The definition of a `squeaky wheel getting the grease` - the person who complains or protests the loudest attracts attention. I am, by nature, a non-complainer.  I`ll even tip in a restaurant if the service isn’t great. 

This is not the case when it comes to trying to get the support my son needs in an education system that does not fully understand how early childhood trauma plays out in the classroom. Our experience has been lengthy risk assessments, a behaviour unit, wrongly matched teaching assistants, exhausted teachers with no or limited attachment awareness - all before the age of 8. More recently, multiple suspensions from secondary school.  Throw into the mix a diagnosis of ADHD and FASD and I had a child who was in fight or flight mode as soon as the first school bell went in the morning.  He would then fall through the front door of home exhausted after trying to regulate himself throughout the school day. A day without a phone call about another incident or suspension was a really good day.

So how did we get to where we are now, when a call from school is a rarity? By being a squeaky wheel. When your child is struggling at school, you have to start to make a noise.

I have had to speak up for reviews of outdated statements and educational psychologist’s reports, for effective daily communication between school and home, for celebrations of the milestones. Sometimes the milestone is just getting through a tough week intact.

Here are my top 6 tips for trying to access the best support in school for your child:

  1. If your child is being failed, speak up.  Initially to the SENCO and Principal and if no joy then the Education Authority and failing this, organisations that will provide advice and support. My son would not have secured the specialised placement he needed in primary school (albeit nearly 40 miles from home) without a mighty squeak of the wheel.
  2. I have learnt that you get more success in meeting the fatigue and frustration of teaching staff with some empathy. That’s not always easy but it’s definitely beneficial, and it’s easier to do when your child’s mental health and happiness is at stake. 
  3. Try and get at least one person in your child’s school to be their advocate. When a teacher, principal or assistant see past the behaviours to what is really going on, they will have your child’s back.
  4. Try to educate everyone and anyone involved in your child’s school about early childhood trauma and the impact this has on your child.  I have requested that every person who encounters my child during his school day knows enough to approach/teach him with empathy and curiosity. One raised voice can be enough to undo months of hard work.
  5. Make sure there is good communication between school and home and escalate to the Principal if you are not getting this. A daily diary of each lesson and how it goes has been a godsend for us.
  6. Self-care – I can’t emphasise enough that you need to look after yourself.  I poured from an empty cup for years, thinking self-care was selfish. It is not! Whether it is a soak in the bath, a walk or Netflix, take time for yourself. It is an absolute necessity. 

You are the best advocate for your child when they are not being heard.  Keep squeaking, and with a small dose of self-care thrown in, this will help you to keep greasing the wheel and come out the other side with better support. Good luck!

Written by Belfastmum