Deciding where to place your child can be really tough, but it is most definitely a personal choice. You would need to weigh up options and how your child would to react to each environmental factor etc.
In both settings, you would need to think about the layout of the school and things that most parents would not expect to look at. For example, when we viewed schools for Grace, we knew that she had no danger awareness, so when we went to SEN schools, we noticed that radiators were placed up high to avoid burns – little things like this meant a lot to us. Other sensory triggers could include lights being too bright around the school, classrooms and halls being too loud and overwhelming and even the class size being too overwhelming to cope with.
You would also need to weigh up how your child would cope if they were to have no support during unstructured times in a mainstream school – such as playtime and at lunch. For us, we know that Grace needs constant supervision otherwise it could result in no lunch being eaten and her walking aimlessly around a class, or she could become destructive if left to her own devices.
Transport to and from school is also a factor you would need to consider – if you send your child to a SEN school, they can be few and far between, so you would need to consider if they are eligible for transport from the county or whether you would be getting them there yourself.
A huge factor that would need to be considered is staff knowledge and experience of children with SEN. Depending on your child’s needs, they may be able to be supported by a mainstream setting. For children with greater and more complex needs, they may need a setting where there are more staff to children ratios and more understanding of different conditions and understanding of how they can affect a child’s behaviour and needs. You could even go further and question what resources would be available to your child at a mainstream setting, as opposed to what they could offer at a SEN setting. For example, at SEN settings, your child may have the option to use sensory rooms, an in house pool and different strategies to help them regulate and grow. At a SEN school, your child could also have better access to a broader range of a multi disciplinary team – such as an Occupational Therapist, Speech Therapist, Educational Psychologist and many more – you would need to weigh up whether you think they would need this constant support, or whether it could be managed within the community by an outpatient team. This also includes any health care needs – for example if your child is tube fed.
Another huge consideration, especially for parents of children who are on the spectrum are whether the school are able to support any routines and special interests your child may have. In mainstream settings, it is understandably quite rigid in what the children learn in the class, whereas in a SEN school there is more freedom to teach a child in a way that interests them – for example Grace’s teacher knows that Grace likes Paw Patrol, so she incorporates that into Grace’s personalised learning plan.
This next factor was something that I particularly interested in and did my research on – opportunities. I looked into whether Grace would be restricted in a mainstream school due to staff having a lack of time, knowledge and understanding, and looked to see what she could be offered in a SEN school. For example, I know her current school teach the older students about money handling, going to the shops and independent living. They are currently teaching Grace to swim and she will soon learn how to kayak and even go horse riding – something I know that she would not receive in a mainstream setting as she would need extra support for transitions etc.
Something I also took VERY seriously was how would Grace get on with her peers? We were very aware of the fact that Grace was very different to other children her age, and had a developmental delay - In pre-school, she really struggled to be around other children, and it took her around a year to tolerate another child just standing next to her, so a group of 30 children was worrying us to say the least! Not just that, she was non verbal – would children in a mainstream setting accept her? Would she have friends? Would she feel lonely? It was questions we didn’t want to know the answers to, as any parent would hate the thought of their child being sad or having no friends.
In the end, we sat and wrote an entire list of pros and cons, and then we realised, that as much as we wanted her to go to a SEN school, it actually wasn’t up to us – we had to apply for a place and hope that the county saw her EHCP and reports and agreed that the best place for her was a SEN school – luckily they did.