How vital is it to diagnose and label our special children?

I am appalled this week to learn that our special children in Trafford, Cheshire and Liverpool are being discriminated against.

The Deans Trust which runs schools in the area has informed parents of children with special needs who are due to start at Ashton-on-Mersey school in September that, because of “limited resources”, their children will attend lessons at the undersubscribed Broadoak school in Partington, six miles away.

And guess what – the former school is deemed as ‘outstanding’. So of course they don’t want our children there who might cause their precious results to suffer.

Thankfully now it has reached the public’s attention, this situation may resolve and there may be a better outcome. Watch this space…..

But what about all our other children who get a raw deal in the school system?

Children who are on report for bad behaviour – yet clearly have an undiagnosed learning difficulty. Children who are failing in the classroom due to the lack of teacher training in special needs. The Government announced this week that learning about autism  will form a core part of teacher training in the future. Teachers will be taught how to support children with autism for the first time following months of campaigning from charities, parents and MPs. Campaigners have said that with more than one in 100 children on the autism spectrum and over 70 per cent of them going to mainstream schools every teacher will have autistic students in their classes at some point.

So if we want the needs of our special children to be met, do we need better  and more thorough diagnosis and consequently do we need ‘labelling’?

In principle, of course we do.

Without knowing a child is dyslexic how on earth can a teacher support them. It gives a teacher a useful check list:  coloured overlay – check; large dyslexie font – check; Barrington Stoke reading book – check; recording equipment – check.

Yet maybe, just maybe, the diagnosis becomes the child.

Let me explain. Recently I attended a meeting run by two extremely driven, bold ladies who have spent the last three years establishing a special needs faith school. Ali Durban and Sarah Sultman have set up Gesher School to support children in a unique environment. The emphasis is on seeing the child not the diagnosis. Therapies will be administered seamlessly throughout the day. The cohort will be selected based on how the children respond to one another – rather than just fulfilling criteria selected by a Local Authority. A ‘rolls royce’ approach to education – without the discrimination. Fabulous.

I also was speaking to my friend Jane recently about her recent diagnosis of bi-polar. Again I felt that she was becoming the illness as she was sharing on Facebook far too much about how she was feeling and at what stage of her cycle she was currently in. I felt (and told her) that she was losing sight of who she is. She is Jane with a condition. She is not the condition.

So are we doing our special children a dis-service by labelling them?

In conclusion, I’d say no.

We need labels to help us plan, change our behaviour towards our children, adapt our environment and to help and support them.

But we just mustn’t let the diagnosis become the child. 

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