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Getting additional support for Isaac

Photo: Isaac's story

Because of his delayed speech and language, mum Emma knew that Isaac, who is severely to profoundly deaf, would need a plan in place for primary school, and she was willing to fight to get one.

With additional support now in place, Isaac (6) is enjoying life in Year 1, but it’s proving to be harder work for mum Emma. “Isaac is very sensory, and the school embraces that. Now with hand sanitiser, for example, he’ll put it on his hands then smear it on the windows. He loves paint too; he’s already ruined two polo shirts this term!”

Since finding out about Isaac’s progressive hearing loss at the newborn hearing screening, Emma has thrown herself into learning more about deafness and advocating for her son. “We were devastated when we found out he was deaf,” she says. “But we very quickly came round; as our firstborn, he was all we knew. Now we’ve made so many deaf friends, which has normalised wearing hearing aids for Isaac. He doesn’t see himself as different yet.”

Isaac is very confident and sociable, so he’s found coping strategies throughout his life. “Isaac is a performer,” Emma says. “He loves an audience and he’s all about music and dance. If he can sing and dance at you, he’s great. The problem is having a conversation. His speech and language are quite delayed, so instead of talking to a stranger in soft play, he might walk up to them and dance. It’s his way of communicating.”

Emma knew, therefore, that Isaac would need extra support at school. She initially asked the nursery he attended if they could apply for an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan for him, but they refused. “We had termly meetings with the nursery, and they were adamant his needs wouldn’t meet the criteria for an EHC plan. I was shocked because I knew he wouldn’t cope at school. I was worried he wouldn’t be able to express his needs, even to say he needed to go to the toilet. So, I decided to apply on my own. At nursery they knew him very well so understood what his gestures meant. They’d assessed him incorrectly. Our Teacher of the Deaf (ToD) backed me up and sent in a supporting letter with the application.

“We got an assessment straight away. An educational psychologist came into nursery. I think Isaac was using coping strategies to get by; he’d copy the other children even if he didn’t understand what a teacher was saying to him. His nursery and I disagreed in the meeting, but the assessment came back and they agreed with me. It was really nice to be heard as a parent.”

The EHC plan came into place for Isaac in the June before he started primary school. It entitled Isaac to a full-time one-to-one teaching assistant (TA), a radio aid and a soundfield system. “The TA is there to react to his needs. If he’s struggling, she’ll take him out of the classroom. She uses British Sign Language (BSL) signs with him and has a speech and language programme in place. He’s just about to start sensory circuits in the morning too. They do these things for a few weeks, then stop and assess them to see if it’s making a difference to his learning.

“Ever since starting school, his speech has come on so much. He’s gone from one word to being able to have a very short conversation with you to express his needs. When he started school, they re-assessed him and found he didn’t meet the early year foundation stage criteria the nursery had said he’d met. It was nice to have a fresh pair of eyes on that; they revised his targets down and suddenly they were achievable for him.”

Despite the additional support, it hasn’t been a completely smooth journey for Isaac. “Initially when he started school, he loved it,” Emma says. “He settled really well, but he became frustrated quite quickly. Towards the October half-term, he was starting to hit out and get quite cross, purely because the school staff couldn’t understand what he wanted. And he was tired, going in five days a week, so we got after-school meltdowns.

“In his first year, he got sent home from school three times. I think it was sensory overload. The first time was at Christmas, there were lights, lots going on, he was really tired from the first full term; he just needed to come home. “But the school has learnt how to manage him since then. He does sometimes need to go out of the classroom, go for a run around the field or even just do a quiet activity in the corridor. Then he’s fine.

“I think having one-to-one speech and language with his TA has really helped too. He’s starting to randomly come out with stuff. They’ve been studying dragons, for example, and he’s started to tell me about it when he wouldn’t before. He’s just started to ask ‘why’ questions too; I couldn’t wait for him to ask ’why’ questions and now I’m starting to regret that!”

Emma feels that the additional support is essential for Isaac and is glad she fought for his EHC plan. “My advice for an EHC plan application would be to document everything,” she adds. “It’s evidence based so keep as much evidence as possible – every letter, report etc you receive. And get as many people to support your application as possible.”