I’ve had on my list for a while to blog about Portage but wasn’t planning on writing it this week. Then I found out today that it’s Portage Awareness Week so what better time really?
Most people not in the SEN world will probably have no idea what Portage is. I certainly didn’t before Pudding. When our Speech and Language Therapist first mentioned mentioned the word I had visions of learning something about heavy lifting (probably very useful in our case).
The title actually comes from the town of that name in Wisconsin, USA, where the first scheme was set up. A much better name for it would be The Service That Every Special Needs Family Should Have. But I guess they thought that would be a little long-winded.
So what exactly is Portage? It’s a weekly (or fortnightly) home visiting service for pre-school children with developmental difficulties or disabilities with a strong emphasis on inclusion and partnership.
For us it started before diagnosis, before MPS was even mentioned and it very quickly became a highlight of our routine. Every week for an hour (usually longer – our portage Home Visitor, K, was never very good at leaving) we could focus on the positives. Having got used to reports saying ‘P has limited understanding of instructions’ or ‘P is behind his peers in all areas of development’, it was so lovely to celebrate achievements instead. And celebrate we did. K always had genuine pride in her eyes when I told her what improvements Pudding had made over the last week.
It is a wonderfully family-centred service with each session including child-led play, structured learning and time to focus on families’ concerns and priorities. And when I say structured learning, I don’t mean they sit the child down and start teaching the alphabet; it’s a way of breaking down activities into simple steps and looking at the next stage to work on. For instance one of the first activities Pudding was introduced to was threading (which he hadn’t had much success with previously). Home Visitors have access to a wide range of toys and resources that they can loan to families, so Pudding was able to start with a very easy set of beads and then worked through more and more difficult challenges to become a threading expert!
So Pudding benefited enormously from the focus on small steps to learning. But I would say that possibly I was the one who got the most out of portage. K was one of the only people I told about MPS in the early days, even before I told Hubby. Every Friday I would pour out my fears and my worries to her while Pudding played happily or worked on our latest targets. Every Friday she would cry alongside me and my load was lightened. This really did help me get through the worst of times.
As time has gone on, the focus of our sessions has changed again. We have been supported through the process of My Support Plans, EHCPs and now transition towards school. We’ve been given help and advice in so many different areas that I wouldn’t otherwise have had a clue about.
We’re coming to the end of our time with portage now and we’ve been so lucky to have access to this service – in many areas it has suffered greatly from austerity cuts.
Portage taught me a number of important things: how to break an activity down into small steps and celebrate each little achievement; what other services we could access; that as a parent I’m the expert on my child. But most of all it taught me that I was already doing a good job. And that is something that every parent needs to be told more often. Perhaps in the most ideal world this service would be extended to all parents in need of it.
Hoorah for Portage!
(For more information on the service, visit the National Portage Association’s website.)