Parenting older children with special needs

As your child gets older, and depending obviously on their particular needs, then life beyond home starts to figure more for them, and you. Issues such as where they're going to go to school and finding childcare around school hours all jostle for space on your crowded to-sort list. 

Childcare for older children with special needs

Once your child is of school-age, you will hopefully have a bit of respite during the school day. However, if you need childcare outside school hours, there are a few places you should look first.

Most local authorities have a childcare information service, and its staff should be able to advise you on your options. Some councils have registers of childminders who are particularly experienced with (or open to) children with special needs.

Some afterschool clubs are SN-friendly. You may be able to access an inclusion grant, designed to give extra support to special needs children within a mainstream after-school setting, although as one mum points out: "The trouble is that not many mainstream clubs cater for teenagers, as they are assumed to be independent."

It may also be possible to use direct payments to employ your own worker, either in a mainstream setting or in your own home.

Mainstream versus special schools

The question of mainstream versus special schools is one that lots of parents have to ponder at some point during their child's education.

Mainstream school is, of course, much cheaper for the local authority, and some parents feel they are pushed towards mainstream education for financial reasons. As one mum explains: "Mainstream with support is way cheaper and you will be pushed hard to opt for that if the local authority think they can persuade you."

Special schools have changed a lot over the past few years, owing to the drive for greater social inclusion. Many have closed down or made way for mainstream schools with specialist units. The special schools that remain tend, in many cases, to cater more for children with severe learning needs, rather than moderate learning needs.

For children with more moderate needs, getting help in a mainstream school may be the preferred option. Advice from educational psychologists can help with behaviour issues in a mainstream school setting.

Which environment is best for your child will depend on their individual needs and on the schools available in your area.

Some mainstream schools excel in dealing with certain special needs (such as a mainstream school with a unit for children with hearing needs), so those schools may best meet your child's needs. 

Children with high-level communication needs (such as non-verbal children) may benefit from a special school environment where all teachers are experienced in various methods of communication. Some children also thrive in an environment where they don't feel at all 'different'.

As with all things, the quality of provision between individual schools varies. There are good mainstream schools and not-so-good mainstream schools, and the same rule applies to special schools. As one mum says: "Even if a child could benefit from a special school, it doesn't mean that they would benefit from any special school."

However, whether or not you want your child to attend a special school, the choice is largely dependent on what your local authority considers to be the most suitable placement. As one mum says: "Special schools are bloody difficult to get places in."

Whatever options are available to you, have confidence that you know your child best and don't settle for a course of action that you feel uncomfortable with. Compare notes with other parents on our special needs education Talk forum - someone else has almost certainly been faced with the same choices as you, possibly even in your area. 


For most children with special needs, getting a statement is the first step on the road to finding the most appropriate educational environment. The statement of special educational needs should include details of where and how your child's needs - both educational and behavioural - can best be met for your child to be happy and fulfilled. "I would apply for a statement as soon as possible," advises one mum, "they're not always just for educational needs." 

Home education for children with special needs

While considering your child's schooling, don't forget the option of home education (home schooling). Some parents opt for this because they feel pushed into a corner and haven't been offered a suitable choice for their child.

Others decide home education is the most suitable way to educate their child. If you go down this route, there are organisations (see Useful links, right) which can offer advice and support.

What Mumsnetters say about the practicalities of parenting older children with SN

  • Don't forget the childcare element of Working Tax Credit. It allows you to employ a 'nanny' or home childcare worker. Donkeyderby
  • You have to look at the schools then imagine your child in them. Where will he fit in? Jimjams
  • Obtaining a statement is so important - managing my son's stress at school helps him manage his behaviour at home: that then feeds back into a cycle and we all benefit. Iusedtobepeachy


Last updated: about 2 hours ago