Behaviour Matters

Archive for November, 2012

Thank you parents

I know that one person reading this will think it is aimed at her, but it isn’t. This week’s blog is about teachers, teaching assistants and supporters who become part of a child’s life. We have professional boundaries we cannot cross, yet we also have a moral commitment to the individual. We have access to so much confidential and personal information that we may know more about the child and the family than many of their friends do. There may be some professional reading this who will consider my next statement unprofessional, but I also develop a strong relationship with the people I work with, they are my friends, in many cases the people I am teaching or supporting have become more of a friend than my colleagues. But then at the end of the school year or the term or if I need to move jobs I am taken away from this very special ‘friend’. I may never see them again, but I do often think about them. The young girl from Edinburgh who attended the residential college I worked in. Where is she now? She will no longer be in the care system. Is she happy? Has she overcome her difficulties? Does she still dye her hair Orange? Or there are the boys I worked with at Newcastle College, did they ever go on to become the architect and accountant they wanted to be. Does the oldest one still drive? What happened when they left care? There are the sad questions about the ladies I taught in the prison, are they still offending? How are their children coping? Are they in the offending cycle? Are they still alive? The care home I worked in where I had to leave after whistle blowing, are the residents still there? If not where are they now? Has the home improved its standards of care? So many people have touched my life, allowed me to enter their world for a brief moment in time, but they have left me with so much. They have ignited my passion for what I do; they encouraged me to learn more about the autistic world and inspired me to pass on my knowledge to improve the lives of others.

Not only do we build attachments with the people we work with and support but they give us so much that they never really leave us. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for them, those wonderful people on the autistic spectrum who cannot cope with changes, who find socialising difficult and who have difficulty imaging a world without you in it. We as teachers move on and leave, sometimes very quickly, we may not be forgotten but the memories may be tainted by the anxiety caused by us leaving.

I would just like to say to all parents that the decisions we make as carers, teachers, support workers or teaching assistants to move on is never an easy one, and we never forget your children, they have moulded us, helped us, and touched our lives forever.

Thank you for allowing us time with your child.

Education and Qualifications

Time for a new blog, well it is Saturday after all.

This week I will discuss qualifications and the need for them. As an individual I do not believe in the need for qualifications as we have them today, there is too much emphasis put on the need to reach certain grades in a variety of subjects. I do think there is an argument for understanding and comprehending, knowing how to use the information you are taught at school. But ultimately what do the qualifications do for us?

Some of you reading this will know about my graduation ceremony on Thursday, and now may be wondering why I did a degree if I don’t believe in the qualification structure. It’s a good point, with a simple answer. When I left school I had a handful of CSEs nothing very impressive or worthwhile, I drifted through school and have to some extent drifted through life. I always knew I could have done better but even at the age of 15 I knew the qualifications were not the answer to life. As I grew older and realised that pieces of paper were important I had none so started again. The latest degree was something to keep me busy (I get bored very quickly with nothing to do) I didn’t do it for academic gain or employment advancement, just to stop me getting bored.

I remember a few years ago talking to a young girl on a train, she was about 13 I think, we started talking about school, future, college, university and work. She was telling me that she had to sit some exams the following day but that she hadn’t done any revision as was worried. Thinking about this I began to think about the need to pressurise young people into believing that if they fail now then their lives will be forever awful. This just is not true. In my opinion the exams you sit can help you on to the next step of your journey through life. At 16 if that journey differs from the path you intended it will not end your life but take you on a different journey with possibly a different destination, this may be a better one.

During the ceremony on Thursday I was sitting next to an older gentleman who thought he would be the oldest person to graduate, he wasn’t. He asked me if my qualification would help me in my work. I said that it might but probably wont other than by having a few more letters after my name some people may be more inclined to employ my services, and that the research I have done has given me more understanding of a range of subjects.

To end this very unorganised thought process of mine I can easily sum up the need for education and the need for qualifications as two separate points. Yes we need to educate people in all sorts of topics and ideas, not just academic. Yes we need to assess capabilities and understanding of those topics and ideas. Yes employers need to have some way of gauging the knowledge of prospective employees as do some educators. No we do not need to pressure children into reaching targets set by others and that do not reflect the child’s growth in all areas. No we do not need to put young people on a path to failure if they do not achieve. No we do not need to assess ability based on the results of a one or two hour exam.

Allow children to learn at their own pace, ensure they learn the important points of life and accentuate the positives. Do not allow children to feel they have failed at the age of 16, life is just beginning not ending at this age.
I don’t have the answer to the problem of assessing knowledge and understanding in a way that suits everyone, they may be no answer, but testing and examining children form the age of seven is not the right way. Allow children to cherish their childhood and do not allow them to fail from a young age.

Environments and Senses

 

This week’s blog will combine the previous two weeks.  I will be talking about how the school environment can be too much for some children with ASC.

 

As a child I didn’t notice the environment too much, I can’t remember feeling anything going into the school hall or when using the school toilets.  There was always a curious feeling of ‘not being allowed here’ when I had to go into the school staff room, and a feeling of being ‘in trouble’ when I had to go and see the head teacher.  But that’s about it for me.  When my children went to school again I didn’t give the environment much notice.  I didn’t know what to look for and was more interested in the education of my children than the environment.  I suppose that is true for most parents and children who do not experience the environment in the physical way that ASC children can.

 

During my time working with adults and children with ASC I have learnt how important the environment can be.  I have also seen how a mainstream school that tells parents they understand the needs of the child don’t always understand the environmental needs.  They may be referring to the educational needs (learning and teaching methods) and the social needs (friendships, rules, logical thinking).  In mainstream education teachers are taught and encouraged to use bright displays to support children’s emotional wellbeing by displaying their work.  There are displays covering every piece of wall space available, usually in bright primary colours.  They may have pieces of work nicely mounted onto contrasting paper which are then placed on boards in a random pattern.  Or they may have lots of photographs of children on an outing or doing an activity, again these are usually displayed on irregular angles.  Many of them look very impressive and have taken some dedicated TA’s a long time as well as the children.  For a child with ASC these beautiful and well constructed displays can be an assault on their vision.  The colours can be too distracting, the placement of the work too disorganised, the contrast in colours too harsh, the whole thing can be painful to look at, but so bright that they cannot avoid looking at it.  All of this can then cause a child to have a autistic meltdown, but the teachers cannot see a trigger as they are not aware that it is the room its self.

 

The same can happen in school halls.  Generally these are large halls with high ceilings and sound echoes around the room.  Children are expected to sit in this space and concentrate on the teacher or a speaker.  Many children find this difficult, just sitting still during an assembly can be difficult.  The child with ASC will have the added difficulty of the compounded assault of sound in their head due to the echo and acoustics of the room.  Again this can lead to a meltdown with no obvious trigger.  Alternatively if the room is empty the child may enjoy spending time in the room playing with the acoustics, shouting, spinning, running, stamping hearing the different sounds reverberating off the walls and ceiling.  During this time the assault on his hearing is not painful as he is in control of it and he is not expected to focus his attention onto the speaker at the front.  If the hall is used for PE then teachers can have the same problem trying to get the child to concentrate due to sounds bouncing around the space.  Another use for school halls is for lunch times, this time the noise level and the acoustics play a big part in the affect the space has on the child with ASC.  Depending on the sensitivity of the child’s sense of hearing and the power of other senses (taste, smell, sight) this level of noise may not be a distraction, but if the child is not interested in food or understand the importance of food or the feeling of hunger the noise may be too distracting to enable him to eat.

 

Speaking of smell (scent) again these can be very distracting for some children.  If the classroom is close to the kitchen then the smell of cooking food may be the cause of a meltdown, or if the toilets are even slightly smelly the child may refuse to use them, resulting in pain and discomfort.  If the teacher or TA changes her perfume or personal scent in any way this can create a difficult situation for the child who is trying to understand how she looks and sounds the same but smells different.  This again can be an assault on the child’s sense of smell and cause a meltdown with no apparent trigger.

 

There are so many environmental factors to consider if your child has ASC.  Flickering lights, sun through the windows, temperature, sounds, smells, routines, and changes.  It is difficult to imagine the effects all of these have on a child (unless you went through it yourself).  As a parent you will understand the consequences of getting it wrong, but it is still difficult to comprehend how it might affect the child, and yet some children thrive and cope in these ever changing environments, and we expose children to these environments forgetting how much impact they may have.

 

It is difficult for any school, classroom, home, shop, station or anywhere to adapt the environment to meet the needs of everyone, some children need a high level of stimulation to enable them to learn others need very little stimulation, and there is no way to accurately balance it.  but as a parent you can understand the difficulties and ensure that the school your child attends has some understanding before they start.

 

When you visit a school don’t just ask about learning styles, teaching abilities, access to alternative curriculums, availability of support, training and understanding of the condition and behaviour policies (these are all important) but you also need to know if the toilets that are cleaned every morning and evening, but used by 60 children throughout the day will still be smelly, if the area your child will be working in is highly visual, remember it can be distracting or even painful for your child to work in that space all day, if he is expected to eat his meal in a very noisy and crowded hall, this could mean he may not eat at all.  Go into the toilets towards the end of the day on a classroom visit and experience the aromas, ask to go into the hall to experience the acoustics, make sure the school can provide a time out space for the child so he can self regulate his senses overload when needed. Ask if the lighting can be adjusted as bright lights can be painful.

 

They are simple alterations that can make a big difference to your child’s ability to learn.  Don’t be afraid to ask.

Educatiing Autism

I never usually know what to write about when I start these blogs, they start and morph into something, but today I do have a topic in mind. Something that has been hovering in my head for a while, but I thought it was common sense so never bothered really telling any one. As any of you who read my tweets will know i have a passion for Autism. I don’t have any family members with a diagnosis, but I am lucky enough to have a number of friends who have a diagnosis or have children with this very special condition.

My background is in special education and child development and I don’t have any difficulty relating to people with differences, after all we are all different in some way. People have told me that I have an ability to see people not labels or difficulties, I can see how best to support a person in the best way and that I understand difficulties and adapt to meet their needs. This has only recently become apparent to me, I thought everyone could do this, but many chose not to. Apparently I was wrong! (That in its self is a shock.)

Getting back to the topic of the blog. Educating Autism.

I have recently realised that teachers teach in a typical manner, they way they are taught to teach, the way they are expected to teach, each with their own unique take on it, but generally in a way that fits the education system. A bit like a conveyor system, foundation you learn this, then year 1 you learn this, in year 2 you build on year on and foundation as well as learning this, and so education continues. This is not a criticism of teachers, (I believe they all do a great job and try their best fitting in all the planning, marking, CPD, extra curricular activities, nurturing etc.) but it is a criticism of the education structure. Following the Warnock Report inclusion was made a focus for educationalists, and inclusion can be excellent for many children. But the system needs to change to accommodate the very different needs of children who now attend mainstream schools, teachers need to know how to adapt their teaching, differentiate the learning, accommodate the children, listen to parents and be involved in all aspects of the child’s care and not just on paper. Anyway this is a diversion from my subject.

I may have mentioned in previous blogs that children with special needs learn differently so the traditional and usual methods of teaching reading for example may not be suitable for all children in mainstream education. For children with very logical thinking patterns phonics means nothing, there is no purpose to it so why should they spend their time learning it, or not as the case usually is. There are alternative ways to teach a child to read. I see this as common sense, if one way isn’t working, find another. By insisting on following the same system for children who are struggling you are failing them, they are not achieving or enjoying (Every Child Matters) their learning, they become distracted and display behaviour teachers find challenging, disruptive and are given a label. If this is the result of foundation stage then can you imagine the impact that will have on the child’s emotional and intellectual development in future years?

I have no simple answer to this; inclusion is important and works well for many children, teachers are working hard to meet the needs of all of the children in their class, time is precious to them. Maybe the answer is in the teacher training, and the education system as a whole. Introduce teachers to other methods of teaching, and ensure the education system does provide for individual children allowing them to progress at their own pace rather than the pace set by Government.

feel free to add your comments, lets see if we can improve, for the children