A different way of teaching.

A different way of teaching.

So Jasmine goes to a specialist school now that delivers the standard national academic curriculum plus some very focussed teaching to dramatically improve her reading, spelling, writing as well as providing occupational therapy to support some of her dyspraxic challenges.

The approach is holistic, immersive and multi-sensory in its delivery. I recently observed a spelling class where the spelling pattern and sound “ea” used in words like “head” was being taught. They set up tables laid out with slices of bread and pots of jam. The children were asked to make jam sandwiches and hence to spread jam onto the bread. The activity was both visual and kinaesthetic and in turn consolidated their understanding of the particular spelling sound but also had given them a visual cue that could be called upon when they needed to remember the spelling in the future.

Being part of the 90% of the population whose brain works in a “normal” way when it comes to reading, I find the whole notion of teaching children this way odd. But of course, it is different – necessarily so.

The dyslexic brain works very differently (more on this another time), one of the key features is the importance of visual stimuli. Adult dyslexics have been reported to be able to “see” patterns and conceptualise / visualise complex problems much better than the average person. Indeed, many dyslexics go on to become architects, engineers, product designers (think of Johnny Ive, Apple’s legendary designer of the Mac, iPod, iPad) putting this particular skill into practice.

And so it just stands to reason that educating a dyslexic child should involve techniques and methods that enable visual and kinaesthetic learning.

I came across the following quote by Ignacio Estrada on Pinterest which I think just sums this up:

“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn”

Honestly, the approach is different, it seems odd but alas, I am looking through my lens that has been shaped by a very standard approach to education that I’ve experienced my whole life and that worked for me. Now, I’m learning not to question, but to accept that if this is the right approach and it works, then its all good.

Question, probe and seek clarity. Fight for your child’s needs.

Question, probe and seek clarity. Fight for your child’s needs.

Last week I was appalled to read about a senior teacher who has been banned from teaching for allegedly abusing a child with special education needs. Apparently, she was caught on camera hitting the child, pushing him off his chair and also allowing another teacher to inflict other abuses on him including tying his shoe laces together. This teacher was apparently a trained special education needs (SEN) teacher.

Hearing about abuse of any child by trusted teachers is incredibly distressing and indeed worrying. For children with special needs, who in some cases, may not be able to communicate as effectively as other children, this is even more concerning.

As a result, this week I’ve been thinking a lot about how important it is to ensure that those entrusted with caring for and teaching children with special educational needs, have the appropriate skills and training, and that the childcare or learning environments are conducive to their needs.

On my journey so far, I’ve realised that some “specialists” who claim to be experts at supporting children via a whole range of support and/or therapies, are in some cases not trained (i.e. don’t hold the necessary qualifications such as the SpLd or OCR qualifications). In addition, some school environments, given the lack of SEN awareness and training amongst some staff, are perhaps not best suited for a SEN child and that with a few minor modifications, they could be much better at catering for the needs of a SEN child.

I’ve learned now to ask lots of questions, to try to understand the classroom environment set-up and to enquire about skills, expertise and training of staff. I’ve learned not to be shy, but to question, to probe and to seek answers.

There are many questions that you can ask that will help you understand whether the school setting is appropriate, but also to understand the specialist support and facilities that are being provided for your child. There are also many suggestions you can make that are not expensive or prohibitive for a school to implement to support your child. The key here is just knowing what to look out for, what to ask and indeed what to suggest.

I found this brilliant guide online which was initially written from the point of view of selecting a specialist school however, what it does really well is suggest probing/exploratory questions one needs to ask oneself and indeed your child’s current or prospective school, about specialist support and care.

The guide is written by Dr Linda Mallory and it is called “A Parent’s guide to choosing a Special School”. The document and link are attached.

https://www.schoolguide.co.uk/special_needs_schools/ParentsGuide_SpecialSchools.pdf

ParentsGuide_SpecialSchools

From my experience so far and indeed from what I understand chatting to other parents of children with special educational needs, it can sometimes be a battle to ensure your child is getting the right support that they need (whether they are in state or independent schools). I’ve learned that I can’t assume that the best is being done for my child. Now I have done away with my shyness and I have learned to be more assertive – to question, to probe, to seek clarity and to strive to fight for the needs of my child.

In my very first post on this blog I talked about “buckling up” for the journey ahead. Now I say, in addition to buckling up, roll up your sleeves and be ready to fight (in the literal sense).

Specialist or Mainstream School? – Our experience

Specialist or Mainstream School? – Our experience

At 7+ my husband and I spent a huge amount of time researching the various schools in our area to find a mainstream school that would be supportive of Jasmine’s special education needs.

We settled on a wonderful school with a Christian ethos, a nurturing and pastoral approach and most importantly, an in-house Learning Support team comprising 4 full-time support teachers. We felt this would be the right environment for her and best of all, she would have access to a team of specialist teachers that can help her.

The school was indeed lovely and Jasmine made some great friends however, the reality was that the school taught classes in a style that was appropriate for 90% of the class but Jasmine, as the only dyslexic child in her class, struggled with.

The underlying assumption is that by Year 3, all the children can read so every subject required reading passages of text either from the board or from handouts and books. This of course was a struggle for Jasmine. In addition, she found it difficult to keep up with the pace of the maths, her handwriting though greatly improved was still labored and she found it difficult to complete her in-class assignments within the allotted time. Furthermore, she felt stigmatized when withdrawn from class for specialist teaching.

The specialist 1 to 1 tuition that she was given amounted to 60 minutes of extra support per week, which did not seem to have any impact at all. In addition to this extra help in school, I supplemented outside of school with extra therapies to help the combination of symptoms that dyslexia and dyspraxia bring. This meant that Jasmine was having 3, 4 sometimes 5 extra sessions of occupational therapy, vision therapy, handwriting etc. A HUGE amount for a 7 year old.

Jasmine was very aware of the fact that she was bottom set in all subjects, that she was given “easier homework” and that she needed extra “special classes” and would often comment on how sad she felt being different to everyone else. In this time we witnessed Jasmine’s confidence and self-esteem plummet and she began to complain about stomach pains. After several tests and hospital referrals, we were told she was experiencing anxiety symptoms.

Talking to other parents who are further along on their journey, I’ve come to understand that the gap between the dyslexic child and other children in terms of results in a mainstream school tends to widen as each year passes and school becomes more and more difficult. My husband and I decided to see what other options there were.

Our paths have led us to a wonderful specialist school called Fairley House. The children are taught in a completely multi-sensory way and all of their additional therapeutic needs are incorporated into their school day.

Jasmine started there last week. She has an extremely customized individual education plan and all her therapies are included into her plan. We do not have to do anything else outside school.

Its early days but she comes home excited to do her homework, she regales me with tales of how they were taught maths by making pizzas and how it’s wonderful that she is “just like everyone else”.

I hope this is the right place for her.

I hope she will be happy.

I hope that her confidence will return.

I hope she will come to understand that she is special.

I hope.

More about our experiences at the specialist school to come.

In the meantime, checkout this very interesting article about making the choice between mainstream or specialist schools.

http://independentschoolparent.com/choosing-a-school/special-needs-mainstream-or-specialist-school