Welcome to the SEND Arena
Landing in the SEND Arena
When you land in the SEND arena, it’s usually in a crash-bang-wallop fashion, never with an elegant, well prepared entrance.
You look around, as you try to stand up and although you can see some people in the stands, you feel isolated and afraid. How did you get here? More importantly, how do you get out?
As you look around, you see gates with signs around the arena; some are clear while others appear to be written in a secret code. None say “exit” though.
You stand up and holding your child, you slowly move towards one of the signs, it says Early Support. You are not sure though if that is where you need to go, so you continue walking around the Arena.
The crowd are silent, you’re not sure why they are there. What is their role? Are they here to help, to hinder or just watch? Some of the crowd are not even looking at you, they are reading files. Some are on their phones, avoiding eye contact with you. Others are smiling sympathetically, while others appear to be frustrated at your appearance.
The people right at the back of the stands are difficult to see, almost as if their image has been projected onto the seats. They seem like washed out versions of real people.
You walk around in a daze and you realise that above each gate is a clock. Then you notice that it is not telling the time, it is a countdown clock. Do you only have a certain time to get through the gates before they are closed forever? How do you know which gate is the right one for you? How do you get through?
Although some of the signs seem to be related to services and support you may possibly need, you have no idea which of them is the one you need right now. You look around for help but no one appears. The crowd continue to ignore you.
You notice that each and every gate is actually a barrier. However, there are no clear instructions on how to get through. The instructions you can see appear to be in a language you don’t understand. While you may be fluent in Spanish, French and even Klingon, this is a whole new language but not one you remember seeing on the Rosetta Stone website. What language is it?
You move towards the two signs that appear to be in code. Is this a form of hieroglyphics? There is no explanation at all of where these gates lead to and no instructions whatsoever. Are these of any use to you? If so, how do you know what it is and how to get through?
Some of the countdown clocks at these gates don’t appear to have even started running yet. Does this mean they are no longer available or does it mean you will need them later? Is the service even available?
Have you entered the Land of Confusion?
You look at your child and you make a vow.
“I will get us out of here. There has to be a way out but this is all new to me so it may take us a while but I won’t let you down, I promise.”
Little do you realise that this will not be the last time you will make that same promise to your child.
Again, you look around the crowds for help. Some of the crowd have retreated. The people at the back are suddenly a little bit clearer to see. They are all smiling, looking towards a figure in the distance.
As this figure gets closer, you realise it is a woman walking towards you. She looks tired; as if she has been to battle. As she draws nearer, she reminds you of a Gladiator but she has someone at her side propping her up; a man who also looks exhausted.
They both give you a warm smile. You feel less afraid.
Welcome to the SEND Arena
“Welcome to the SEND Arena” they say, “we’re here to help.”
“Who are you?”
“We’re parents. Like you.”
A man in a crisp, clean suit suddenly appears. He was in the front row of the stands earlier, looking as if you had ruined his plans for an early finish.
He shouts at the parents “I wondered how long it would be before the Agitators arrived”
He looks like someone very important but the parents merely laugh.
“You say Agitator, we call it support. Or BAPs if you prefer, Bl**dy Awesome Parents”
They ignore him as they start to explain the Arena to you.
“The Arena can be a very daunting place. Don’t worry though, there are others here to guide you. Some parents and some who are, what we call, BRAs – Bl**dy Reliable Allies. They are your best source of information and advice.
Always ask someone who doesn’t have a departmental budget to worry about for honest advice.
Their only demand will be that you pay it forward; that you share any information you learn with others.
The Arena has many exits. Each exit represents a service. We can help you to understand which service you should be looking for.
Sadly, knowing you need a service is not enough. You will then hit another barrier.
You have to know if the service exists in your local area. If it does, you hit another barrier.
You need to find out the criteria to access that service and then work out if you meet that criteria.
This should be fairly straight forward, you would think, but sadly not. The criteria will be a challenge because often the information you get from different sources, sometimes even people who work in the same office (possibly even sharing a desk), will be conflicting.
Sometimes a parent will give you the wrong information. Not because they are trying to mislead you but because each local area also has their own ideas of how criteria is defined. Sadly, the criteria in each local area will not always reflect what the law says.
Do not think that knowing the laws of the land will make this battle any easier.”
You ask them “What about the countdown timers – what are they?”
“Each service has a time restriction on it, many are only available to certain age groups. If you fail to find them or to get through the barrier in time, the clock stops and you have to look at other possibilities.
One day, sooner than you think, you will be back in this Arena to help a new parent like yourself.
You will return to this arena on a number of occasions, for your own child and to help others. In fact one day, sooner than you think, you will be back here to help a new parent.
As a parent, you will have to be prepared to search for services and go to battle for your child for many years ahead. Some battles will be easier to win than others. Some battles will feel never ending. Some battles will try to destroy your soul.
However, we are here. Other parents. Agitators or BAPs if you like. People to help guide you. More importantly, people to help pick you back up when you fall down.
Some of the other people around the stands will also help you. Some will require your discretion. Some will be more outspoken. These are your BRAs.
Some will be less useful and some, sadly, will hinder you in any way possible to save their own ego.
Did you see the two gates with hieroglyphics?
They are “Common Sense” and “Accountability”.
Both are lacking in every area of the Arena. No one has yet figured out how to get through that gate. Many have tried. Occasionally you will feel like you have possibly broken the code, but then staff will leave, or Governments will change, and the code changes again.
Rules in the SEND Arena
Life in the Arena offers many rules and regulations.
However, there are a few rules you must remember.
Rule Number One – There is life outside the arena; you must remember to visit that life regularly. Allow yourself time to be just Mum or Dad. Have a day each week, or each month when you don’t have appointments to go to, or emails to send. Make time to be a family. Have days out, or days in if they are easier. Have days when you don’t compare your life to others, when you acknowledge that you are doing the best you can. Make time to tell yourself that because the system failed your child, it does not mean you are a failure as a parent. Make time so you can curl up with a good book or go for a run. Make time to have fun and enjoy life outside the Arena.
Rule Number Two – Make sure you have a tribe, a network to turn to. People to help you. They do not need to be other parents, they can be your family or your friends. They will have different roles to play within your tribe. Researcher, hand holder, note taker, maybe even a drinking companion. They are vital to helping you stay upright and to give you time to follow rule number one. This tribe can be virtual, so often that is easier for us but when possible, do try to meet up with one or two of your tribe. Virtual hugs and wine are no substitute for the real thing.
Rule Number Three – Be confident in your knowledge of your child. As you spend time outside the Arena, you will become an expert in your child. Even if your child is non verbal, you will learn to understand their communication methods. Some of those people in the stands will try to imply your child – or you – are the problem, that the Arena works just fine. You must always understand that your child is not the problem. The Arena is the problem.
If you can work on these rules, the Arena will be less daunting. It will become a familiar place to you over the years ahead.
After your first visit, you can choose how you enter the Arena.
Alone or with your tribe.
Choose to go with your tribe. The Arena is easier to navigate with your tribe.
The Ultimate Goal for the SEND Arena
This is the ultimate goal for families in the SEND Arena. A life worth living.
Mum to three great kids, each with a different SEN.
Transplanted from the NW to the SE.
Co-founder and Director of Bringing Us Together