Tag archives: SEN

Friday, 15 July 2011

Supporting children with special educational needs in the cultural and heritage sector

It’s great to have a chance somewhat late in the day to reflect on a training course on engaging effectively with children with learning difficulties that I gave last week for Creating Capacity. The delegates were fantastic, and between them had very extensive experience of working with children and young people in museums, both local and national, archives, libraries and the cultural and heritage sector more widely. (Lovely to have Historic Royal Palaces represented.) We were able to explore the needs of children with learning disabilities in depth, and the barriers to access and learning that need to be overcome. The combination of the case studies that I had brought and the experiences of all the course members enabled us to identify the factors for successful activities and programmes. These came out as some of the most important:

•    partnership working
•    sensitive and non-patronising face-to-face communication
•    positive reinforcement and praise
•    simple language with no jargon
•    linking concepts to things children know and understand
•    active engagement
•    practical hands-on activities
•    multi-sensory approaches
•    activities that produce something tangible
•    flexibility
•    effective planning, monitoring and evaluation

Friday, 10 June 2011

Supporting children and young people with special educational needs

It was lovely to give a session for the Surrey branch of the School Library Association earlier this week on how school libraries can support pupils with special educational needs. Of all the topics I am asked for training on, supporting SEN children and young people is one of the closest to my heart. It matters so much.

We focused especially on Wednesday on ways to make books and reading accessible and enjoyable for children and young people for whom reading is difficult. A great group of librarians and teaching assistants shared some brilliant ideas. We heard about inspirational reading groups, fantastic reading buddy schemes and amazing improvements in children’s abilities and confidence as a result of library initiatives. There was lots too about appropriate publications and how to exploit them. As the venue was Heath Educational Books and they had kindly put together a display to accompany the session, everyone was able to explore a good range of books with a high interest level combined with a low reading age. It’s excellent that so many publishers now produce interesting and unpatronising books for children and young people who struggle with reading.

Then yesterday, when I was giving a course for people new to running primary school libraries, one of the delegates described another wonderful group. Her breakfast reading club is for year 5 and 6 pupils, almost all boys, for whom reading is very challenging. It was very moving to hear how the children have blossomed as a result of their shared reading three times a week. Reading about football, which all of them love – luckily the teaching assistant does too – has proved transformational.

I am very much looking forward to running another course on supporting children and young people with special educational needs on 7 July. This one is for Creating Capacity, and is open to anyone from museums, galleries, libraries, archives and other cultural and heritage organisations who is interested You can find details and booking information here.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Radio 4 programme about Asperger’s Syndrome

Between Ourselves on Radio 4 yesterday featured a fascinating discussion between Olivia O’Leary and two men with Asperger’s Syndrome. It provided an excellent insight into the syndrome. Although the interviewees were adults, they reflected a great deal on the impact of Asperger’s on them as children and teenagers.

Both talked about the difficulties of social interaction. Unstructured environments with other children and young people were particularly problematic, whereas one-to-one communication with adults was fine. Because they stood out as being different, both were bullied and teased. One of them, Ben Delo, described his disproportionate responses, throwing a desk at a child who had taken his rubber for instance. He and Frederick Veal both also had obsessions, in Ben’s case computers, which had the advantage of being a route into working life and into friendships. Frederick remembered compulsively banging his head when he was still in his cot. One of his other childhood obsessions was spinning, which took him into a dream world. He could not understand other children not wanting to spin. Frederick also talked about his extreme sensitivity to sound as a child, and his compulsion to repeat things he heard.

Although his school recognised that he had learning problems – despite high intelligence he was unable to write even his name or to read until very late – Frederick was never given any kind of diagnosis as a child. It was not until his son showed developmental delay and was diagnosed with Asperger’s and dyspraxia that he found out the causes of his own difficulties. For both men, diagnosis was a huge relief. Ben is considerably younger than Frederick, and his diagnosis was much earlier, when he was eleven. He already had a strong inkling, since his skills in electronics enabled him to bug his parents’ phone and listen in to their conversations. As a result of his statement, Ben went to a school with a special unit for children with autism and Asperger’s and then studied maths and computer science at Oxford. Frederick too went to university, though very much later in life and only after overcoming immense hurdles. He described his terrible introduction to working life as a teenager and how his failure on his first and only day as a dishwasher led him into a lengthy crisis of confidence.

The inability to understand idioms and ambiguous language has been a feature throughout both men’s lives, though both have now learnt ways to cope with it. Frederick mentioned the difficulty his son has if asked to ‘keep his eyes peeled’. The phrase creates an image in his mind that is immensely painful to him.

Well worth listening to.