If you had asked me before having children if families should take their children out of school for holidays I would probably have said no.
I had a teaching degree and was a staunch believer in the importance of attendance to allow the teachers time to get through the curriculum and to allow the child the best chance of success.
Then I had children.
Then both my children had difficulties and additional needs.
Now I firmly believe that any family who have a child (or children) with additional needs should be allowed to take family holidays when it suits the family as long as it’s for a short periods and schools are informed before hand.
There are so many reasons why I have changed my mind and mostly it’s because of my own experience.
You see a few weeks ago I took my own family for a week at a caravan park during term time and I don’t regret it one bit.
I am fortunate that where I live parents are not fined for such things but even if I had been I know I would still have done it.
For me it wasn’t about cost or convenience but more about my family needing space to recover from major trauma that was making us all ill.
My ten year old son, who has complex autism, is non verbal, epileptic and has a progressive genetic condition had recently had an MRI scan to routinely check on a small tumour on his optic nerve.
He hadn’t been quite himself for some months but I was reassured this was likely due to puberty, epilepsy or his genetic condition.
That wasn’t the case and his scan showed a huge mass on his right frontal lobe: he had a brain tumour.
What happened next was scary and traumatising for everyone. Within days I was called to a cancer ward to speak with a neurosurgeon and an oncologists and see scans of my son’s brain.
Days later my son had another scan and more general anaesthetic and within an hour of getting home from this the hospital called for him to be admitted the next day!
The day after he had six hours of surgery where he had a craniotomy (his head was cut from his ear to three quarters across his head) for a tumour biopsy.
That night we were not sure if he would make it through the night. When he did wake his face was swollen so badly neither of his eyes could open and he could barely eat or drink.
With no ability to verbally communicate, significant learning difficulties and major sensory struggles the whole hospital stay was very difficult on everyone, especially his twin sister who is also autistic and who had a breakdown seeing her brother in so much pain and looking so different.
My son couldn’t go to school for months. He was so weak on one side it was like he had had a stroke. The day we got the biopsy results he was still having to use a wheelchair as he had no strength to walk.
Throughout all that my daughter missed just one day of school, and that was the day of her brother’s surgery as I could not be in theatre with my son and get her to school over twenty miles away at the same time.
She struggled through emotionally and mentally for several weeks as everything at home was different, emotional and sad.
So when my son recovered enough to sit and stand and eat independently I made the decision that all four of my family needed a break. My husband, who struggles with autism and depression was fast deteriorating.
My son had been through a horrendous few months and my daughter was barely getting through each day. We needed away from appointments, phone calls, early rises, social pressures and financial worries.
A week away in term time was critical to our mental and physical wellbeing. It allowed us to recover, regroup and rest. We didn’t have the luxury of waiting for the next school holiday and even if we could have, given my son’s recent surgery he needed somewhere quiet, restful and with no crowds or queues everywhere.
Ours was an extreme case and I would have stood before a judge and justified my actions had I needed to. But why should I?
Why should families already struggling financially, socially, physically and emotionally be told they can’t have a much needed break during term time?
Why should they be fined for doing what is right and beneficial for their own family?
Families of children with additional needs are among the most vulnerable in society.
They often rely on government benefits as many parents have to care full time and are unable to work.
Families are coping with incredible stress from medical appointments, meetings, administering medication, lack of sleep, lack of finances, chasing professionals and the physical care of a child or children with extra needs.
For many going anywhere in busy school holidays is out of the question due to poor access, queues, crowds, noise and cost. By preventing family holidays in term time these families become more isolated and stressed than ever.
The end up at breaking point costing society money in respite and antidepressants that could have been prevented by the freedom to have a family break when needed.
A week of school work can be caught up.
A week of laughter and rest can make the difference between a child and family coping or falling apart.
That week away restored my family to health, physically and mentally.
It was vital for us all and we turned months of tears and trauma into precious smiles and memories.
Sometimes we need to look at the bigger picture.
School attendance is important but physical and mental health matters more.