Last week, whilst sitting in the sunshine, I finished the beautiful Shtum by Jem Lester; and incredibly moving and thought provoking novel following the life of a young boy with Autism and his family’s struggles.
Jonah is ten and doesn’t communicate at all. He is severely autistic, with speech and language difficulties, still in nappies and prone to violent outbursts. Shtum largely centres around his parents fight to get him into an appropriate secondary school, battling the Local Authority’s view that he should attend a provision they have deemed unsuitable for his complex needs.
Working in Special Education myself, I was immediately drawn to the book and felt such ties as I was reminded of the battles these families face to get the best education for their children. It is a stark reminder that, some children are hugely lucky in their educational environments, whilst others struggle under the weight of mainstream school cuts and unsuitable provisions.
Having spent years in mainstream, watching children with additional needs struggle to have their needs met, largely through the lack of money ploughed in from the government, I could wholeheartedly sympathise with what Jonah’s parents had to go through, in order to meet his needs.
I also loved the way in which the novel explored the relationship between his parents and the guilt and hurt they faced every day, due to their son’s needs. Parent’s have enough pressures and stress at home, dealing with their children’s additional needs, without the need to worry about their education also. Too many families are facing tribunals, costing them thousands of pounds, which most do not have, in order to fight for their children, who cannot fight for themselves.
It angers me that there are still too many children, in unsuitable educational settings, with staff having to go the extra mile to ensure their needs are met, despite a lack of funding and space to do so. Each and every child has the right to an education, one that is suitable to their own specific needs. We shouldn’t still have families fighting, schools struggling and unhappy children – it doesn’t need to be so hard.
I was completely moved by Jonah’s story, relating to every word as I watched parent’s I know fight for their own children. It is a stark reminder of the struggles these children and their families face on a daily basis, and the ignorance and stigma that still surrounds their very complex needs.
Jem Lester writes so beautifully and honestly, reducing me to tears on several occasions throughout Jonah’s story. And, whilst I was glad to see his journey reach a happy conclusion, that is not always the case for so many children just like him.
I strongly urge anyone with a background in Special Educational Needs or anyone with a desire to learn more, to pick up this beautiful, heart wrenching novel. You won’t be disappointed!