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Shan Ellis Headshot

Hello Brick Wall, Meet My Head

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It's tough to realise that your child needs extra help. It's a plethora of emotions. First of all you deal with the guilt and the question all mums ask themselves "Did I do something wrong while I was pregnant?", "Did I not protect them from bumps and falls when they were learning to walk?", "Is there something I did WRONG?". Cue anger, a wee bit of denial and there you go, acceptance.

But once you get to the acceptance stage, and the realisation that your child needs that extra little bit of help at school, where do you go? Who do you turn to. This is my story, one that I'm yet to find a happy ending to.

My daughter Cara is eight. She was a nightmare baby, I might as well be honest, until she hit 4 months old and started eating "solids" she was very difficult. We mentioned this to the health visitor at the time as I wasn't sleeping, and feeding her very 2 or three hours. I never had enough milk to feed her properly, despite going to breastfeeding lessons and mother baby group, I really felt like I was letting her down. She settled instantly when we introduced her to soft foods, and became the placid, happy little girl she has been ever since.

She wasn't accident prone, but had a habit of walking into things that should have been apparent in her peripheral vision, door frames, tables and cupboards. I didn't pick up on this at the time, looking back now it seems that it was screaming at me, but hindsight as we say is a wonderful thing.

She started school in September 2007 at three years old. I remember how absolutely stunning she looked in her teeny tiny school uniform. I know the system is different in Wales, she went for half days in a class called pre-school. The curriculum for this age centred around learning through play.

Needless to say she breezed through the first year without a hitch.

At four years old she started school full time, by this time I'd noticed her pencil skills were a bit behind, she could write her name, but couldn't read at this age. I wasn't worried. She was in reception and her school reports were great, a happy little four year old.

The problem came at year 1. I'd been watching her and helping her write numbers and recognise letters at home. She loved flashcards, but kept getting certain letters and numbers mixed up. 2 and 5, B and D, and that's where I stopped to think that she was dyslexic.

Dyslexia runs in both mine and my ex husbands family. Maternal and Paternal grandfathers have literacy and numeracy problems. I mentioned it to the headteacher just before Christmas 2008, the response was that she would try to see what the county (Gwynedd) could do to help, and that it was ludicrous to try to diagnose a four-year old with dyslexia. The best line she gave me that day was that Cara was a "little bit slow."

By now her classmates were learning to read monosyllabic words, and Cara was stuck. Still looking at flashcards. She received a course of speech therapy from the County, in my honest opinion, it helped her structure spoken sentences, but it was really a waste of resources for a little girl who could definitely express verbally what she wanted.

She was also assessed by a child educational psychologist. I think this as a parent was the most infuriating experience of my life. Just before the end of Cara's time in year one I was called to a meeting of this psychologist and the teacher. I pushed upon the psychologist to explore the fact that Cara was dyslexic and that help for dyslexia would ultimately help her education. She couldn't score on the standardised test which are all revolved around reading.

Before I had arrived there that afternoon there had been obviously a discussion about Cara staying back a year with the pre-schoolers and year 1. I flat-out denied and said it wasn't good for her confidence and in the long run it didn't comply with the intergenerational nature of the school.

Basically the decision had been made without me. They came to a sort of compromise, letting her join her year 1 classmates in the afternoon for activities (PE and music!), but that she would continue to work on pre-school level whilst still being assessed by the psychologist.

I can hand on heart say I saw NO improvement in her education for a whole year. I kept trying to fight an impossible system. Cara now 5 was also loosing confidence in her ability. Her friends from last year had moved to the big classroom, exacerbating that she was different to them in ability. She would come home crying that some of the boys were calling her 'thick' and 'baby' because she was in a different class in the morning.

I sent letters, emails, countless complaints and nothing was done. All answered by "we cannot diagnose dyslexia until the age of eight."

Head, meet brick wall.

I don't think I've ever felt more helpless in my life. The amount of time I spent trying to get someone, ANYONE to listen to what I was trying to tell them was utterly amazing. I think it's also made worse by the fact that it's happening to your baby. You just want to perform miracles and take the difficulties away.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this vitriolic rant, my daughter is now 8. Statistically she is still around about a year and a half behind where she should be and still isn't scoring on reading tests. I changed her school (and County). But she has diagnosis. More than one to be fair.

She is partially sighted, has no peripheral vision whatsoever, combined with visual stress and dyslexia (I paid for Anglia Ruskin hospital in Cambridge to diagnose her in the end, only to be told by Norfolk CC that they had to reaffirm the diagnosis with their own experts.)

What I am asking here is why does it have to be so bloody hard? All schools are given a SEN budget, unfortunately they are afraid of labelling a child at an early age, as are the County. The end result is a child who has no behavioural need is left to slide, loosing self-confidence in their ability.

Why in this day and age is this still happening? There is a lack of funding in education, too many children in one classroom and full-time teaching Special educational needs coordinators, not enough money to provide extra support for children who require it.

As the Special educational needs act 2006 states, "all children are entitled to an individualised education." Anyone fancy knocking on the door to number 10 and asking them why the current plan certainly isn't working?

This is just my story, I've heard other parents who have had no problems in getting a diagnosis, but I'm willing to bet that I'm not the only one who has bumps from the brick wall.