A year ago, the phrase ‘reasonable adjustment’ meant very little to me. Now though, it is a crucial aspect of life with an autistic son, for all sorts of reasons.
I think I first saw it in the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice. There it is in black and white, as part of the fundamental principle that, ‘children with SEN should be offered full access to a broad, balanced and relevant education’. It’s a simple but important aim: all children deserve the same access to education, and in some cases adjustments have to be made to ensure this is the case.
The catalyst for thinking about all this was our six month review with the school. A couple of weeks ago I took a rather negative view of my son’s progress following parent’s evening. In retrospect, I think I let my judgement be clouded by my emotions. I don’t regret what I wrote- it came from the heart and was my honest response to the situation. Nonetheless, I let my feelings get in the way of being able to see things for what they were. Instead of celebrating B’s success, I let the things he can’t do cloud my judgement. It was my ‘not waving but drowning’ moment. I let autism beat me.
Thankfully, that did not happen with his six month review meeting at school. Perhaps the shorter parent’s evening appointment the week before was a useful and important step towards getting past negative feelings. Having adjusted to the right mind-set, we were able to celebrate B’s progress. He’s doing well, and I have to say that the school is doing a good job in supporting my son. We did, though, have a couple of awkward requests- requests that challenged the school’s SEN policy of ‘reasonable adjustment’.
The first was that B be allowed to drink not water, but squash or juice in class. The school has a strict policy over this and has clearly had no end of problems over it with parents. As a result they have a rather hard-line, zero tolerance policy. I support this policy. I applaud their encouragement of a healthy lifestyle and, under normal circumstances, would insist my child adhere to it. B, however, will not drink water. That’s ‘will not’ as in an autistic, steadfast, unwavering refusal. Autism parents will know what I mean when I say this. As a result, B is going thirsty throughout the day. Not only that, but it is not helping his progress with toilet training. The school nurse says that having a full bladder will help him learn to control his need to go. He needs to be drinking lots in class.
Awkward glances were shared around the room when we suggested an exception to the water rule be made for B. ‘The problem is’, said the SENCO, ‘that parents will complain’. At this point my wife, demonstrating superhuman restraint, simply said, ‘send them to talk to me if they have a problem. Let them walk a mile in my shoes and see what it is like’. I urged the school to take note of their policy of reasonable adjustment and to make this concession as part of my son’s additional needs. To me it is completely straightforward my son needs juice, so let him have bloody juice. The school said they would take the matter to the head teacher for consideration.
Our second request was slightly more contentious. We raised the issue of B attending breakfast club. This is a paid for early morning service for, presumably, parents who have to drop their kids off before the school bell rings. Our eldest son attended before my wife changed her hours of work. She changed them because the idea of B being sent to breakfast club did not seem to be an option. B’s hours of support run from the moment school starts until the moment school ends. That includes break times and lunchtimes- something we were very keen to stress in the statementing process. B’s needs are not just educational, and as a result he really does need supervision at all times. His funding does not cover wrap around, out of hours support. Breakfast club was not an option for this reason.
Now though, our circumstances have changed. B’s mum could be forced to change her hours of work (or face losing her job) and we may be forced to consider breakfast club in the absence of any other options. We don’t want him to go any more than we did before, but we may have no choice. It would make his day longer, which is far from ideal, but that is the situation we face.
Cue more awkward glances around the table. I can understand the school’s reluctance. Providing for B during school hours is one thing- it’s paid for- but this is a different matter. Without doubt, one to one supervision would be required, and that would cost money. Without supervision B would flounder and possibly even be unsafe. He’d certainly be a handful, unable to cope with the unstructured play that characterises breakfast club.
But can they refuse? To be honest, I have no idea where we stand with this. I know the school want to help and will go the extra mile to do so, but is this further than an extra mile? Does this go beyond reasonable adjustment? Or are they duty bound to honour their policy of inclusion, even though, strictly speaking, this is out of school hours?
It will be interesting to see what they say. I hope that, on both counts, they are able to accommodate B’s needs. Juicegate (‘Watergate’ was taken) is a battle I think it will be hard for them to defend, but the breakfast club issue… I’m just not sure. What do readers out there think? Am I asking too much? Am I asking for unreasonable adjustment?
More on this matter next week.