Personally I was wary of putting my son (first born) into nursery at 20 months old, he seemed so young and we were starting to have concerns about progress, particularly around his speech and language. However my second child was on the way and many people had advised me he would do well in nursery.
During the first few months at nursery we were in the early stages of his autism diagnosis journey. He was offered a place at the local children’s centre nursery- as he was happy at his other nursery we decided to do a dual placement so he went to both nurseries, the first for two mornings a week and the second for one day a week. Dual placement has worked well for us in the early years settings as he is now at a specialist pre-school two days a week and a mainstream pre-school two mornings a week.
At first he did well in both settings but we soon started to have incidents where he would often bite another child, at the time I was mortified but staff would say how common it was. Now I realise this was his method (that unfortunately worked well) to communicate he wanted to be left alone as he was unable to verbally say it, thankfully he has since learnt that biting is not an appropriate way to tell someone to go away.
Early Years Entitlement
All 3-4 year olds in England are entitled to 15 hours free early education or childcare, some are also eligible for 30 hours free. In addition to this some children are also eligible for funding from 2 years old. As we were going through the autism diagnosis process we were encouraged to apply for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) as this allowed us to also apply for the 2 year old funding. Our diagnosis actually came through as we were applying for the assistance which made it more straightforward but my understanding is a diagnosis is not necessarily required for DLA funding. However if you get DLA funding for your child they should automatically become eligible for the 2 year old education / childcare funding.
Special Educational Needs (SEN) Support
There seemed to be a period of time where I felt like I was drowning in paperwork, the first of which was the Commmon Assessment Framework (CAF), alongside this came the DLA forms which are exhausting, and the nurseries had us complete a One Page Profile and My Plan for my son. All of the paperwork was used to support his diagnosis along with assessments from nursery such as the early years progress checker and supporting reports from speech and language and other professionals. The paperwork all indicated that my son needed a high level of adult support and help to engage in adult led activities, understand language used, extend his play further, support his communication with others, manage his anxiety and associated behaviours, and ensure he is kept safe in his environment. It was clear that in order to reach his potential he required additional support over and above the norm required for his peers and this is why we needed to access Special Educational Needs (SEN) support.
Every early years setting should have a SENCO –
SENDCO / SENCO – Special educational needs and disability co-ordinator: The individual responsible for the day to day special education provision at a school or early years setting, it is their responsibility to ensure appropriate provision is accessible to meet the needs of children with special educational needs at that establishment.
This should be the person who will lead access to additional support, if however you are struggling to access support for whatever reason you can contact the Early Years team at your Local Authority / Council and they will also have details of an independent team that is there to support families such as the SEND Partnership service in BANES or Supportive Parents in Bristol.
In our local area (Bath and North East Somerset) we needed to put in a SENDIT request to the local authority, the process may be different in your local area and this is why the setting should be leading the process as they are in regular contact with the local authority. The SENDIT request was for 2 year old funding and additional funding due to the higher level of need for my child. This request (along with lots of supporting evidence) was then taken to SENDIP – the Early years special educational needs, disability and inclusion panel. The panel is to support inclusion of young children with special educational needs (SEN) and/ or disability in early years settings and for transition to school. The Panel is made up of representatives from the early years team at council, the children’s centre, the disabled children’s team, a local specialist provider and health professionals. Our case was presented to the panel by the local authority inclusion team – you cannot attend, so it is worth speaking to them or ensuring that your SENCO has made sure they have all the relevant information / evidence to make an informed decision about your child’s needs. The process will likely be different with different names in each local authority area but it should be clearly explained to you, the SENCO at your setting should be able to guide you through the process.
Many young children need assistance for various reasons, it can be too early for a diagnosis for some, others are simply delayed – especially those that are born late in the school year as they will often be further behind their peers particularly when starting to look at the transition to school. Any child that has needs over and above their peers should be in discussions with the SENCO to ensure their needs are being met, SEN funding is available based on need not diagnosis.
In our case we were awarded the 2 year old funding for 15 hours a week (term time only), for this we were provided with a reference number that we needed to supply the nursery for invoicing purposes. In addition to this we received inclusion support funding, often referred to as funding for one-to-one support.
One-to-one support is often very confusing as I (like many other parents) assumed that this meant my son would have a key person with him at all times, this is not the case. The setting and other relevant professionals along with parents will identify what your child’s additional needs are for example help with eating, help when outside and assistance with toileting. For my son this was adjusted after we identified he needed more help towards the end of the session when he was tired and more likely to become frustrated with other children. There will also likely be additional learning requirements, for us this was mostly around speech and language and learning support related to his autism. In many cases particularly for young children the child may have a key person and one-one support for a large part of the day but the funding is also for staff training and resources and does not mean one person with them all day.
The use of the inclusion funding is down to the setting but you and the local authority have a right to question where it is being spent and speak to the setting if you feel it is not being used in your child’s best interests. Contracts relating to the funding are between the local authority and the setting and you may be required to sign for this each term.
There will also be regular reviews of funding, the council request a form is completed by the setting and parents and any updated plans, target reviews, progress checkers, or specialist reports are provided – this is all lead by the setting and you will become familiar with much of the paperwork from regular progress meetings with the setting and other professionals working with your child. If your child is likely to require further support and potentially need to access specialist education in the future then you should look at going down the path of an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) as this will allow for further support to be provided. Transition Support Funding is available to support the move to school.
My son was hard to engage with early on and would actively avoid me when I was trying to play with him. I went through a period where I was really struggling as much of my instinctive reactions or attempts to engage were not working, the help and support I received from our local children’s centre where they held supportive groups for parents and children along with support from our local Autism service who sent a home worker out to us once a week to work with my son was amazing. In addition to this the local specialist pre-school where my son now attends also sent a home worker out for a number of weeks who worked with me on a number of strategies to help my son. Alongside numerous other visits to health professionals, speech and language therapists and stay and play sessions for children with additional needs run by various groups I am now very comfortable with how to engage with my son and he is much happier.
I have been very lucky to live in an area where lots of help is available and local autism Facebook groups have also been an amazing resource to find out where to get help and to connect with other local mums.
I was very lucky and my Health Visitor and local Children’s Centre helped me to get additional help for my son early on. Having said that I have found that I needed to be pro-active and find out about what was available and request access to support. Some suggestions of where to get help are below:
Local Children’s Centre
SECNCO / nursery setting / school
Look at your Local Authority website they should signpost local agencies
Your Doctor and Paediatrician
Any health professionals – speech and language therapist, Occupational Therapists
Local Autism/ ASD Service
Local National Autistic Society Branch
Portage service – usually accessed by the local authority
Independent parent support for children with additional needs and disability – also usually accessed via the local authority
Local charities – there are many groups supporting children with additional needs run by charities, local schools (often by specialist education providers), churches and parent groups.