Invisible illnesses and hidden disabilities are perhaps more common than we might think.
We come across them a lot with our students, spanning a wide range of physiological and psychological conditions, and often those conditions can be the root cause of their struggle to access and manage mainstream education.
The word ‘disability’ is an umbrella term that covers pretty much anything that can impair a person’s quality of life, physically or mentally. Physical disabilities are the tip of the iceberg, with a large percentage of disabilities in the UK being unseen, which means they are not immediately obvious to those around them.
For those individuals who have an invisible condition life can be very challenging to navigate. No one wants to walk around with a big sandwich board telling the world about their personal life, and quite rightly as we’re all entitled to our privacy.
So, how does this impact young people and their education?
The younger the child is, the more likely that there has been no assessment or diagnosis, and the child and their parents/carers may not know they have a disability. This can lead to difficulty understanding the child and their needs.
By the time a young person is referred to us, they have experienced breakdown in their previous education setting or are refusing to attend. Often, the referral will suggest that they have a bad attitude, are unwilling to engage, or that they have behavioural problems. Whilst these may be the presenting problems, we find when we have spent time getting to know them, that there are underlying issues that have not been addressed.
A quote that we keep at the forefront of the work we do is: “All behaviour is communication – often of an unmet need”. This is so true in the case of invisible illnesses and disabilities. The behaviour we see from young people is due to their unmet needs, particularly where there is a lack of understanding as to what is going on and how to communicate the need.
We’re sharing with you our top 3 tips to help support students with invisible illnesses and disabilities.
Remember, behaviour is communication. The behaviour being displayed may not have any connection to the need, but it may be the only way they know to respond. Before responding to the behaviour, pause and think about what else might be happening. What can be changed in the environment or expectations placed on the child to alleviate the distress they may be experiencing?
We love getting to work with the students referred to us, but wouldn’t it be amazing if there wasn’t the need to refer them to an Alternative Provider? We have worked with schools to help set up ‘hubs’ in the school to provide support for students showing signs of struggling and disengaging from education. By training staff and establishing a way to provide early interventions and alternative support in school there is a reduction in the rate of exclusion, school refusal and behavioural incidents.
A bit like a jigsaw puzzle, you all have pieces of the puzzle that when put together form a complete picture. When speaking with parents about the struggles, empathy and listening are key skills to form a partnership with them. No one likes to hear that their child is the naughty one, but if they hear that their child is struggling and you are wanting to work with them to help you can pick up valuable information from them that you may not have been aware of, and together you can secure the best outcome for the child. Establishing a good relationship with the parents/carers will give you wider insight into the child’s life outside of school and vice versa for the parents/carers.