A Special Child in the Family

The Professionals

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Education Specialists

Apart from teachers and other school based staff, your education department employs several other people who can help your child. Those you are most likely to meet are the educational psychologist, the education welfare officer, the special needs adviser and the home teacher.

Educational psychologists

An educational psychologist is a very knowledgeable person. As well as being a fully qualified psychologist, she is also a trained teacher with at least two years teaching experience, often with children with special needs. As a result, she should be able to fully assess your child's abilities and learning difficulties and see how his needs can best be catered for in the classroom. Some teachers are more willing to acknowledge a child has problems at school if an educational psychologist confirms that the difficulties really exist and suggests ways to overcome them.

Your educational psychologist should also have a good knowledge of the local schools and their abilities at coping with special needs children. Although officially she may be forced to take the line that all the authority's schools are equally good, she may be able to give you detailed, informal advice and support your application for your child to attend a particular school.

Either you or the school may ask the educational psychologist to see your child. The school would probably prefer your request to be made through them but you are free to make contact yourself if the school is reluctant or uncooperative. If the official educational psychologist doesn't agree to see your child or you disagree with her assessment of your child, you can ask an independent educational psychologist to assess your child for you. Your voluntary society may know of someone suitable or you can contact The Independent Panel of Special Education Advice (IPSEA).

Education welfare officers

The education welfare officer acts as a link between school and home. Years ago, she was known as the truant officer and her job still includes checking up on children who are away from school. But now her role is much wider, involving many aspects of social work, plus organising school transport for those children who need it and allocating free school meals.

You are likely to find your EWO particularly useful if your child is away from school a great deal. She is a sensible person to contact if you are finding difficulty obtaining work from school or feel your child needs home tuition.

There is probably an EWO allocated to your school: ask the school secretary who it is. If there isn't one or she is unobtainable or ineffective, try contacting the Principal EWO whose office will be in the same place as the rest of the education department's central bureaucracy.

Special needs adviser

Your education authority is likely to have someone in this role although the title may be slightly different: Inspector of Special Needs Provision is one alternative. As the name suggests, she is employed by your education authority to advise the Chief Education Officer on the resources required by pupils with special needs and on any issues relevant to the education of those children.

She also advises schools on the best way to react to and provide for the special needs of individual children. You can contact her directly if you are concerned that your child is not receiving the special help you believe he needs and talking to the school has not improved matters (either because of lack of co-operation or lack of resources).

Home teacher for special needs children

Many education authorities employ a home teacher to work with pre-school special needs children. She visits the children regularly in their own homes, showing parents how to help their child to learn. Many home teachers use the Portage System of teaching which uses games and activities to help children learn the skills they need. Some teachers use the system exclusively while others incorporate it with other approaches.

Most parents speak highly of their home teacher, finding that her visits break their isolation as well as helping their child. One mum even said that, if she had to choose only one professional to help her, it would be the home teacher. It is a job which seems to attract warm, friendly people who really care about the children they visit.

To find out if a home teacher exists in your area, ask your local education department. They should also be able to explain the system for referral which varies from area to area.

Special Needs Coordinator

Every school has one teacher designated as the Special Needs Coordinater or SENCO. As the name suggests, they organise the support within the school for all the children with special needs: a task which involves doing the paperwork, organising assessments, advising other teachers and liasing with parents.