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About the episode:

This week, Reena is in conversation with the CEO of Special Needs Community, Olivia King-Boateng, whose son was born with Down’s syndrome and later also diagnosed with autism as a result of her intervention. Generous and inspirational, she used the knowledge she gained from professionals in the first years of her son’s life to help other parents struggling with their own children’s special needs, culminating in the foundation of Special Needs Community, of which she is CEO. Join Reena and Olivia as they discuss the pressure on relationships that an SEN diagnosis can have, how different cultural understandings can cause conflict, and how you need to learn as much as you can to become the best advocate for your child.



Reena: [0:13]

Hi everyone. Thanks very much for tuning into today’s podcast. Today is a super special one. I have a lady who I can only describe as a powerhouse of knowledge and experience, someone whom I’ve looked up to immensely for many years. I actually went up to her once after I attended a forum years ago – Evy was in nursery – and I was in pieces because things were not going well, and she was just such a source of support. And years later when we met and I reminded her, I was thinking, ‘She does this for people all the time, she’s not going to remember me’, but she has always extended kindness to every parent who has children with special educational needs, and is a real source of love and encouragement.

So, I’m delighted to present to you Olivia King-Boateng today. Olivia is a parent of a soon-to- be 19-year-old boy with Down’s Syndrome, autism and severe learning disabilities. He was diagnosed at birth and that’s when Olivia’s journey – her son journey’s – started. Despite lots of medical issues, Olivia talks very positively about the support that she received for her son, through the hospital therapy services, to portage and then to her son’s special school.

Despite having a background in business and management, she had to stop working to concentrate on looking after her son, and she first got involved in supporting the community through voluntary work at the special school, where she started to run coffee mornings for parents. And through doing this, she realised that by sharing her experience and the information about the support that she was receiving, it was a huge source of inspiration to other parents. So, she then trained to become a paid parent ambassador for the school for two years, and the chair of the PTA.

 In 2008, she got involved with the ‘Aiming high for Disabled Children Initiative’, a nationwide government initiative, and started running the Harrow Parent Carer Forum as a SEC chair and then secretary in 2020. In 2017, she founded and became the CEO of Special Needs Community to provide more specialist support and advocacy for parents, by working closely with early support and multi agency safeguarding hub teams. SNC, which is short for Special Needs Community, has helped to develop an inclusive all-ability playground which contains swing sets for all abilities and those with mobility issues, including wheelchair users. And it also continues to engage with a wide range of families and professionals to develop projects that impact the community locally and nationwide. 

Olivia, welcome and thank you so much for joining me today on this podcast.

Olivia King-Boateng: [3:03]

Thank you, Reena. This is an amazing opportunity. I was always glad to have a conversation with you because they’re really important podcasts and I hope lots of people are listening.

Reena: [3:13]

Thank you. So should we start with your own personal experience? Tell me a bit about your experience of parenting a child with special educational needs.

Olivia King-Boateng: [3:22]

My experience really started with the birth of my son. My son was born with Down’s syndrome. And it was a massive shock. It started from when he was born and things got really complicated. I can honestly tell you for the five years since he was born, I was in a bit of a trance. I had three objectives: eat, sleep and keep them alive – because he had lots of medical problems and things like that. So, it took a while for things to settle down, and then that’s when all the support kicked in. But obviously you have family issues as well. It brought a lot of stress on my marriage at the time, and unfortunately my husband and I decided to separate and get a divorce. It was a lot. It was a lot for my family.

Reena: [4:19]

And actually, there are statistics that show that parents of children with special educational needs do have a higher divorce rate, and I can understand why, actually. Whilst Evy doesn’t have the same issues as your son did, I remember going completely into that mode of ‘it’s all about him’ and neglecting my relationships with my friends, with my siblings, with my husband, because I drew this narrative in my head that nobody in my wider circle would understand. You can so easily become distanced from your partner because your life is upended by a child with a diagnosis, and you’re trying to figure out this way of life that no one’s prepared you for.

Olivia King-Boateng: [5:07]

Yeah, absolutely. And then what comes in, is all the cultural stuff. What it does, it actually highlights some of the issues that you might have had in your marriage before, and it puts it on a pedestal for everyone to see. And what it really highlighted is our different perspectives are looking at it from a cultural perspective – even though we’ve come from the same country, we are different tribes from the same country. But we had a completely different understanding or acceptance level of what it means to have a child with special needs. And like you say, I just put my head down: I’ve got to keep my son alive. And then, you know, the rest of it kind of just took hold. And here we are. So that that’s kind of how it unfolded itself.

Reena: [5:57]

Amazing. So – what’s your ‘why?’ I mean obviously you’re a dedicated parent, but you’ve done so much more than just focus on your child. You work and you have done ever since you’ve been able to – since your son was young, right through to now. Your whole life has basically been about serving the community, and nationally – children with special educational needs. What is it about this that just makes you so passionate to make a difference?

Olivia King-Boateng: [6:28] 

Yeah, so for a lot of people, if you’re in the neurotypical world and just getting on with your life, SEND [special educational needs and disability] doesn’t touch your life in that way. When you have kind of intimate… understanding of the needs of a child with special needs, it is a whole new world. You are plunged into a whole new world. There’s so much complexity in this world of SEN [special educational needs] as a parent, that it’s hard to explain it to another parent or another person who’s not involved in the SEN community. And when I say the SEN community, I mean teachers, I mean professionals, anyone who relates to those people, but mostly parents. One of the things I say, is that as parents we are living on the same planet, but we are on two completely different worlds. So, it’s been a huge learning curve for me to understand what SEN is about, and SEN is such a spectrum in itself – there’s somebody who’s got a mild SEN versus somebody who’s quite extreme. All those people are in this one community – it’s not possible for us to understand all of it. And if you imagine that there is constant research about different types of SEN, and so it is a constant learning curve for everybody. 

As a parent, first I had to educate myself about what SEN means, but most importantly SEN in terms of how my child presents. Yes, there’s lots of textbooks, but the only thing that’s really important is how it relates to your child. So I’ve had to educate people about what my child presents. He doesn’t fit the normal textbooks. My son has Down’s. And then he was diagnosed with autism when he was eight, but I recognised the signs when he was three. But only because I was involved in my son’s school. I started to go, ‘Ooh, what’s that about? Why is he presenting that way?’ And so I did a lot of courses. I talked to lots of professionals and I had to go, ‘You know what? I think he has autism’. 

I thought I had to start that journey for myself and educate myself in order to support my son, because I desperately wanted to help him. But I just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know. Nobody knew my son like I knew my son. It was a journey of learning for me and then it was a journey of learning to engage with everyone who supported him – whether at school, whether at play scheme, whether the carer – and go, ‘This is what he does. When he does this, he means this’. So you have to be in that position of knowing for yourself so that you can explain it to other people. 

And so my ‘why’ has really come from helping different types of people understand that no size fits all. As much as we like to categorise children under this whole umbrella of SEN or SEND, there is no one size fits all. It’s great that the textbooks explain lots of things, but the textbook cannot explain everything about one child – they are three-dimensional people. There might be very similar characteristics, but rarely is there one that fits a child completely. For instance, my son has Down’s and autism and I was told early on in my research and my conversations that, ‘Oh no, that’s not possible. You can’t have Down’s and autism – they’re two opposing things. That’s like Jekyll and Hyde. I’m like, ‘Well, I don’t know what that means. All I know is he presents like this and he presents like this’.

So, then I was like, ‘Well, what is autism? Explain to me what autism is in the way that people understand it’. In me coming to find that out, I’ve had to educate other professionals who told me that it’s not possible to have Down’s and autism, and actually it’s quite possible to have Down’s and autism. I think what’s important is that the community together has to keep learning together. We need professionals and professionals need us. In a 24-hour-day, professionals are with our children for five hours; we are with our children 18 hours of that same day, and then we’ve got the weekends and holiday period. None of us have 100% information about what it means to either have SEN or the right kind of education. But together we can learn so much more. There is nothing to it other than we both need each other. For me, my ‘why’ is helping professionals understand parents, and parents to understand where professionals are coming from and understanding the education around SEN. And that has to be the only thing that can really support our children all round. So that’s what I’m passionate about.

Reena: [11:36]

Amazing. I mean, it totally comes through and anyone who’s met you will say the same. I think it’s incredible when I see parents who, on top of navigating parenting a child who obviously continues to grow, and will continue to have other, perhaps new challenges along the way, still go out into this space to say, ‘You know what, I’ve been through this, I’m coming out to show you. This is what I went through and this is what you can do to avoid maybe the pitfalls I’ve had or to make your life better’. So it’s amazing. What you do is absolutely incredible. So, tell me a bit about your cultural background.

Olivia King-Boateng: [12:16]

I’m from Africa, specifically Ghana, West Africa, and even within the same country of Ghana there’s tribal angst. I am from the tribe called Ewe and my husband’s from the tribe called Ashanti. So even now we had issues of getting married, but we get that in the Asian community. So, it’s very common thing to have differences within your own wider culture. I would say within Ghana, and in Africa, generally speaking, the concept of SEN is not very well understood and we don’t have the research background to really help us put the foundations in the education system. So, the education system itself is probably not a helpful system. Up to recently, everyone had to pay for education; all the families had to pay for education somehow. It’s only recently that education has become free, and things like a benefits system – what’s that? There are a lot of structures that haven’t been put in place, so when it comes to SEN, generally the cultural understanding of SEN is quite low.

What most people, especially Africans, are really passionate about – and I know from my Asian friends this is quite common in the Asian culture as well – is: education is everything. You’ve got to be a lawyer or an accountant or a doctor, and anything less than that is slumming it. We already put our children up on that pedestal and education is something that we really invest in. So, if you imagine a child with SEN is not hitting their milestones, it becomes very difficult for families. So that’s where the struggle really starts from. But things are changing slowly. But it’s unfortunate that those foundations have not been put in place, it’s more of a wider cultural understanding that everybody needs to improve on.

Reena [14:36]

I can certainly echo that from an Asian perspective and my experience. I trained as a lawyer because it was seen to be a very well-regarded job. Certainly, from my family, a lot of their thinking around education being the way and the saviour came from their own background of extreme poverty, and so education was basically the way out. But what’s happened with that is sometimes there’s just less respect for non-highly academic professions. I only realised how much the ideologies that I was brought up with impacted me as a parent when Evy was suspended from school at the age of 4-and-a-half. So here I am a lawyer, with a son who’s 4-and-a-half that’s been suspended from school, and my world was just a-spin. And I’m not going to lie, one of the key questions in my head was ‘What are people going to say? What are people in my family and my community going to say?’ Because that was just something that we always used to be so aware of and would outwardly perform, in accordance with what the wider society and community would find acceptable. Did you have that similarity?

Olivia King-Boateng: [16:02]

Absolutely, absolutely. As much as we’re from different cultures, the mindset is very similar. And on top of that, there’s also the religious element. You know, a lot of people, you know, Africans have – like every other you know continental country – have quite strong religious beliefs which generally are brought up. You know, Christianity is very big. Obviously, there’s other cultures like Muslims there as well, but Christianity is something that… a lot of Africans or Ghanaians would say they’re Christians. So, for those who haven’t come to that same level of understanding, to have a child of SEN – ‘Ooh, what’s wrong with you?’. There were so many elements that bring themselves to the fore when you have a child with SEN, and that certainly exposes so much. You do have to challenge your own thinking and go ‘Ooh – am I thinking those things?’ But this is my child. I know that there is nothing wrong with him, but how do I process what I’ve been brought up with, with what I know, which is my child is a pure, young little person, you know? It does put you in a position where you’re left having to recalibrate what you believe.

Reena: [17:27]

Totally. And how were your family or community around accepting your son’s disabilities?

Olivia King-Boateng: [17:36]

Unfortunately, my family has really struggled. What I explained before, just not understanding what SEN and what caused it. ‘Is it our fault? Is it something that’s in our genetics that’s caused it?’ We’ve been ostracized, and do you know what? It’s really strange: I never took it personally because I knew that they didn’t understand. I never really got a lot of support, but equally I’ve found support elsewhere – so within time you do. Initially it’s very painful, very painful – the people you grew up with even your own parents and siblings, they find that really challenging. You have to recognise it as a challenging thing, you don’t take it personally. It’s been a struggle. It’s forced me into isolation for a little bit, until I had to learn how to get used to my new norm – find my new norm and live the best life that we could. But yeah, it’s definitely challenging. And I know that other parents tell me the same thing, that they have very challenging relationships with their own family and they’re really shocked, because you think, ‘Whoa, hold on, this is my child. You know me. Why are you treating us like we can’t have anything to do with you?’ It’s a very challenging time, but it’s important to help yourself first and then see if you can find a way to bridge that gap. But it’s going to take time, and it has taken time for things to improve.

Reena: [19:23]

And you support a lot of families across the borough. Do you see this through the variety of cultures from the people that come to you for support and advocacy support?

Olivia King-Boateng: [19:36]

Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Again, not necessarily being BAME or Black and ethnic minorities, it’s lots of different cultures. There is just like layers and layers of complexity to it. And if you’re already struggling to understand what SEN is, and your family’s not being supportive and you’re physically overwhelmed… a lot of parents – it really takes them to crisis point. And sometimes all you can do is give them a shoulder to cry on and to say, ‘Hey, try to understand that it’s not personal; they just don’t understand’ and maybe it’s going to take time for them to come to the level of understanding that you’ve had to, because they haven’t had that intimate relationship with what SEND is. A lot of families find it very challenging. I think one of the most challenging aspects is if your husband – the person that you made this child together with – is also finding it difficult to accept a disabled child, so that’s a very difficult area for families.

Reena: [20:44]

I have seen that in some of the families that I have worked with, where up until the child was born, everything seemed to be fine. In my experience it’s been the mothers, but I’m sure it’s not always the mother, but where the mother has received a diagnosis and then switched on into the kind of parent advocate, warrior, ‘Right. I’m going to do everything I can for my child’ and they’re on this journey. They look over their shoulder and the husband’s still way back there, still struggling. What I’ve found is it’s not often about the child, but about the conditioning and the parental expectation and things like carrying forward your family name, and all this other stuff in the background that can sometimes impact traversing that journey at the same speed together. 

It was interesting hearing you talk about cultures, because one of the things I really struggled with – and I don’t know if this echoes your experience, and particularly with all the families you deal with – asking for help. We were always told to be very self-sufficient, and you don’t go talking about your personal problems out in public. So, when you combine that together, the thought of navigating the SEN space – bearing in mind you have had no exposure to this world whatsoever, and not asking for help, it’s so conflicting.

Olivia King-Boateng: 

It is. If you imagine if you had a neurotypical child, the family would surround you and give you the support, babysitting… if you’re going to say, a family event, your child and their cousin – they might as well be siblings for the way the family encompassed them. But when you’ve got a child with special needs and the rest of the family doesn’t know how to engage with your child, you then don’t have that support system where you would have normally have had it. So the consequences are, you’re living a completely different life than if you had a neurotypical child. Your support system was your family, and if you don’t have that support system who’s going to provide it? Social services unfortunately, or organisations and charities are having to step in, in order to provide that support for you. Unfortunately, a lot of families haven’t got to the stage where they can ask for help, because they feel already isolated, and because it feels unnatural to want to be able to replicate your family by asking for social… It’s such a thing, you know, to leave your child with somebody else who’s not your family. Ideally, you want to leave your child with somebody who cares for them. So the alternative is very difficult for families. 

Reena: [23:50]

No, I agree. I think whilst I consider myself to be in a place of confidence now, and advocacy, the journey here was supported by people who were not from my community. You know, it wasn’t the people in the Asian community that helped me get here. It was actually my white British counterparts in autism charities who provided the listening ear, who provided the encouragement to help me get onto this path. And that’s one of the reasons I do what I do now. Because I feel like I want there to be more representation. Yeah, so that parents know that they’re not the only person who has a child with a special need. They’re everywhere. But people are just not talking about it and kind of behind closed doors. 

So, you know, we’ve talked a lot about some of the challenges of navigating community and culture and all of this, but I’d love to hear from you because you work so extensively with families. I’d love to hear some success stories about where it’s gone really well when parents have embraced their child’s special need and then have engaged with services. What does that look like?

Olivia King-Boateng: [25:04]

Well, I mean it’s a different journey for everybody. Some parents are switched on about what they need to do. Some parents are in denial. And it’s got nothing to do with the education. I remember at my son’s school, I was the parent who wanted to know – ‘tell me everything’ – and some parents go, ‘No, we’re not acknowledging any kind of SEN; they’re going to be fine’. So, parents are at different levels, but ultimately the journey is similar in the sense that we all come on a journey and you’re part of the community. And I’ve seen a lot of the parents, even this one parent who was – she was a lawyer as well – but she was definitely in denial because of what we talked about earlier: education. When she gave birth to her children, she had an understanding what they were doing. They were creating a legacy. They were creating this empire. And suddenly she got a child she doesn’t know how to educate, how they’re going to improve. So those challenges are very difficult even for those who are seemingly very educated. So again, it’s very different for everybody. 

But one of the things that a lot of parents come to – almost like an ‘aha’ moment – is a thing about labels. The word ‘label’ keeps kind of resonating in their heads: ‘But I don’t want them to have their label, but what if other people get to label them?’. This word label just goes round and round in their heads, and the success stories that we’ve had is to get parents to really understand and change that word ‘label’ to something else. So, for instance, I’ve had to break down the concept of the label and get them to switch it around. So, to understand what your child with SEN has, you need some sort of an assessment. You want a professional to sit down with you, look at their behaviours, the things they can do, the things they can’t do, the challenges they have, and then find out where they are with the difficulties they’re having. Because if you’ve got a broken leg you know something’s wrong, you just don’t know what it is. But if you don’t have an assessment… They went to the doctor. The doctor can tell you, actually your leg’s not broken, it’s just sprained. So to not understand what your child difficulties are, is to be in no man’s land and not really understand what the issues are. And if you don’t understand the issues, then how do you know what you’re doing is making any difference to them? How are you really helping them? So have an assessment done, find out what the issues are, and then if it comes to a diagnosis, you might find a diagnosis could be ‘Oh, no they just have anxiety’ or they have mental health issues that’s causing this. Or, they might have a diagnosis for ADHD or autism. But again, as we know, autism is a spectrum. You can have Asperger’s, which appears applies to quite intelligent young people, but just have a difficulty in some social interaction. Or you can have autism that’s quite severe. But where on the spectrum does your child sit, and how are you going to apply the right strategies to them? So I asked parents to really look at the word ‘label’ as understanding. I asked them to switch the word ‘label’ for a process of understanding. All you’re doing by getting a label or diagnosis, is just better understanding. And would you not rather have the understanding, rather than have somebody else label your child as autistic when they might not be autistic? It’s better that if it’s a label of autism, you know what type, so you can say ‘No, actually, that’s not what it is’. Because you’ve understood what difficulties your child has, you can take away a lot of the fear of the label. Because now you know, actually they just have difficulties in this area. And then once you understand what strategies you can help them with, you find that the things that you were afraid of are not as big at all. When they reached that milestone – actually, they’re trying as hard as they can. And if they’re trying as hard as they can, there is no fear because you’re both doing it the best you can. So, I find a lot of parents going, ‘Oh gosh, I never thought about it like that’, so that’s one of the things we do, that over and over again seems to be quite successful.

Reena: [29:57]

 Amazing. Amazing. It’s just that shift in perspective, isn’t it?

Olivia King-Boateng: [31:02]

Shift in perspective, yeah.

Reena : [30:05]

If a parent is concerned – so parents listening in and they’re concerned about their child’s development – where should they go? What practical hints or tips would you provide to parents that would support them?

Olivia King-Boateng: [30:19]

Well, again, it’s kind of depending on what stage you’re at. One of the things that makes me quite frustrated is that whereas my journey started at the birth of my son and the support kicked in – and this is why I do what I do – because I looked around, I thought, ‘Hold on a minute, why aren’t other parents getting the support that I got for my son?’. 

There’s a lot of parents that we come across whose child is six/eight/eleven who’ve never heard of some basic things that you and I know about. So, it’s really interesting, and sometimes it’s because they were in denial, so they refused a lot of the help, and sometimes they just never came across the professional who was able to go, ‘Hey, have you considered this information or that information, can I make a referral?’. The level of support families get varies so wildly, which is what the SEND review at the moment is looking at. It’s really unfair to a lot of families. 

So, it really depends on where people are and how much people can take in. Some parents come in the state where you can tell them lots of things and professionals have done that before, but they’re just not ready to receive it. The penny hasn’t dropped, so they’re walking around in a little bit of a trance like I was in the five years after my son was born. I was literally nodding at professionals giving me lots of information. I took the information and put it on a pile, because I just wasn’t ready to receive that. And so it kind of depends where you are. 

I also always say, ‘If you have concerns, trust your instincts’. That’s where you start from: trust your instincts. If there’s something not quite right… like we said before, there is no such thing as one size fits all. Some things that some people might suggest is an issue, might not necessarily be the issue you might have to be investigating. It might not fit the diagnosis or the label might not fit your child entirely. You always have to trust your instincts and go, ‘What is this about? What’s going on? I don’t know what this is’.

And don’t be embarrassed about asking lots and lots of questions to lots of different people. I would say one of the things that really helped me is training. Go to many opportunities. To coffee mornings – start with there. Find out from other parents, ‘Well, I have a child with this need’ or ‘This issue is something I don’t understand’. Talk to other parents and find out a) what’s available, and b) if other parents have the same experience. One of the greatest tools that we have is parenting networks, because you learn so much more. I have to honestly say I’ve learned so much more from other parents in terms of what’s available, than I have from professionals. And again, as parents, we will walk with you on that journey. So if you came to a parent network when your child is 16, you will have somebody who’s in that network who understands what it means to have a child of 16. If you came to the parent network when your child was three, there was other parents who would hold your hand through their journey, because nobody signposts you, and goes, ‘At the age of five, when they go to school – this happens. At the age of 11 when they go to high school – this happens. When they hit puberty – watch out! Uh-oh!’ Nobody does that other than parents. 

So, one of the important tools that we need to use is, go to parent coffee mornings and networks, listen to professionals. Not everything is applicable, but the information is useful. Listen to professionals and use the strategies. Practise them. Experiment with them, so that you know what works and what doesn’t. One of the strategies that I learned early on, is positive behaviour support, or positive behaviour plan. And to somebody brought up in Africa, it’s a complete mind shift. What is that about?! When a child does something wrong, we chastised them – we do not praise them. We do not ignore naughty behaviour. We have to understand that our children, because they’re not neurotypical, they won’t react in the same way as a neurotypical child, so you have to learn to do things differently. 

There are so many things that you’ve yet to learn, but be open minded. Do your research. Listen to lots of different people and practise the strategies, because you might find that it actually works. At first it might seem like, ‘That doesn’t make any sense’, but a lot of strategies is because research has gone through them, and sometimes there is such a thing as the ‘theory/reality gap’. It might work great at school, but it might not work great at home. But you might be able to tweak it. So the first thing to do is trust your instincts. Start on that journey. It’s not the end of the world. It’s not the end of the world. You’ve just got to take away the fear by understanding what this world is about, and how your child perceives the world, because you almost need to look at the world from their eyes. 

One of the parents that I came across in my journey trying to understand autism, had two boys. One had almost like Asperger’s type of autism, and one had quite severe type of autism. So his communication was quite difficult. And the one that was Asperger’s was describing what goes on in his mind in social settings, or why he has difficulties, why he finds it…the sensory overload. And he’s basically saying, that sometimes it’s like a party going on in his head. And that was such a penny dropping for me. And so when I look at my son and he’s found it difficult in different situations, I was so full up with so much empathy, and like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is his world’. And so you almost have to try to bring yourself down to your child’s perspective of how they are experiencing life. And that’s the most important thing that you can do – is do your best to support your child. And it’s difficult. Because you’re living in two different worlds and you’ve just got to find a way to bridge that world for him and yourself. I would say that would be the first instance; believe in what your child is saying to you, and help him find a way to live in this world, but also find a way to find things that support him as well. Find a bridge that helps your child.

Reena: [37:13]

Oh, I completely echo that sentiment, Olivia. I remember how counterintuitive it felt when Evy would present with very challenging behaviour, and traditionally – well, they would either be told off or worse. And I had to completely do a U-turn on that style of parenting very, very early on because that was trauma inducing. But so this way of parenting him where I’m getting down to his level and he’s really angry, and I’m like, ‘I really love you and I can see you’re really distressed right now’ – that was never role modelled for me and it was uncharted territory really. And as counterintuitive as it felt, I’m so glad I stuck with it, because the traditional model of parenting was never going to work for him. And I think being open to adapting your parenting style can make a massive difference to your relationship with your child. And that doesn’t mean you have to change everything, but it’s just stopping and thinking: ‘Is the way I’m…’ I don’t want to use the word discipline – but ‘Is the way I’m parenting my child serving them like the actual child that they are? Is it actually serving them?’

Olivia King-Boateng: [38:36]

We also have to understand that there is a child. Because a child, you know, does different things. Any normal children, you don’t have to have special needs to be behaving badly, you know? So at the end of that – because sometimes I’m thinking my son is way too clever for me; he’s very smart – and I’m thinking ‘How do you have SEN? Because you’re way too clever. You already know certain things’. Understand that your child is still a child in his own right. But then how does the SEN impact on how he interprets life? You have to be mindful that your parenting is always going to be challenging. You always have to be learning; constantly in the learning phase. That’s where you always have to be.

Reena: [39:28]

Amazing. Thank you so much. This has been an incredible conversation, Olivia. Where can people find out more about Special Needs Community?

Olivia King-Boateng: [39:35]

So, one of the things we’re very obsessed about is information, because sometimes you’re not ready for the information, but you just need to know where to get it when you are ready. And there is so much out there. One of the things that we’re trying to do is create our directory. This pulls information in from lots of different places, so I would say the first port of call would be our website. We like to put in lots of different things, engage with lots of different people and tell you what’s going on nationally, as well as London, as well as locally. We try to put everything onto our website. It’s at, and hopefully you’ll find lots of starting places, so that you can apply a lot of things that you’ve learned to your local area because that’s a really important place to get started. But looking for the local offer and all the local organisations start from there, but you can find all that information on our website.

Reena: [40:40]

Thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking time out today. It’s been a brilliant conversation.

Olivia King-Boateng:  

It’s been fun. Thank you for having me.


Incredible to see the similarities between our cultures. I find that so interesting.

Olivia King-Boateng: [40:52]

It’s funny when you start talking, then you start to go, ‘Oh yes, I remember this’ and because you tend to put everything like, ‘Right. Finished this one, I’m going to the next one’. But yeah, it’s so much learning to do, so much more learning to do. Thank you.

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