If you feel that your child is not doing as well as they could in all or some subjects, or if you notice they have specific difficulties with reading, spelling, writing, attention, instructions or organisation, trust your instincts and investigate the reasons why. It may not be that your child has a difficulty that merits a diagnosis, but you might unlock useful information about how they learn and what works for them, so that they can achieve as much as they can and enjoy their time at school.
Here are 10 steps to best to support your child’s educational needs:
1. Speak to your child and their school
The first step is to speak to your child about what they are struggling with and then keep this dialogue going in a non-judgmental way. Try to make it clear that just because certain areas of schoolwork may be harder for them than for others, this does not stop them from being extremely capable.
Neurodiverse learners often hear many more negative than positive messages, so encouraging and modelling positive self-talk is really helpful. Your child may need to be very resilient to keep working at skills they find difficult, even with the right support and interventions.
With an idea of where you and your child see their difficulties, speak to their
teachers and, ideally, the school’s SENDCo (special educational needs and
disabilities coordinator) or learning-support team. Discuss your concerns and find
out what the school is doing or can do to help.
2. Dig deeper
Hopefully, step 1 is all you’ll need to see your child make good progress. But if
you find that their difficulties have not been addressed with effective strategies,
or that they are still struggling despite evidence-based interventions from the
teaching team, then it’s time to dig deeper.
3. Find out what is going on
An assessment by an educational psychologist or an SEND professional can help
to understand how your child learns and whether they have a specific profile or
areas of difficulty with learning. Your child’s school may suggest an educational
psychologist they have worked with, but if not, seek suggestions from trusted
sources such as other parents or education professionals in your local area.
Neurodiverse conditions such as ADHD are diagnosed by a psychiatrist, but an
educational psychologist would determine whether a referral might be necessary.
Speech and language therapists would probably be recommended for those with
communication difficulties, and an occupational therapist would review difficulties
with fine or gross motor skills.
As part of the diagnosis, you may need to rule out physical conditions - hearing
issues for communication challenges, for instance, or vision problems that can
lead to dyslexia-like difficulties. However, an educational psychologist can advise
4. Understand what a diagnosis means in practice
If your child has been identified as neurodiverse or as having a specific learning
difficulty, this helps to understand their needs and obtain future support. It can be
worrying for parents, who may feel anxious about what lies ahead for their child,
but this is normal.
Diagnosis is just the start of the journey. Everyone is unique, and while there
tend to be common difficulties experienced by learners – such as with dyslexia,
for example – what they experience and which interventions will be right for them
will be different. So you need to work with the school to identify how best to
support your child, and to keep observing what is and isn’t working.
5. Understand what kind of support your child needs
A good educational-psychology or other professional report should include
suggestions for interventions and support that are appropriate for your child
based upon their individual profile – two individual sessions of numeracy and/or
literacy work per week, perhaps, or specific teaching styles.
If the report does not include such suggestions, email the educational
psychologist for their recommendations and share them with the school’s
6. Get the support your child needs
Based on the recommendations in the professional reports, start a dialogue with
the school about what can be delivered – and how. For example, will additional
one-to-one support be offered during school hours and, if so, how will this affect
learning for the lessons they miss? Some schools provide these additional
sessions outside of timetabled class-based learning so that children do not miss
out on lessons.
You may find that not all of the support needed can be provided during school
hours. Ideally, external support should be coordinated with the school team, but
this is not always possible.
7. What SEND support can parents expect from independent mainstream
Some schools are unable to offer one-to-one specialist support, but those with
greater levels of learning support may be able to provide one-to one specialist
numeracy and literacy tuition once or twice a week. Handwriting and small-group
support may also be possible. Some schools (typically boarding schools) can
administer medication for conditions such as ADHD, but often day schools are
not able to do this, so extended-release medication may be needed.
In class, we would expect children with communication, attention or
auditory/visual difficulties to be situated near the teacher. Laptops can reduce the
burden of writing (but mean that typing skills are needed and maybe a smaller
laptop for younger children, with a suitably sized keyboard), and copying from
boards should be reduced or eliminated to allow more time for thinking and
processing. Homework sheets should be given out rather than relying on pupils
to write down what is needed.
8. Who pays?
Generally, independent schools will expect parents to pay for private reports and
are likely to charge for additional one-to-one support with specialist numeracy
and literacy tutors. Group sessions are sometimes included in fees or will be
additional charges, depending upon the school’s policy.
9. What happens with exams?
If your child has an identified learning difficulty, we recommend seeking specific
arrangements for all exams, including entry tests. These can include using a
laptop, extra time and also scribes and readers. When applying to schools, ask
them about their entrance-exam support, which may differ from the support
offered in public examinations.
You may need an updated educational-psychology report to specify what support
your child needs – your school should be able to guide you regarding the timing
for this. As waiting lists can be very long (more than six months) for the most
highly regarded private educational psychologists, it’s worth planning ahead.
10. How to get more help
If you are worried about your child’s progress and not sure that you are doing
everything right, please know that you are not alone. Navigating the special needs system is difficult, with a lot of new information to absorb. The impact on
parents can be significant, as it is hard to see your child struggle and even harder
if you do not know whether they are receiving all the support they need.
We recommend that parents seek as much support as possible for themselves
as well as for their child. Our advisory service can help with both.