One of our fifteen-year-old MCPs on our Children and Families Panel from the UNCRC Framework project has been reflecting on their experience of being a neurodivergent pupil in the current education system. They explain how a lack of understanding on neurodiversity impacted on their children’s human rights, the impact of getting a diagnosis of autism and how things have improved as they moved up to high school.
“When I started primary school, I quickly realised I was different to other children my age. It was difficult for me to make friends, I struggled with P.E. lessons and teachers didn’t know how to deal with me when I got upset. I was often put in a time out even when I didn’t see anything I’d done wrong. My classmates didn’t seem to like me, and I was teased and bullied. I would tell teachers about this, but I was often told just to ignore it, which I found very difficult to do. I didn’t feel listened to or properly understood.
Getting diagnosed with autism helped a little, but I still didn’t understand why I seemed less capable than my classmates. I felt that I wasn’t getting the most out of my education, and this was very frustrating. I think things would have been a lot better for me if teachers had been educated on how to help children with additional needs to reach their full potential.
However, at high school, support has greatly improved. Most teachers understand my needs and I have been able to access help and support from school, such as being allowed to sit exams in a separate room, which helps me feel less stressed. I now feel more accepted at school. There is still teasing and nasty comments, but any instances of this are taken seriously and dealt with. I feel my rights are now being properly respected. There are still improvements to be made, but I am hopeful for the future.”
These experiences highlight why it is so important to get to know and listen to children, and the importance of meeting individual needs and understanding different learning styles. UNCRC Article 28 states that all children have the right to an education, UNCRC Article 2 affords children protection from discrimination, and UNCRC Article 12 states that children have the right to be listened to and taken seriously. These rights should be respected for all pupils and should not only be implemented after specific diagnoses.
Children’s human rights are indivisible, meaning no right is more important than another, and they cannot be separated from each other, and they are inalienable, meaning that no one can give or take away anyone’s rights, children have them because they exist. Professionals need to consider children’s human rights in every aspect of their job, whether they work directly with children or not, as every right not respected can impact children in many different ways. In order for children’s human rights to be respected, all children need to be listened to and their individual needs met whether or not they have formally diagnosed additional support needs.
We are grateful to the panel member for sharing their personal story. Through their contributions, and other panel members’ as well, we learned about the impact of current practice on children and how we can make it a better experience for them. Their inputs have informed the development of the Skills and Knowledge Framework and the Training Plan directly.