Nothing breaks my heart more than knowing that I haven’t achieved my potential in life. And that doesn’t mean that I didn’t get good grades. I got good grades at school. But in employment and in the way that I organise my home life I haven’t realised my potential.
I now understand that the reason for my lack of achievement is because I have had, up until now, an (albeit rare) undiagnosed special educational need or disability (SEND). My frontal lobe epilepsy has impacted on my cognition so that planning, processing and remembering things are difficult for me. Before I was diagnosed life seemed difficult, but I wasn’t sure why. But the truth is that I know that I am not alone in thinking that life seems difficult, but not understanding why. I now know that there are tens of thousands of people out there who were not diagnosed with a SEND at school or who had inadequate SEND provision and who are living with the knowledge that they think they can achieve more, but somehow they can’t.
In contradiction to public perception some people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dyspraxia, Asperger’s Syndrome Disorder (ASD) can sit in a classroom all their school life, and if their parent’s or teacher’s don’t understand that something is amiss, still do OK at school but at the back of their mind realise that they are different from all the other kids. They sense that they are not learning in the same way as other kids – in every lesson and every day they feel substantially different. Even if they have been diagnosed, sometimes support is so poor that if their parents don’t push and push some more and push again they won’t get the help they need. And because people with these conditions aren’t treated their self-esteem can perish. Perish. It can literally fall apart. Like mine did. And in the end they go to the psychiatrist’s office or a prison cell – around 30% of people in prison have dyslexia and 20% have ADHD.
And even if children are getting some treatment at school, the stress that the system can put their parents under whilst they try to get that treatment can be enormous and can lead some families towards breaking point.
So here’s my idea – let’s spend £1billion on SEND and this will create a multi-billion saving for the future. It will go a long way to helping hundreds of thousands of people achieve their full potential. How will this money be spent? I think it should be spent in two ways – firstly we should look to a future where we don’t wait until something goes wrong – where all children have a neuropsychological/ cognitive assessment (or even some sort of brain scan), just like they currently have hearing and sight tests. Once children have been correctly diagnosed then the right treatment can be found – if there isn’t any diagnosis there can’t be any treatment. The tests are probably a long way off now but we should at least have this as a goal in mind and fund appropriate research to make it happen.
For those kids that have a diagnosis my second proposal is that every locality should have a SEND school where local children who are attending regular schools could be given extra specialist provision for one or two days a week. It would mean that these children can meet other kids who are a bit like them – they will know that they are not alone in thinking the way they do – and they will also get the specialist support that their own school cannot provide. There are already private schools that provide these services but there need to be publicly funded ones if real change is going to be made. I would have thought that provision should start when a child is seven or eight and should continue throughout school, as per the child’s needs – but there is no need to be rigid about this.
And how is this going to make a multibillion pound saving for the future? In the long run it could reduce prison numbers; reduce referrals to mental health services; it could increase the incomes of SEND parents because their stress levels would reduce and finally as these children become adults it could increase their earning potential and indeed their potential in life. I am not an economist but that sounds like multibillion pounds cost savings to me.
- For those that don’t know the British people are having an election on June 8th. The Conservative manifesto does not mention SEND – seemingly no improvements in this area are needed ; both the Liberal Democrats and Labour party mention it but both strategies are a bit vague and they don’t mention any extra funding. I realise that the £1billion that I mentioned looks like I worked it out from the back of a fag packet, but nevertheless, it would have been nice if one of the parties had at least put some numbers down a page which expressed their intent towards SEND.
In other news
Next Wednesday, and for those outside Israel, Thursday as well, the Jewish people celebrate the festival of Shavuot – a festival where we rejoice in remembering receiving the Torah from Mount Sinai. I was reading my six year old son a story (with thanks to PJ library) about a girl who was taking part in all sorts of exciting Shavuot activities at school in the week proceeding the festival – the children were going to climb a ‘mountain’ with the staff they had made, and then eat the lunch that they had prepared. But the girl was getting very worried ‘I don’t think I’ll be able to climb a huge mountain,’ she said. But her teacher said she should not worry because the mountain that they were going to climb, just like Sinai, was not a very big one because Hashem wanted to make Sinai, and therefore the Torah, accessible to everyone. The little girl seemed comforted by that. Except, for me at any rate, sometimes the challenges in life, seem insurmountable and the mountain, however small, seems too high.
 Since writing this blog I have discovered that upon entry many secondary schools make all their students take at Cognitive Assessment Test – which is used to assess their learning style and can be used to stream them in certain subjects. I think that much more emphasis should be made on this tool being a pre-screening test for neurological conditions. At the moment it can pick up on these things, but I don’t think it’s their primary purpose (and get rid of those SAT tests, which secondary schools don’t pay any attention to anyway)! Even better, give children these tests when they are 7 or 8, so that their self-esteem won’t be so irrevocably harmed by lack of understanding of their needs at such an early age.