High School Learning Support Coordinator and mum of three, ANETTE DE JOUX, talks to us about getting support when your child is neurodivergent or has special needs.
In her role as a Learning Support Coordinator (LSC), Anette supports students with a range of different learning profiles. She also has a 13-year-old daughter, Mathilde, who has special needs. When she was concerned about her second baby’s hearing and responsiveness, she went to her GP and was referred to a neurologist. Her daughter was subsequently diagnosed with Rett Syndrome, a rare genetic neurological and developmental disorder.
Through her experiences, Anette discovered the various services available and the benefit of a team approach. From primary teaching, she entered the world of special education and now helps students and whānau access the support they need.
What does neurodivergent mean?
“The term ‘neurodivergent’ applies to anyone who has a different learning profile,” says Anette. Essentially, their brain works in a way that is different from what is neurotypical. Neurodiversity can refer to people with ADHD, Autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, dyspraxia and other learning disabilities. The term also encompasses those without a specific diagnosis. As Anette says, one in five students will require some learning support in their time at school.
Where do I start if I’m worried?
If you’re worried about your child’s development or social skills, start with your GP because they will be able to refer you to the right person, Anette says. But, she adds that sometimes a diagnosis doesn’t happen straight away: it’s difficult to get a diagnosis for something like dyslexia, for instance, when your child is only five or six years old.
How important is a diagnosis?
A diagnosis can help make sense of what your child is struggling with and point the way forward in terms of specific support. However, Anette says, you don’t necessarily need a diagnosis to access resources. As an LSC, “I am always looking at the individual, starting with their name and the traits I observe, rather than going straight to their diagnosis.”
Getting a diagnosis is a personal decision for whānau, says Anette. “Some people don’t want a label, others do. I have seen some young people who were determined to get a diagnosis as they figured themselves out.”
The role of a Special Education Needs Coordinator
At your school or kura, there will be a Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENCO) and possibly an LSC. If you have concerns about your child’s physical or cognitive development, social skills or behaviour, they are your first port of call. Talk with your child’s teacher about any worries you have and about meeting up with the SENCO if you’re unsure how to contact them.
Whatever your worries, your SENCO can put in a referral to the appropriate service and help you get “wrap-around support”, says Anette. For example, it may be physiotherapy, occupational therapy or speech-language therapy. They can also help access support from Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour (RTLBs), counsellors and social workers
What’s an Individual Education Plan?
Some children who are neurodivergent may need an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for when they are at school. These plans include who will be supporting the child and adaptations that need to be made, and they will set some targets. The LSC and SENCO organise the meetings involving the student and whānau and those supporting the student.
A team approach
Looking back on her journey with her own daughter, Anette reflects on how “important [it was] for me to establish a positive relationship with her teacher and the support team around her. When you start at a school, you don’t need to know what support you need exactly and how to access it. But you do need to find the person who can guide you and organise these resources for you.”
Everyone’s journey is different, and you won’t get all the answers and support straight away, says Anette. But she urges people to: “Keep asking for help and take all the support you can get.”
Determined to support Kiwi kids struggling with sensory issues, social workers LYNAIR BERGMAN and ANGELA HOWLETT started Sensory Haven 4 Kids.
All brains are unique, and being neurodivergent means having a brain that works differently from a neurotypical person. Neurodivergent children’s brains can have difficulties processing the information they receive from their senses, and they can become overwhelmed by things that others may not notice or understand.
We can support these children by creating an environment that celebrates difference and developing emotional intelligence and words around emotions, activity levels and focus. Giving children the opportunity to explore sensory products can help them with self-regulation and sleep.
Lynair and Angela worked as social workers in schools with children with sensory and emotional regulation difficulties. Often these children had ADHD, Autism, attachment disorders or experiences of trauma. Many had differences in how their senses processed information and faced social, emotional, behavioural and learning challenges. Determined to provide accessible and affordable sensory products for all children, they started Sensory Haven 4 Kids.
Our different brains
Speech Language Therapist and director of Talk Together, MEGAN LEWIS shares ideas for helping children understand how different minds work.
1. Empower kids to understand their own strengths and needs.
What are they great at? What helps them calm their bodies down? Once kids know themselves, they can see that others have their own strengths and needs.
2. Talk about how our brains are all different.
Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world in different ways. Talk openly to your kids about how all brains are different, just like fingerprints are. No brain is better than another, just different.
3. Focus on others’ strengths.
“I hope Sam chooses me on his team; his memory is the best!” If your child asks questions about someone, you could say, “Their brain is wired differently to yours; how cool! What are your different superpowers?”
4. Encourage kids to see that behaviour is communication.
Help kids to see another person’s behaviours as the best way they had at that moment to communicate. For example, when Isla ran out of the classroom, she was telling me, “It was too loud and busy in here for me.”