month. Enough was enough; it was his legal rights as a child to be getting an education; I was now ready to fight to get him what he deserved.
I got back in touch with the SENO who said she would talk to a colleague and see if they know of anywhere and get back to me. In the meantime, I try phoning around all the schools again, for the seventh time I try the SEN school nearby and still the waiting list is closed. Suprise, surprise she never got back in contact with me, I chased her and was told of a school, which was one I had only phoned again that morning which had no space. This units attached to these mainstream schools are basically just a classroom which has a maximum of 6 kids, this was what I was trying to get Dylan into, of course in a dream world he would be in a SEN school because this is what he is used to, and this is what he needs as a child with complex neurodevelopmental difficulties including ASD & moderate learning difficulties.
Halfway during the month I talk to the SENO on the phone and I declare that we want home tuition for Dylan as this is his legal entitlement if there is no school place for him, after explaining the process to us how she would have to fill out a form to then send us to fill out for us to them send back for her to fill out and send off, she then declared there was a school place for him. Yeah, you can imagine my anger and frustration at hearing this, she tells us of a school out in Newcastlewest which is about 45 minutes from us. A few minutes after coming off the phone we were on our way to see this unit.
I admit to being somewhat nervous about seeing the unit, especially because of how Dylan was once lucky enough to be in a school where he moved up classrooms and how the whole school adapted was to his, and his friend’s needs. The moment we met the deputy principal and the SEN teacher, we wanted him to start there straight away, they were so lovely, and the smiles on Dylan’s face as he sat on the beanbag in the classroom and played with the sensory toys had me in tears. They offered us the school place and gave us the forms, and that was it, we had finally got Dylan a school place.
Mummy embarrassed me + my Daddy in Tesco's. She spent the whole shopping trip crying + dancing down the aisles because guess what?
I HAVE A SCHOOL PLACE! pic.twitter.com/LgFBgsNMjk
— Me, The Man & The Kids (@MeTheManAndKids) January 15, 2019
We went back the next morning with our admission forms, and together we filled out a transport form to send off the SENO for her to sort out for us so that we could get Dylan there and back to this school. Our doctor writes a letter for this application confirming how Dylan need this special setting and how he will need an escort to travel with him as he lacks the understanding and ability to travel alone. We assumed this application was all sent off.*
A couple of days later the SENO phones me to say that he might need a consultant report, basically disregarding all his UK paperwork and our Irish GPs paperwork. This was the first I was hearing of this; now the panic starts to kick in, I’ve heard how long it can take to get appointments with consultants over here.
Another couple of days later she phones again saying she would like it in writing from the psychologist mentioned in one his reports (that saw Dylan a couple of years ago for probably less than half hour in his old SEN school) that Dylan needs a special setting. I half-joked about the fact that psychologist probably isn’t there anymore. The next morning that was exactly what I found out, I called the SENO and told her this.
On a Friday at 5 pm she phones to say we’ve not got enough in her eyes to recommend Dylan for a special place. I came off that phone so upset; I couldn’t phone the deputy principal to vent to her, there was nobody I could call at this time. I spent that whole weekend incredibly upset. How could all this paperwork I have for him from the last five years not be enough, all these reports, his diagnosis and the fact that he’s spent the last few years in a SEN school, not mean anything? How could all this be disregarded? So unfair that his brother and sister could get a school place so easily yet we were struggling to get Dylan the same. If Oli & Charlotte were missing school, the authorities would be turning up on our doorstep asking why, but with Dylan, it’s the other way around. How is any of this right?
When she and I talked back at the end of summer 2018, she said Dylan’s EHCP (Education, health & care plan) from England would be enough. Why I asked why this was no longer enough and that she said it was, she replied that she thought it was. I’m sorry but her saying ‘I thought it was’ is not good enough in my eyes. She should be in the know about all of this. Isn’t it her job to making this easier for me? Isn’t she also meant to be fighting to get Dylan a school place, not fighting me on it?
January 21st we have our first ‘speech & language therapy and social worker’ appointment. The man & I both attended this; they separated us despite us both wanting to be together to listen and talk through everything. The man goes off with the social worker to talk, and she said I could make an appointment another time if I wanted to chat to her, Dylan, and I go in with the speech and language therapist. We talk through our story, she watched, and Dylan plays various things. I got the impression she hasn’t been in the job long, and she can’t have worked with many autism kids if she thinks it’s a good idea to give them a jigsaw to do which has missing pieces. I was able to grab the social worker at the end and talk. They said they would go off and discuss Dylan’s needs in a meeting; they both agreed after meeting him that he needed a special setting. Of course, he does, the kid is practically on the same level as a 6-month-old baby.
I talk to the SENO the next day who is now asking if I can get a letter from Dylan’s old paediatrician. Cue me back on the phone again to England (my poor phone bill) and guess who’s no longer in her role. I was hoping the recommendation from the ladies we met the day before might be enough as she did mention this as a possibility.
The month ends, and I have broken that promise I made to him at the start that he would be in school by the end of it.
February 2019 – I spent that first week trying to get hold of the SENO to see what is going on, in the meantime, I get a call from his potential new school saying how we might lose the place because of how many kids need it. I understand, there’s a space which is currently not being used. It hurt to hear though after how long it took us to find this space. The next day I get through to the SENO and find out that his transport application hadn’t even been sent off.
I LOST IT. This is what we were waiting for to get Dylan this place; she had made no point to us until now that this application hadn’t been sent off. She even asked me if I had heard anything about it in the weeks before during conversations. She now heard the side of me that was not standing for this anymore; her tone also changed. I think she realised I was not going to play the patient mother anymore. She wants a specific recommendation for Dylan to attend a special needs setting.
Somebody said to me yesterday ‘so he’s probably not going to be in school this side of September’ and sadly I think this is going to be the case. The SENO and department of education have failed my child so far, and he will have missed out on a whole year of education.
Just reading an article in the @Limerick_Leader about how someone has been fined because their kid has missed 60 days of school. My kid has missed almost 7 months! COME AND FINE ME! Why have I not been fined? Oh yeah because they suck at finding special needs kids school places!
— Me, The Man & The Kids (@MeTheManAndKids) February 22, 2019
February 22nd she calls to say that she’s talked to someone else and not her team leader and that the paperwork I already have is enough to recommend Dylan for a special place so now his transport application has been sent off. I think I had to come off the phone and laugh and not cry because I cried, I don’t think I would have stopped.
Come the end of the month I get a call off the social worker, sadly not with any appointments for Dylan to receive any speech & language therapy or occupational therapy but to say he’s being discharged off their services. What fantastic news, NOT! I could believe what I was hearing! Because Dylan has a school place out in Newcastlewest, he has to attend services over there, because here in Limerick (Ireland?) it goes off the area your school is in not the area you live. I asked her not to do anything yet and keep us on those services because it’s not 100% that he’s going to be attending that school. She couldn’t, despite me begging. I get a letter in the post the next day making it sound like I’m requesting this change, it’s even got blank spots like the name of the services we want to be under – I have no idea! I was just learning the name and the ins and outs of the services around this area. So now my boy is in limbo with regards to his education and the essential services he needs.
March 2019 – I’m waiting for the SENO to call, of course, she’s not going to and on Monday the 11th March 2019, the day after I hit publish on this post I’m going to call and find out what is happening and if there’s any news. Two weeks ago during that call where she says she sent off the transport application she said she would phone me in the middle of that first week after chasing, I wished I could believe that she was busy helping other kids in need like Dylan, but I’m not that optimistic about that fact. Our experience with her has been appaling, if only it were because we had moved over from England but there are fellow parents with kids who were born here going through the same battles, there are parents who are paying thousands just to have their kids diagnosed. I’ve mentioned before how much I love living here in Ireland, but the treatment of SEN kids is appaling, England was no different, it’s a postcode lottery to where you live in both countries and there’s no consistency with our kids.
Did we make a mistake to move Dylan from what we are now fighting for? We were lucky back in England to be in the position we were with him, which is a crazy thing to say – I was ‘lucky’ that my child was receiving the SEN education that he both needs and is entitled to. Here’s hoping we’re ‘lucky’ enough to have Dylan in school by the end of March, though I’m not holding my breath.