Category Archives: special needs

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Snap election affects mental health petition

The announcement that we are to have a general election on 8 June has thrown many campaigns into disarray.

The petition Make mental health education compulsory in primary and secondary schools needs 100,000 signatures to ensure it can be considered for debate in Parliament. So far over 75,000 people have signed it.

Originally the organisers had until 6 July to meet the target but the snap General Election means they now only have until next Wednesday 3rd May.

The mental health charity The Shaw Mind Foundation (SMF) and HealthUnlocked, a social network for health, have joined forces to promote HeaducationUK

This sets out to:

• Help prevent the development of mental ill health in children and teenagers
• Decrease the vast numbers of children and young people suffering from mental illness
• Rid our society of the ‘sticking plaster’ approach that the UK government have long adopted when trying to deal with mental illness in children and young people
• Educate our children and future generations for a happier and healthier adulthood
• Take a huge physical and financial strain off the NHS, CAMHS, social services and teachers
• Create huge advantages for the UK economy and industry for decades to come
• Normalise mental health issues as an accepted human condition so that children will feel confident enough to open up to each other and those who care for them Enable a more proactive society in addressing mental health issues, giving children the ability and confidence to speak out during their childhood and indeed into adulthood, as they go into the workplace and have their own families

Click here to sign https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/176555

Yoga therapy for children with disabilities provides an oasis of calm

Set in the heart of Islington, just a five minute walk from Highbury and Islington station, the MahaDevi Yoga Centre is a unique place of tranquillity and peace.

The centre opened its doors just over a year ago offering yoga therapy to children with special needs from 6 week old babies to teenagers in wheelchairs.

It is a specialist centre for the Sonia Sumar Method. Forty five years ago, senior yoga teacher Sonia Sumar had a daughter with Down’s Syndrome. At that time in rural Brazil, there were not many interventions for children with special needs so Sonia used her skills and knowledge of yoga to help Roberta. Soon she could see the benefits as Roberta grew strong, well balanced and developed new skills.

After her daughter’s death, Sonia Sumar decided to develop her approach and share it with other parents who faced similar challenges. Now she works with children who have cerebral palsy, autism, attention deficit disorder and ADHD as well as children like Roberta with Down’s Syndrome.

The MahaDevi Centre offers 100 therapy sessions per week in the centre as well as treatment in schools, day centres, nurseries, hospitals and children hospices across London.

There are also regular Hatha Yoga classes every day and monthly workshops and 25% of each payment goes directly to the MahaDevi Fund. This subsidises the yoga therapy sessions for children with special needs whose families cannot afford the fees.
This little community is making a difference. “My son Derek is 8 and has Cerebral Palsy. When he started yoga therapy his muscles were so tight and he was unable to sit unsupported, with very weak core strength and generally floppy posture. The main change is his increased ability to hold himself up in a sitting position more independently. He has a lot more core stability and head and neck control.”
For more information or to make a donation, please visit http://mahadevicentre.com/

Impact of dyspraxia on children’s moods

Imagine your school aged child struggled to climb stairs, brush their teeth or use cutlery. Wouldn’t you want schools to be aware of their problems and make allowances or, even better, find solutions so they were not singled out in the classroom?

‘Dyspraxia has a significant impact on all aspects of daily life from the moment a child wakes up,’ explains researcher Professor Elisabeth Hill from Goldsmiths, University of London.

dp-bkWhen I wrote the book How to Help Your Dyslexic and Dyspraxic Child I interviewed parents and children and came to realise that dyspraxia could have an impact on the whole family. Matt was described by his mum as ‘an unhappy little boy. He did not make eye contact and his language problems got in the way of making friends. He was also chronically inflexible and had he most explosive tantrums if things didn’t work out as expected. This can be very humiliating when it happens in public.’

Dyspraxia also known as developmental coordination disorder (DCD) affects 5–6 per cent of children in the UK. In addition to motor skill problems, latest research shows that young children aged 7-10 with dyspraxia have poorer social skills than their peers, and 60 per cent of children find it hard to make friends and are less willing to play with their classmates.

‘Coordination and movement is absolutely fundamental to a child’s early development,’ Professor Hill explains. ‘We found that children that stood and walked independently sooner were rated as having better communication and daily living skills at ages 7-10. In fact, as soon as a child can raise their head independently and look around, or stand and attract adult attention, then they have far more opportunities to interact with the world and gain social skills. Children with DCD are generally slower to achieve these important early motor milestones or miss them completely – indeed 23 per cent of our sample never crawled at all. This delay may underpin many of their later social difficulties.’

Initial findings from a survey completed by primary school teachers across England also demonstrate that two-thirds of children with dyspraxia are more anxious, tearful, downhearted, nervous of new situations and less confident than their classmates but researchers believe that some teachers are not aware that poor motor skills may go hand in hand with poor social skills.

Teachers need to be vigilant especially in early years’ settings because the sooner the child receives help from an occupational therapist the sooner they can develop functional, transferable skills which will improve their self-esteem and help with their social interactions.

Professor Hill believes parents need to help children set targets: ‘Parental support could be targeted at identifying what is important to the child to achieve, breaking down the task into manageable chunks, and supporting skill development through short but regular practice sessions.’

Refs
The role of motor abilities in the development of typical and atypical social behaviour: a focus on children with developmental coordination disorder (DCD) and children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Research funded by The Leverhulme Trust. Principal Investigator: Prof Elisabeth Hill, Postdoc: Dr Emma Sumner.

Brain training boosts brain power

Cognition does not sound very exciting but in fact it is the bedrock of learning. Cognition is the ability to plan and organise, problem solve, remember things, and focus, it has an impact on all aspect of peoples’ lives including their ability to learn, cope with everyday situations and their mental wellbeing.

mycogIt is one of those things that is noticeable by its absence for example Gena who turns up with all the wrong things in her school bag. We all do this from time to time but not every day!

I have written several articles about memory. This is another aspect of cognition and changes to exams by the government have put a premium on recall skills, project work and continuous assessment have been phased out in favour of end course externally marked exams. Literacy has become synonymous with spelling and for those pupils brought up on phonic it has proved to be a severe test of an 11 year olds’ memory.

With all these changes and challenges Peterborough City Council are to be commended for turning the tables and putting in the base skills instead of bemoaning results at the end of a key stage.

MyCognition, a leading cognitive assessment and training company, is working in partnership with Peterborough City Council to deliver personalised brain training to thousands of the city’s students and pupils in primary and secondary schools and City College Peterborough.

The three-year partnership, the first of its kind in the UK, will give students and young people in up to 70 of Peterborough’s primary, secondary, further education and special schools access to MyCognition’s online portal.

MyCognition’s science-based programmes work by assessing an individual’s cognitive function and personalising the online training games to focus on and help to improve areas of greatest cognitive need.

Areas covered include:
• Concentration (Attention) – Selectively focussing the mind on one task at a time, blocking distractions
• Speed & Accuracy (Processing Speed) – Ability to perform sequences of tasks with smoothness, accuracy and coordination.
• Calculation & Problem Solving (Working Memory) – Finding solutions to complex problems. Short term storage and the use of information
• Memory (Episodic Memory) – Recall of times, places, and contextual knowledge.
• Planning & Strategy (Executive Function) – Managing all cognitive abilities to plan for the future.

School pupils whose cognitive function scores are low, including many with special educational needs, will be given access to Unique, a personalised programme for children aged 8-18 years with learning and behavioural difficulties to boost their performance in the classroom. The 12 week programme can be used at school and at home and it is hoped that parents will get on board and encourage children to persevere.

As well as working with Peterborough Learning Partnership, MyCognition is currently developing programmes for Claydon High School in Ipswich, Royal Free Hospital Children’s School in London and Notre Dame Primary School in Greenwich.

Iain Simper, CEO, Peterborough Learning Partnership said: ‘As educationalists we need to look beyond subject specific difficulties and address underlying causes which could be associated with poor cognition. We believe that by improving the cognitive function of our students, we are also improving their life chances.’

For more information, please visit http://www.mycognition.comhttp://www.mycognition.com//

Thank you, Ma’am!

HelpKidzLearn from Inclusive Technology is an award winning collection of software for people with the most severe disabilities. Not only is it a vital resource for learners in the UK, but also it is proving to be a firm favourite in the United States and 148 other countries. Now its success has been crowned by the Queen. To mark her 90th birthday she has given Inclusive Technology the most prestigious International Trade award in the UK – the Queen’s Award for Enterprise 2016.

Martin Littler, Chairman and CEO of Inclusive Technology, has been a pioneer in the field of technology for children and adults with severe learning disabilities (SLD), profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) or those without speech who need alternative or augmentative communication (AAC) who perhaps can only make a single voluntary movement or sound.

hklLast month the HelpKidzLearn development team received the 2016 Education Resource Award for Special Educational Needs including ICT for their work on harnessing Eye Gaze  technology to meet the needs of learners with complex needs. Eye-gaze technology is the closest equivalent we have to thought-operated hardware so far, and is already surprisingly affordable. Inclusive Technology’s myGaze costs just £875 and is having an impact not just on children but on adults as well.

Just looking around a computer screen moves the mouse pointer and gazing at an area performs a click with no physical effort needed. Support workers can now use eye gaze to identify where the user is looking when different images, prompts or questions are asked, giving an insight into what users can see, what they are interested in looking at and some indication of their understanding skills.

Sean Carroll, IT/Assistive Technology Consultant at Sensation Communication and Technology Solutions, describes its impact: ‘James has sat in his chair since he was 19 with very little to occupy himself with, and even when at school I don’t think his independent access skills were attended to very much at all.’ Now with an Eye Gaze tracker James is able to access some online games and his parents are delighted to discover evidence of new skills.’

Yesterday Martin was on TV with his colleague Sandra Thistlethwaite who is a Specialist Speech and Language Therapist, and Dan Woodman, deputy head teacher at Richard Cloudsley School in London. They were talking to the presenter of London Live about the impact of the technology on children’s lives. ms and xx

‘Children need to play, have fun and communicate,’ said Martin, ‘but this technology also lets children who are non-verbal use on-screen symbols and words to build language, create messages and take part in conversations with families and friends. The award is a huge pat on the back for our team of developers, teachers and therapists.’

Martin and his managing director Sukhjit Gill will collect the award at a Buckingham Palace reception on July 14, 2016.

 

 

Thank you, Barclays!

ATEC is coming! Barclays are sponsoring an Assistive Technology Exhibition and Conference (ATEC) to be held at Jury’s Inn in Oxford on May 17th.

It is fast becoming a Go-To event for those who assess and support people with disabilities in universities and the workplace and more importantly for people who need assistive technology for work, for study or to communicate with others.

TDebra Charles smallhere is loads of good stuff for people with dyslexia: Debra Charles is doing one of the keynotes. She is
CEO of her own smartcard technology firm Novacroft, the company behind the Oyster Card, and believes that her success is because of, and not despite, her dyslexia.

Find out about the latest versions of Claro and TextHelp, mind mapping from Matchware and Inspiration, The C-Pen Reader which reads text from print books and Notetalker that lets users capture information from a lecture or a meeting.

global autocorrect smallAs someone who uses Autocorrect on Word and types entirely in abbreviations, I am keen to see Global AutoCorrect which works with all programs from presentation software to emails, the web and social media. It frustrates me when I have to type every letter on Facebook. Maybe now I won’t have to.

There is some whizzy new technology. David Finch from Star College in Gloucestershire will be talking about a project called Ember. The idea is to reduce employer or mentor support and help trainees to work more effectively and more independently.

There is also an assistive robotic arm called JacoTM developed by The ACCESS Research & Development Department at Hereward College with charitable funding from Npower.

I am also keen to hear Abi James of University of Southampton and BDA New Technologies Committee. I often wonder why some people embrace technology while others reject it from the off. I used to think it was all about training and support in the early days, now I am not so sure. Abi is researching this area and will be leading a discussion on the role of professionals to improve the take up of technology.

Book your place now at http://www.ateconference.com/
Tuesday, 17th May 2016 Jury’s Inn 30 Godstow Road, OX2 8PG

Campaign – Make a noise for selective mutism

To donate, please text MAKE 15, followed by the amount, to 70070 
Shannon went up on stage one day at the age of 3 to sing in front of a big audience. No sound came out of her mouth but there was nothing wrong with the speakers. Shannon was paralysed by anxiety and was physically unable to get her words out.shannin

 

Most children will have an experience like this, especially when they are very young but for Shannon it was the first sign of a condition called selective mutism. At least 1 child in 150 is affected and it is caused by extreme anxiety.

It is also three times as common in bilingual children. Figures from 2013 show that 1 in 6 primary school pupils in England do not have English as their first language. In secondary schools the figure stands at  just over 1 in 8 (Naldic http://www.naldic.org.uk/research-and-information/eal-statistics/eal-pupils). Figures are likely to increase and more teachers will find themselves working with pupils who have this condition. It can be frustrating.

Children with selective mutism can appear to be confident (even cocky) but then freeze with a blank facial expression (which can look challenging and confrontational) when speech is expected from them. It is not a matter of choice for them. It is a condition triggered by stress and anxiety.

To highlight this condition, SMIRA, the Selective Mutism Information and Research Association, is launching the ‘Make a Noise’ campaign to help children find their voices. Think of creative ways to make a noise. Take a video on your phone, post it to social media and ask viewers to ‘text MAKE 15, followed by the amount, to 70070’.

SMIRA has a special Makeanoise4SM page on facebook where you can upload your video, or use your chosen social media outlet adding the hashtag #MakeaNoiseforSM or tag @InfoSmira on Twitter.

See http://smira.org.uk/make-a-noise-for-sm.html for ideas of activities.

Money raised will be used to develop training for health and education professionals and for those involved in the care and welfare of selectively mute children.

Growing the next generation of readers

What is the role of a library in a special school where many young people are likely to have literacy problems? Liz Millett obviously knows the answer. She has just won a School Librarian of the Year Award.

Winner Liz Millett at school
Liz Millett Winner of a School Librarian of the Year Award

Liz works at WeatherfieldAcademy in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, a special school for students aged 7 to 19 with moderate learning difficulties and additional complex needs. Many of the children come from backgrounds where reading is not a priority. She set up the library in 2009 and her role is to make sure that the 3,000 books will fire up the 112 pupils and turn them into enthusiastic readers.

Nowadays there are so many different forms of entertainment that reading for pleasure is not high on many children’s agendas. Liz finds she gets the best results by tapping into their interests so she spends time talking to children: ‘One of my students, a 13-year old girl, improved her reading levels by 23 months in a year. Once I realised that she loved horses I found her collection of horse and pony books and she just ate them up. At the moment I know that one little boy is obsessed with lorries so I pick books out for him.’

Liz has set up a rewards system to motivate pupils. She had built a relationship with Weatherfield’s local public library and adapted the idea of the Summer Reading Challenge. Children are given a set number of books to read and those who persevere and meet the target are presented with a certificate in assembly. There is also an end of term Library Trophy for the most enthusiastic reader.

She tries to encourage parents to enjoy reading too and this can be hard work as some of them have problems with literacy. Like most special schools, WeatherfieldAcademy takes pupils from a wide area and many live up to 20 miles from the school. Liz builds personal connections very slowly and encourages them to email her as the school is promoting an online facility for children and parents to choose books together at home.

The school’s uses the Creative Curriculum up to Year 9. Last term’s topics were ‘Sport and Life’ and ‘Health and Fitness’.  Liz helps teachers to find appropriate resources and creates displays to reinforce topics. She also ensures that each pupil develops information literacy skills to the best of their ability, with colour-coded shelving alongside the simple Dewey system so that pupils can find their books independently.

The School Librarian of the Year award recognises the fact that Liz has made such great progress since taking over the role in 2009: ‘I’ve been given more and more responsibility over the years and I’m always busy but the difference you make to individuals makes it worthwhile.’

 

 

 

Consign volunteers to the scrap heap

I hate that phrase ‘volunteer opportunities.’ Of course it is fine to be a volunteer if you want to – many of us have a passion for a cause and are willing to give up our time, run marathons, bake cakes to raise money for a charity. But we do get a touch narky when the charity phones us up and starts pressing us to make a regular commitment aka a direct debit, especially when we know the cold caller is being paid good money to pile on the guilt.

It is loathsome that so many commercial companies are now routinely using volunteers to do essential work. This boosts their profits and takes a job away from someone else. In fact it is what we used to call exploitation. We also have a modern day Slavery Bill. I am just waiting for the moment when some company – possibly a pound shop or a highly profitable supermarket- says that a person who has no choice other than to work for their company for no wages is not a ‘slave’ but a ‘volunteer’ who gives of their time freely.

This week I watched Mary’s Silver Service on Channel 4 where that shameless self-publicist and entertaining red head launched a pop-up employment agency for out of work pensioners. I love the idea of helping people find jobs and it is such an antidote to the age of volunteering we are now in.

Charity Hft offers paid work to adults with learning disabilities
Ethical car cleaning offers opportunities for adults with learning disabilities

So I was delighted to receive a press release from a charity I have worked with in the past telling me about their latest employment venture.

Future Clean is a social franchise purchased by Hft which specialises in helping adults with learning disabilities. They have opened a car cleaning service in Gloucester giving people with learning disabilities the chance to learn new skills in paid employment. New employees typically stay with Future Clean for about a year, building the skills and confidence to move onto further employment, creating spaces for new learners.

If it is possible to develop businesses which employ people beyond retirement age and those with physical disabilities and learning difficulties AND TO PAY THEM, there is no excuse for those companies that exploit people into working for no money with the excuse that it makes them more employable.

Being ‘work ready’ does not mean surrendering your basic employment rights.

Hate crimes, mate crimes

Brent Martin
Brent Martin murdered and stripped (BBC photograph)

It was one of the saddest articles I have ever written. Sometimes you just cannot believe what savages human beings are. Humiliation, abuse – physical and verbal – violence, mutilation and murder and all because people are perceived to be different.

Access magazine has just published my article which they have called Healing the Hate . The piece looks at some of the crimes and the steps that the police and housing associations are taking to keep people with disabilities safe from harm.

‘Mate crime’ is a relatively new term. It is sometimes known as ‘cuckooing’, because the ‘mate’ in question will often move in to a disabled person’s home with the intention of taking their money, food, clothes, and in some cases, stealing prescribed drugs from them to sell on.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission produced a report on disability-related harassment titled Hidden in Plain Sight, they define hate crime as disability-related harassment as unwanted, exploitative or abusive conduct against disabled people that has the purpose or effect of either::
– violating the dignity, safety, security or autonomy of the person experiencing it, or
– creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment.

We don’t really know how many people are affected. In our ‘inclusive world’ they disappear. Schools don’t know how many disabled pupils are bullied; local authorities and registered social landlords don’t know how many antisocial behaviour victims are disabled; health services don’t know how many assault victims are disabled; police don’t know how many victims of crime are disabled.

Why does it happen? Because we let it. We turn a blind eye. We like to raise money for ‘disabled kids’ but when they grow up, the politicians stoke the fires by referring to them as ‘benefits scroungers’. They are the same people with the same disabilities but are on the other side of the divide.

An article can’t do that much. It won’t change the world. But if people read it, at least they can never again say that they didn’t know it was happening here in Britain today.