Claire Keulen Nell Picture

“It’s empowering her by giving her choices” – Claire’s Story

The Bill Harrison Assessment Service at I CAN gives parents and carers the key information they need to help their child with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). We spoke to one parent, Claire Keulen, about how the assessment has helped her daughter Nell and the progress she’s made as a result.

Tell me a bit about your daughter Nell. What is her speech and language communication need like and how does it manifest itself?

Nell is five but when she was 12 months old, she was diagnosed with a chromosome disorder so she has a deletion of Chromosome 18.

She was keeping up with her peers in some areas of her development but she was completely non-verbal. Speech and communication was by far her biggest area of need.

We could see she had the ability to learn, she liked problem-solving and puzzles but her understanding of conceptual language was really poor.

Did you know straight away that she needed extra support?

By the time she became two or two and a half, all of her peers could make themselves understood through verbal communication. Nell couldn’t do that. As a result, we started to see more frustration from her.

Was it purely speech and language where Nell was struggling or were there other areas?

Nell struggled with her fine motor skills and had some sensory differences too. Professionals were quick to label her with global development delay and indicated she would have intellectual disability.

It’s very hard to assess a non-verbal child when the assessment relies so heavily on them being able to communicate their responses and understand the language being used. It was always clear to us that Nell understood far more than she’s able to communicate.

However, it was unclear to us what level of provision she would need or what type of school would be the best fit for her.

Was there anything specifically that prompted you to get her assessed?

The I CAN Assessment we received was about having a better understanding of what Nell’s needs were.

The local authority initially said her primary need was speech and language communication needs (SLCN). They then said that a more generalist special needs school for moderate learning disability would be more suitable.

To make sure we found the right school, we arranged an assessment.

What was the assessment service like at the Bill Harrison Centre?

Initially I spoke to Sarah Billingham at the centre and she was so supportive. We were given so much information about the service and I had clear expectations before we went ahead.

Because Nell was still quite little, they did the assessment over two days. It was thorough and covered both formal and informal assessment by expert therapists.

She spent time with other children too and some of them were using Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC). For her to see that was fantastic. She had never experienced that before.

How has that assessment helped you and Nell?

I can’t speak highly enough of the assessment centre.

It informed everything. It gave us a much clearer idea of Nell’s cognition, what learning strategies would help her and what we could do at home. It was empowering and gave us a better understanding of who she is as a person and where she was developmentally.

As a parent of a child with additional needs, you always worry if you’re doing the right thing or doing enough.

The recommendations from the assessment were so specific. It meant that everything we do now with Nell, we know it’s helping her development. I still go back and read her report from time to time!

As a result of the assessment, Meath School offered her a place. She’s making fantastic progress and is incredibly happy. The levels of frustration we were seeing are slowly disappearing and she’s much better at making herself understood.

When she started school, what benefits did it give you and Nell?

You want your child to have friends and find a peer group that works for them. She didn’t have that at pre-school.

Now she skips off into the taxi every morning so happy to go to school. The teachers are fantastic and give her all the support she needs. She’s found a friendship group she enjoys being with.

That would not have happened had she not had her assessment or gone to Meath so I’m incredibly grateful.

Now she’s in the right school, things can only get better.

What resources or tools have you used with Nell that have helped you and her speech and language?

She’s making a lot more attempts to speak and she will use AAC to build sentences. That’s all come about because of the recommendations from her assessment.

Meath also send home lots of resources for us. Now we can sign so we can ask about her day at school or how she’s feeling.

Have you found out more about her as a result?

It’s been really nice to see what her areas of interest are.

We have a much better idea about who she is as a person which is lovely.

Have you taken her to places that she’s articulated that she likes e.g. the swimming pool or the park that you’ve found out because of her improving communication?

Absolutely. It’s empowering her by giving her choices. Using AAC, she can now say, “I want to go in the car to visit my grandmother” or “I want to ride my bike”. All of these things we can do for her now because she’s able to make requests.

Find out how you can book an assessment for your child or child in your care here. If you are unsure about whether your child would be eligible to be assessed, please contact our Enquiry Service on 020 7843 2544 or email