Update about how Poppy is settling at school following an Autism Profile from Aspiedent

A young girl raises her hand at school to answer a question.
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Poppy’s autism profile was done in the summer before she started high school. This is a follow on from the blog post about the initial impact.

Progress at school

Poppy is now in Year 9 of mainstream High School. Although she will say she doesn’t like school if you asked her, she is doing well on her reports academically. Poppy is going to school everyday, and it’s mostly working for her. Poppy still struggles in her lessons because of her dyslexia which impacts her reading and writing skills, but she is making progress due to her 1-2-1 lessons. Her processing issues still cause problems and no doubt always will. However, we are aware of this due to the assessment with Aspiedent and are able to get the right support in place to help Poppy manage this. The use of diagrams and assisted technology help Poppy to process information. Regular meetings at the start and the end of the week with a known teacher to check her understanding mean that Poppy can share her worries without having to ask (although this still needs more work). What Poppy finds most difficult is coping with change or teachers occasionally forgetting to adhere to her support plan.

The EHCP (Educational Health Care Plan) has been vital for Poppy to have all the right interventions in place, I have regular meetings at school where the teachers tell me this is a girl who doesn’t need interventions and they tell me that they want to take them away. But I have to remind them that this is a girl with all the right interventions in place and she is thriving because they are working. Take them away and she will no longer be able to cope in a mainstream school. The example I use is that if a blind person learns to navigate the outside world with the aid of a guide dog or a white stick you wouldn’t take that away from them. So just because Poppy is showing signs of coping and developing, it doesn’t mean that the plan needs to be removed: on the contrary, it means the plan is working.

Poppy is able to navigate the school building well and knows where all her classrooms are. Her teachers all report that she is a very lovely girl whom they are very proud of. She has started to put her hand up and answer questions in class which is a big achievement for her to be engaging in lessons. She spends break and lunch times in the Nurture Room because she doesn’t like crowds and the strong smell of foods. Isolating herself likely prevents Poppy from widening her friendship group, however she is happy in this quieter room and the Nurture staff are really supportive.

Poppy has made a couple of friends at school, she likes to keep school relationships and home life very separate and still finds socialising very difficult, but it’s been a huge step making friends and makes going to school much easier. Last school year has seen her go up a level in PE and Mathematics and this has really boosted her self-esteem. We still have challenges: timetable changes or change of teachers can set Poppy back until she settles in to a new routine. Poppy is also easily distracted by disruptive classmates or noise which impacts her learning. But we understand Poppy more and Poppy understands herself and how to self regulate if she hasn’t gone past melting point and this is making a big difference!

Making lists each day so Poppy understands what tasks she needs to complete has made a big difference, so she doesn’t become overwhelmed with multiple instructions. Poppy now knows what she needs to do when she gets up and can organise herself better without daily meltdowns before school. If we do forget to print a list, her routine goes wrong and she is not able to do all the things she needs to. We have interventions at home as well as at school and we must stick to them to make sure she has structure. Things will inevitably change which she always finds difficult, but as long as we explain things to her clearly and slowly in a way she understands she does manage even if sometimes she can be very upset with change.

Diagnosis

We fought so hard to get a diagnosis for Poppy, there were so many signs that she was struggling at school and at home but school did not see everything that we did, I had to be Poppy’s voice because she didn’t have one and we constantly faced barriers to obtaining support. The system took us round in circles through tick box exercises of family support and emotional support for Poppy which she couldn’t engage in because she doesn’t like to share her emotions. Eventually I took on a self referral, documenting all of Poppy’s issues and requesting a CAHMs assessment for Autism. This was a hard task for me although I’m used to completing forms in my day to day job. We had to wait nearly 2 years for an assessment and then Poppy was diagnosed with Autism and highly likely ADHD. But we were informed we would have to go through the whole process again to get the ADHD diagnosis. We have currently been waiting two years for the ADHD assessment and I understand the waiting lists are increasing.

In May 2021 we finally we had a diagnosis of Autism, but what did that mean? School started listening to us and did try to put additional support in place, they sought assessments from Educational Psychologists and Speech and Language Therapists to create a plan for Poppy, but these didn’t really help her. The CAHMs assessment teams referred us to websites and suggested books we should read to understand more about Autism, but we found these very generic. They didn’t really provide any specific advice. Poppy did feel better about the diagnosis, it was like she could put her struggles down to something and a weight had been lifted from her, but her struggles did not improve, her mental health was impacted and we didn’t know how to help her.

EHCP

The next step was to apply for an EHCP as high school was looming and I wanted to make sure that Poppy had all the right interventions in place as she wanted to go to the same mainstream school as her sister. This was also a very difficult process: what should have taken 20 weeks took 9 months because I had to appeal in court. The decision was overturned in the first 5 minutes of court and Poppy was given her EHCP. What I had learned throughout the months and years that had passed and through meeting Dr Guest from Aspiedent was that Autism can be so different for everyone. The EHCP would have been pointless if we didn’t understand Poppy’s Autism properly. A diagnosis is irrelevant if you don’t get to the root of the particular issues.

Following the Aspiedent profile for Poppy, it was like a light bulb moment and everything started to make sense. Now we understood more about Poppy’s Autism: for example her processing issues. We knew exactly what support she needed and could make sure we had all of these put into her personal EHCP plan. I had to make many amendments to the generic draft EHCP report that was issued initially, but I had the information I needed to ensure it was personalised to support her properly. This is why Poppy is thriving at school: her plan is an individual plan that caters for her specific needs and her positive reports are testament to the fact that its working.

We know that Poppy would find school easier if she was in a more relaxed environment, with smaller class sizes and with teachers that are more experienced and focused on providing individual support. For this reason we are looking at an alternative provision for year 10 where she can have additional support to prepare for her GCSE’s and to successfully study her desired vocation. As Poppy is now able to recognise her strengths and weaknesses better, she is able to talk to us about her preferences for her future education and career. We are proud of the way Poppy has begun to accept her differences and navigate her life the way that suits her. This has been testament to understanding ‘why’ Poppy was struggling and what support she needed at home and school.


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