Tag archives: learning disabilities

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Supporting children with learning disabilities

I’ve just been putting together the handouts for a course for on effective provision and support for children with learning disabilities, a topic I feel passionate about. We will be exploring the needs of children with a wide range of learning challenges, the barriers they may face with learning and participation, and the implications, before going on to identify ways to maximise engagement, learning and enjoyment. This particular course is for a museum, but I also give lots of training on special needs for other cultural and heritage organisations, and for schools and libraries, and I find that many issues are common to all.

whistestop tourA Whistle-Stop Tour of Special Educational Needs by Clare Welsh and Rosie Williams is no longer in publication, though copies are still to be found. I have always found this section from it very pertinent and helpful:

‘As far as working with pupils with SEN is concerned, we must look at our assumptions and be prepared to challenge them.

  • the assumption that pupils will be at the same developmental starting point
  • the assumption that pupils will have the same knowledge
  • the assumption that because pupils have experienced something before, they will automatically remember it
  • the assumption that all pupils can understand the language that is being used around them
  • the assumption that pupils will have the gross or fine motor skills to carry out certain tasks
  • the assumption that all pupils enjoy social interaction
  • the assumption that all pupils will understand and respect standards of behaviour’

Wise words. Assumptions and stereotypes are dangerous things. Every child has different needs, even if they have the same diagnosis. A flexible, listening approach is vital. So is a calm environment in which every child feels safe and supported. Many children with learning difficulties have very high anxiety levels. Change, in particular, can be scary. For children on the autistic spectrum, and plenty of others, providing information – preferably with photos – in advance so they know what to expect from new experiences and new places makes a huge difference. Noise, crowds and clutter are very stressful for some. It’s great that lots of cultural and heritage organisations now offer specific activities or opening times to support children and families for whom these are a problem.

Like other children, most children with learning disabilities love getting involved. I will blog another time about inclusive participation strategies and the value of multi-sensory approaches.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Special educational needs – training and ideas

curisoity kitOf all the training I do, the courses and inset I give on supporting children and young people with special educational needs are probably the most rewarding. I am always very moved by the tales that are told and the imaginative strategies that are shared.

I’ve illustrated this piece with a curiosity kit (thank you Lowton St Mary’s School in Wigan) because these sets of books, artefacts and activities are great for developing SEN – and all – children’s reading, learning and enjoyment. I’m a fan of Bag Books too for children with profound learning difficulties. Multi-sensory approaches and opportunities to engage and interact make learning much more accessible for children with special needs. Role-play and drama can be immensely beneficial.

I love delivering training on promoting reading to SEN children. It’s not just delegates who pick up new ideas. I’ve learnt so much from inspired teachers, TAs and librarians – creative ways to engage children who struggle with reading. It’s a privilege to be able to pass on great practice. I’m giving a course on this in Wiltshire tomorrow and have several open courses coming up.

I have started getting requests for courses specifically for special schools on supporting reading, and it has been fascinating to design and deliver this new area of training. The discussions at a course last week for schools in Northern Ireland were amazing, and I am looking forward to more in Surrey next month.

In fact I can’t remember a time when so much of my training has been on SEN related themes. I really enjoy providing courses on supporting children with learning difficulties in museums, so I’m delighted to be running one on ss Great Britain next week. We’ll be discussing lots of wonderful inclusive ideas. And I’m very excited to be going to Qatar in March to give three days of training for library, museum and archive staff, one of them on working with SEN children. It is always a treat to give training for school and public library staff on special needs. Libraries offer so much for children who find learning difficult.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Supporting SEN children’s reading

I love giving courses and inset on supporting SEN children’s reading and it’s been a treat recently to run training on this at Heath Books and Mayflower High School. There were excellent discussions both times about the barriers to reading and ways to overcome them. These factors make a big difference:

  • enthusing about reading
  • reading role models
  • making reading interesting, relevant and attractive
  • valuing the reading SEN children are doing
  • reading aloud
  • a focus on literacy across the whole curriculum
  • authentic contexts for reading and authentic reading materials (recipes, newspapers, manuals, catalogues etc)
  • assistive technologies
  • lots of support for comprehension as well as decoding
  • multi-sensory approaches
  • paired reading
  • support for independent learning and reading
  • libraries that are well-stocked with appropriate reading materials and well laid out and guided
  • guidance and support to meet individual interests and needs
  • support for parents and carers
  • easily accessible online and printed reading materials
  • text that is simple to read without being patronising
  • books with clear layout and good illustrations
  • plenty of non-fiction on subjects of individual interest
  • HILO books (high interest level; low reading age)
  • fiction books with gripping starts, short chapters and plots and characters readers can identify with

My post on special needs and libraries (and HILO books) has more details on some of these issues. Incidentally, the Heath Books course was heavily over-subscribed, so it’s being repeated on 18 June.

The photo is of a family friend with special needs. Once he and I found books that grabbed him he was absorbed for a very long time.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Special educational needs – online resources

I have several courses on supporting SEN pupils’ reading coming up, and creating the handouts has made me realise what a lot of useful articles and websites about learning difficulties I’ve come across in the last few months.

First, unfortunately only for TES subscribers, an article about the upcoming SEN reforms and what they mean for schools (pages 4-7).

This is a great collection of resources focusing on autism awareness.

Online support group Netbuddy has has put together tips on engaging children (and adults) with additional needs in books.

I’ve discovered a number of valuable dyslexia resources recently:

You may also be interested in my blog about special needs and libraries and HILO books if you have not seen it before. (All my blogs about special educational needs are available here.)

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Television programmes about dyslexia

I’ve been very impressed by two recent television programmes on dyslexia. Both help non-dyslexics understand dyslexia and the difficulties and frustrations it causes, and provide encouragement to anyone who has or thinks they may have dyslexia.     

My Dyslexic Mind is a great introduction to dyslexia for children, and indeed adults. Presenter Ben Hunter is a twelve year-old with dyslexia. He and the dyslexics he speaks to give moving accounts of the problems they face – not just the huge effort of trying to get to grips with reading and writing, but the impact on their self-esteem. Pre-diagnosis, they blamed themselves, thinking they were ‘thick’. Ridicule, and the fear of it, are widespread. Dominic Wood remembers his humiliation at six, when his teacher moved the others in the class on to the next book, but said he had to go back to the ‘baby books’ as he couldn’t read. To know more about dyslexia, Ben undergoes tests to see how his brain differs from those of non-dyslexics. His interviewees highlight the advantages those differences can bestow. Dom is sure he would not be where he is today without dyslexia. Thirteen year-old Zac no longer worries about his lack of academic skills. His inventiveness and creativity outweigh any disadvantages. He urges young people like him not to let dyslexia hold them back.

The BBC has launched an interactive website Try Being Me to help children understand more about dyslexia.

Dyslexic: My Secret Past also gives a valuable insight into dyslexia. Shane Lynch of Boyzone never felt able to admit his literacy problems. It was only when his three year-old daughter noticed that he made the words up when he read to her that he decided he had to take action, both for his own sake, and to break the taboo around asking for help. Lynch talks to dyslexic children, a dyslexic young offender and a dyslexic student about their struggles and how they are overcoming them. All have experienced deep feelings of shame. We see Jenny, the student, failing to find a book she wants in the library, because she is embarrassed to ask for assistance. Given all the training I give on supporting children and young people with learning disabilities in libraries, I found this very significant, and his remark to her that he would never in a million years go into a library to find a book.

The prospect of tests to diagnose whether he is dyslexic fills Lynch with dread. If he isn’t, his lifelong fear that his problems are due to stupidity and laziness would be confirmed. But the tests reveal the reverse, and an enormous weight falls from his shoulders. He now feels able to tackle things that previously he was afraid of, and looks forward to his daughter going to school and having to help her with her homework, as it will spur him on further. Lynch ends the programme with a plea to anyone who, like him, has feared knowing what lies behind their literacy difficulties to find out and get help.

Well worth watching, and worth looking too at the comments. I have also just discovered a useful Teachers TV programme on dyslexia. Dyslexia Friendly Classroom explores some of the issues dyslexics face and ways to help.