Why is this needed now?
Waiting times for young people with special needs or a rare condition to see specialists are longer than ever. Due to COVID 19, the world has had to change its ways of working and we know that this has impacted on access to education and specialists.
When someone has special needs or a rare condition, there is a strong chance that they will need to access the support of a variety of specialists; those interventions will have a better chance of success if they are undertaken in collaboration. Yet from our extensive experience we know that, even in the best of times, specialist services have very long waiting lists and that there is little communication between specialists, if at all. On 10th November 2020, Ofsted published their briefing on local areas' special educational needs and disabilities provision, October 2020. When reporting what the challenges have been in supporting children and young people with SEND during COVID, they identified the following headlines:
- Not all families had contact with practitioners
- Families were not always included in discussions about how best to support them. This meant that some did not get access to support they needed
- The availability of services across the six areas was variable (their research covered six geographical areas)
- Not all services could switch to online provision effectively
We are determined to change the narrative. More than ever, young people with special needs or a rare disease need support. Our team has the capacity to do close work with tens of families, with our online work having the capability to reach hundreds. Our structure is one that can also grow – the engagement of more specialists would enable more families to benefit. We can only have this wider impact with funding.
Please donate to Together to help us do this.
We are Andrea and Deb and we want to make a difference. Between us we have over 40 years experience in special schools, mainstream schools and specialist support services. We have seen how hard it is for families to access good quality, timely support for young people with special educational needs and rare conditions. We set up 'Together' to do something about this by bringing together education specialists, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and an educational psychologist to work collaboratively on shared goals. We know that the most vulnerable young people in society have enough challenges already and we passionately believe that they deserve the best possible support.
The Together Team
Using our expertise, knowledge and contacts, Together was born. It is truly a team approach, bringing together professionals we worked with in schools. The team currently includes:
- teachers specialising in play skills and social skills development, emotional wellbeing, autistic spectrum conditions and a wide variety of special educational needs
- occupational therapists
- speech and language therapists
- an educational psychologist
We offer flexibility in the way we work. The whole team collaborates to provide timely, specialist, bespoke support; we are not restricted by waiting lists. Alternatively, one member of the team can work with a family, if that's more appropriate. There are several ways that families can interact with services, for example through the Together website (www.togethercentre.co.uk), on Facebook (TogetherCommunity) or through Twitter (@TogetherCmty).
The current Together offer
The original intention (although COVID 19 interrupted the plan) was to run from a community-based coffee shop which offered employment opportunities for young people with special needs. This is still the long term aim but for now, we are being creative in trying to reach as many people as possible; no-one should feel that they are on their own.
So far, we have been able to do the following:
- offer bespoke advice and support to young people and families in need in person and via email, telephone and Zoom conference calls
- publish a weekly blog on our website. Topics so far include dyslexia assessment and challenging behaviour. These have been inspired by the support we have given to young people and families
- songs with Makaton signing available through the Together YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQAyRXyaljft4nelUYmtoPA)
There are plans to increase the content of the YouTube channel and the blogs will soon be complemented by podcasts. However, we want to do more.
We want to reach more young people with special needs and rare conditions and their families. We have plans to:
- host webinars for a variety of purposes including training and social support; even a social chat with others can be supportive. Members of our team are also ready to deliver webinars on specific topics such as challenging behaviour, sensory processing and communication support
- be on hand for phone conversations, to provide reassurances that no-one is on their own
- provide bespoke resources, for example visual timetables, for use in homes and food aversion sensory therapy boxes to help improve restricted diets. A visual timetable can provide routine and grounding in amongst a world of uncertainty and extending the range of foods eaten will improve longer term health outcomes.
What do we need and how can you help?
We have been working on our set-up formally since September. However, we have come to the end of the financial resources which were available to us. We are now actively seeking donations to be able to make the difference we are so passionate about.
Every donation will make a difference:
£5 will pay for printing, laminating and posting of a visual timetable/symbol resources for a family
£10 will pay for a month of unlimited phone minutes so we can make supportive calls to families
£20 will pay for sensory resources to deliver to a family to take part in online sensory integration sessions, for example around food tolerance
£25 will pay for two hosts to have access to Zoom for a month and so provide a range of online meetings/support groups
£50 will pay for a half hour online consultation for a family with one of our specialists
£75 will pay for a 3/4 hour online session for an individual young person or group of parents with one of our specialists
£100 will pay for the administration (including set up and registration for a young person/family) of a series of webinars, the focus of which could be any of the following:
- social gathering or online youth club
- sibling support group
- independence skills group
- behaviour support forum
- support group for parents
To support our longer term sustainability, we would also welcome larger donations. We are working towards setting up computers to enable families to access specialist software, including symbol software. We would like to purchase 2 (2 x £500) laptops for this; 2 printers (2 x £100) and 2 laminators (2 x £40) would also enable parents to make their own resources.
Up to now, we have been unpaid for our work as we felt this was so important to get set up. However, longer term we will also need to be able to earn some money ourselves.
If you would like to gift any of the above for Christmas, we can send you a gift certificate outlining what the recipient has donated and how it will positively impact on the lives of young people with special educational needs or a rare disease.
Through our challenging behaviour blog:
"...your blog just hit the spot! It was so well written! Having had massive behaviour issues with mine at different stages - the ways in which it shatters you are beyond anything experienced at work... I'm glad you spoke about the aftermath - it stays with you but you don't realise other people feel the same."
After an informal online support meeting:
"Just a big thank you. You gave us the most constructive advice we've ever had. I know it's 'what you do' but it's already made such a difference."
Finding out more
Thank you for taking the time to read this. You can find out more about us and what we do at: