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A specialist school with a boarding provision can change the lives of children with complex speech, language and communication needs. Helen Branson recounts her experience as a parent of Liam, 13, a current resident of Dawn House School.
At mainstream primary school, Liam was often segregated from the rest of the class. Not due to behaviour, but due to his communication issues and not being able to vocalise his feelings and thoughts. Liam would withdraw and therefore wouldn’t engage. Liam was happy in his small group, however, being segregated wasn’t preparing him for life and it was very apparent that he would struggle in mainstream senior school.
Having received the hint of an Educational Health Care Plan (EHCP) being accepted by our Local Authority (LA) when Liam was 10, I was thrust into the unknown world of searching for a specialist school for him. I was advised by the LA to not bother with Dawn House as there would be ‘no way Liam would be approved to attend’.
I visited all the other schools in the area and there was something that didn’t quite ‘fit’ at each of them. At the time I had requested the support from a solicitor to ensure the EHCP was sufficient for his needs. So many things were missed off, the quality of reports from involved professionals were substandard and didn’t sound like Liam at all, they certainly wouldn’t have met his needs! My solicitor encouraged me to try Dawn House so I booked a visit.
The reports I received described Liam in such an accurate way that I finally felt someone could see what I could see! Both the challenges and the talents were picked up in 2 short days."
Immediately, when walking round, I could see Liam there. There was a settled feeling in my stomach that finally made me relax, however, I still had in the back of my mind that ‘Liam would not be approved to attend’. My solicitor had other ideas and on her suggestion, I booked Liam in for a two day assessment with the admissions team which included Occupational Therapy and Speech and Language Therapy.
The reports I received described Liam in such an accurate way that I finally felt someone could see what I could see! Both the challenges and the talents were picked up in 2 short days. I knew for sure then, that Dawn House was the place for Liam.
Being able to communicate his feelings and thoughts saw Liam’s confidence boom"
In year six, after a small battle with the LA, Liam made the move to Dawn House. They worked really closely with Liam and me to understand what I knew and how I could help Liam to understand and communicate. They were able to support in providing prompt cards for Liam to ask for help and feelings cards so that Liam could identify how he was feeling. He enjoyed showing me his Sensory Diet which has become important for his self-regulation of feelings.
Being able to communicate his feelings and thoughts saw Liam’s confidence boom, and the instances of him withdrawing reduced greatly. He felt so confident that Liam asked to go away to PGL summer camp for a week alone to complete a cook’s academy (it’s a passion of Liam’s to cook).
Fast forward 2 years and I asked Residential for help as Liam hadn’t stayed away from home without someone who knew him very well being with him. Residential was the perfect place as Liam didn’t know the staff or students who resided there, however, they would be familiar to him from being around school, it also meant that Liam needed to fit in with their routine, whereas we had a habit of fitting around Liam (without realising it). Prior to his PGL visit Liam stayed for 2 nights. The staff there watched him closely and was able to advise me of the prompts or support Liam may need in a setting where he doesn’t know the staff or children and where he’d be most likely to withdraw. Together with Liam’s school OT, we created a lanyard for Liam to wear whilst away to help him communicate. Worried, I stayed a mile away during his break just in case he needed support to self-regulate. From Saturday to Tuesday I didn’t hear a thing and I was concerned that he’d be lost in the crowd.
He wasn’t just coping; he was thriving"
I succumbed and made a ‘mum call’ on the Tuesday. Liam came to the phone and said he was “feeling amazingly super green, I’ve got to go,my dinner is ready”, and he was gone!
The colour green is the way Dawn House have helped Liam to explain his feelings by using ‘zones of regulation’ and the fact that he was off to dinner was brilliant! He didn’t need me checking in, he had better things to be doing! He wasn’t just coping; he was thriving, thanks to the help of the Residential team and OT at Dawn House. He loved it so much that he’s going again to PGL this year in the Summer Holidays!
I can see that Dawn House is the right team to support Liam in achieving his goal"
Liam is now 13 and has become an occasional resident and has asked us on a few occasions if we can move further from school so that he can reside Monday – Friday. He loves it there, and living in Nottingham we are too close for him to qualify! Liam loves engaging with his friends there, playing pool, going on trips to see the Ice Hockey and football these are things that would have been previously overwhelming and would have sparked a meltdown.
Since starting at Dawn House Liam has identified that he would like to go to university and become a chef and I can see that Dawn House is the right team to support Liam in achieving his goal. Liam already volunteers in a coffee shop during the school holidays, engaging with complete strangers, this, I am sure, would not have happened without the support and empowerment of the team at Dawn House.
If I were asked for advice from a family wondering if Dawn House can provide their child with the specialist focus they need, I'd tell them to book in for an assessment. The admissions team are brilliant and very thorough. If your LA say ‘don’t try Dawn House you won’t be accepted’ – TRY Dawn House! And if you are lost in the world of paperwork and Local Authority Jargon in your child’s EHCP, seek support and guidance from IPSEA (ipsea.org.uk) or a solicitor specialising in education.
Words by Helen Branson, parent of Liam, 13, a current resident of Dawn House School.
Do you know a child who would benefit from being in an educational setting that can offer full-time support, potentially extending beyond the school day?
Share this story with parents during conversations about their child possibly requiring a specialist school offering a residential provision.
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