Something that I have been thinking about a lot lately is happiness. There is so much focus from schools and SEN teams on meeting outcomes, managing in school (not necessarily being happy in school) and learning (neurotypical) social skills - but what about happiness? I don't mean the surface level happiness we get when we get a nice present. I mean the deeper happiness, that reflects our emotional and mental well-being. Surely this is the golden outcome we should be looking for - because when you are happy, everything else flows from there.
When we left school over two years ago, we didn't know where we were headed. But our priority was happiness for our son. We wanted to hear him laugh, to know that he felt good about himself, to see him play, and to rediscover the lovely personality that had been hidden behind the anxiety. We knew that if that could happen, then he might also be able to start to engage with learning (in a way that suited him) and to engage with the wider world.
But how to achieve this elusive goal? In our case, a year was spent recovering from the trauma of school - reading Harry Potter, playing with Lego and having outings with his support worker. We carefully hunted out people who he liked (and who liked him) who could start to build his trust and learn with him. He found a group of like-minded friends through his special interest, Dungeons and Dragons, and he gradually built those relationships in a way and at a speed that worked for him. We listened to him and got to know the way that he needed to learn - and then did things that way, even though it looks radically different to school. We showed him that he was valued as he is, with no need to try and be someone he's not. We apologised for getting it wrong, and for making him go to school, and promised never to send him to a school again unless he wanted to go. It took two years for him to believe this, but he finally does and that makes him feel safe.
Happiness will look different for all of us, and we all thrive in different environments. But some essential principles can be applied to most people I think. We are happy when we feel safe, when we are surrounded by people who respect us, like us and understand us. We are happy when we can feel soothed and calm in our environment - not overwhelmed and confused. We are happy when we feel valued and valuable - just as we are, with no need to change. This should be what we are aiming for on behalf of our children. It might mean we have to make radical changes, or it might just be tweaks - and we will have to be brave and determined in the face of other people's ideas about what we "should" be doing. However, it really is worth it. I have seen the transformation that can happen we get it right for the child, and it is real and life-changing.