Top 10 Tips for Supporting Children with Concentration.

Concentration. A choice or a need?

 

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Some children require explicit teaching of attention and listening skills as they cannot learn them automatically. Others have unidentified needs which cause them to struggle with focus and they are not always easy to spot. Often their difficulties are misinterpreted as a ‘choice’ or as a behaviour difficulty which means the support might be inappropriate and ineffective. Despite being able to focus on tasks of their choosing, children can still have unidentified needs causing them to struggling to attend to school work and other tasks. These include language, developmental and neurological difficulties, or it could be due to an acute medical or mental health need. Therefore it is important that the first stage is to seek assessment in order to identify ‘why?’

Strategies to help children with attention and focus difficulties:

1) Be aware of smells such as aftershave or perfume, smells from food, equipment etc. Sometimes even subtle smells which we might not notice, or that don’t bother us can be very distracting for others. 

2) The language you use. Use their name first and keep instructions clear, short, give them in the order they need to be followed and ‘chunk’ them. Don’t expect or ask for eye contact as some children focus better when looking away. Check their understanding by asking simple questions and using expectant pauses, ‘first you are going to………?’ Be aware of the tone of voice you use when speaking. Loud/quiet, changing tones and intonation etc. Which works best? Does changing tone/intonation engage them better? Allow time for children to process and respond. Some children can need up to 10 seconds.

Use visuals, gesture and demonstration to support the language you use, but provide these for children too. A simple ‘I need help’ ‘I need to leave the room’ or ‘I need the toilet’ card can reduce stress which can help concentration. Be aware that some children need explicit teaching of how and when to seek clarification and ask for help.

3) Reduce noise in the environment, but be aware that some children need sound from one source (e.g. music) in order to focus. Are there sounds coming from outside the room? From electrical appliances etc? Try ear defenders, or headphones.

4) Reduce visual input and visual distractions. Remove displays from their immediate environment. Think about where they are seated. Do they work better at the front or back of class? Do they need to be near the door? Away from windows? With others or away from others? You can make a simple workstation from a large cardboard box with one side and the bottom removed (If they prefer, you can remove the top too). Place it on the table for them to work ‘within’ so all visual distractions are contained outside their work area. Make sure they can’t be ‘bumped’ by other pupils when moving about the room.

5) Introduce structure and motivation, especially into difficult or ‘boring’ tasks. Use ‘now and next’ boards or ‘now, next and then’, but make sure the end task is motivating. For example;

  • Now- ‘Write you name, heading, date. 
  • Next- ‘Do 5 sums’.
  • Then- ‘5 minutes choosing time’.

Make sure its ‘interactive’ and the child is encouraged to remove the image/symbol, (or tick, or cross out depending on how you present the board) when each stage is complete. Once all are complete, you reset the board to keep them going and to complete the overall task. Use a visual timer and build up the time required to work on each stage, slowly. (Digital timers are often more distracting than sand timers). Remember to reduce the ‘cognitive load’ required. So if for example they find reading tricky, use visuals, symbols or pictures on the prompt boards. Encourage them to always complete a task before moving on. 

6) Introduce fun listening activities before sitting down to work, such as ‘simon says’ or ‘I went to the shop and bought….’. Try encouraging self joint compressions and movement breaks before and during long tasks. A movement break could be doing a job for the teacher or handing out books etc.

7) If the child is chewing, fidgeting, squirming on their chair, tapping, chatting etc, they might have sensory processing needs which can be supported effectively once identified. Take a look at my blog Sensory Processing. Top 10 tips!

8) Give positive reinforcement through praise and, if motivating, a reward chart. Make sure its realistic and achievable though. For example, every 5 minutes they concentrate well for, tick a box and once they have the pre-agreed number of ticks, they get their reward. Avoid setting expectations for the full day, half a day or even for a full lesson. If they have a difficult time, make sure you don’t add any crosses or negativity to the reward chart, or use it as a ‘bribe’. Just restart the set time period and continue in a positive way. Make sure they understand what is meant by any verbal prompts you use ‘good sitting’, ‘good listening’ etc.

9) Consider transitions carefully. Some children struggle to focus at these times and might need visuals to support them to organise themselves for the next lesson or task. They might find it easier to go to the next lesson or task before or after the others. You could keep a simple log (noting what happened, what happened before/after, the environment, task etc). This can help identify triggers and also what works.

10) Point out what they are doing right and make it explicit. This is so important for self esteem and we rarely comment on the little things which we might take for granted. For example, ‘you are doing really good sitting’. ‘You wrote a whole sentence without stopping’. ‘You just said X that is a really good word’. Etc.

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Parents, OFSTED & Local Area SEND Inspections.

During a conversation with @JonJonesHMI on Twitter, I was asked to explain more about the frustration and disappointment parents felt about opportunities to have their voice heard during the inspections. Some parents said they felt ‘excluded’ or unable to contribute for various reasons and this was not how the inspections were described as being. In order to gather as many views and experiences as possible, I asked in online SEND parent support groups, on Twitter and via email. My email to Jonathan Jones HMI is below and Jonathan’s responses are in red font. I would like to thank Jonathan for being open to listening to parents experience and his permission has been gained to share.

Dear Jonathan,

Thank you for the opportunity to explain in detail about parental concerns with the LA SEND Inspections.

It’s apparent that it’s challenge allowing parents an equitable chance at submitting evidence to their local area SEND inspection. I don’t think that there’s a one-size solution to the problem, and it is encouraging to hear that OFSTED are doing what they can to address it via social media, outreach to charities and PCFs.

In order to respond to you accurately, I sought the views and experiences of as many parents as possible, via online SEND groups, email and on social media. I was quite overwhelmed by the response, and gained the views of over 150 parents from a wide range of areas/LAs, perhaps demonstrating the importance of this subject to parents.

It’s of interest, that approx three quarters of respondents are not affiliated with a PCF, nor were they during their area inspection. However, approx half are ex-PCF members/leaders and left for various of reasons. Although possibly linked to this subject, I won’t go into those reasons here, as I appreciate its not the information you asked for.

With regards to the Local area SEND inspections, the points below were raised multiple times, and most were included in over 90% of responses.

Parents’ opportunities to speak to Inspectors:

We understand that Inspectors have direct, unfiltered access to parents via the webinars, however it is widely felt that this method gives little scope to provide more than a yes/no snapshot of parental views. Overwhelmingly, parents felt disappointed by the webinars, in particular the lack of opportunity to add details and specifics. (Which perhaps links to the ‘individual cases’ issue detailed below). “We are currently reviewing how we gather parental views via the webinar. We are hoping to provide a webinar that is open over a longer period of time which will help get around the inconvenient times that parents have told us about. It will also allow parents more time to make comments rather than only having 30mins to do so.”

Inspectors have access to parents at the visits they make to settings, but they are concerned that Inspectors discuss the suitability of the settings they plan to visit with the LA beforehand. Also, many parents weren’t told about their child’s setting being visited, therefore were unable to contribute in this way. “Inspectors do not discuss the suitability of settings with the LA. The lead inspector chooses the settings and informs the LA during the notification. The LA informs the settings that they have been identified. The LA has the responsibility for informing all parents and carers of children who have SEND and live in the local area. We are very clear with the LA that all parents can attend the settings meeting (so long as their child attends that setting) and that neither schools nor the LA are to select or invite specific parents. As well as meeting representatives of PCFs, inspectors hold a meeting with parents (often in multiple locations). These meetings are open to all parents of children who have SEND in the local area. Parents are also able to send in their comments to LASEND.support@ofsted.gov.uk

Parents can meet inspectors via direct meetings, although almost all parents who responded raised a concern that LAs and/or PCFs are selecting which parents attend.The two most used phrases to describe this were, ‘cherry-picked’ and ‘only the right parents get to attend’. It is widely felt that meeting is possibly where Inspectors get their best opportunity to harvest detailed parental evidence, however despite wishing to attend, there are parents who the LAs will actively avoid selecting, but who could potentially give very informative evidence to Inspectors. In addition the vast majority of SEND parents are not affiliated with a PCF and because of this, and due to the various sizes, experience and range of SEND involved, PCF’s alone cannot be deemed to be an accurate representation of parental views, experiences or concerns. In addition to this, many parents were not aware when the meeting was being held, and therefore couldn’t ask to be considered. The LA has a responsibility to inform parents, PCFs also do this and we announce inspections on our own social media platforms.” I’ve been made aware that OFSTED & CQC have the final say over which parents they speak to, but how would an Inspector know if parents have been specifically chosen by the LA or PCF to attend these meetings? ‘Inspectors do not choose which parents to speak to. There should be no ‘selection’ process.” How are parents informed of these meetings in order to have an equitable chance at being considered to attend? “The LA has a responsibility to inform parents, PCFs also do this and we announce inspections on our own social media platforms”

Inspectors saying they are not interested in ‘individual cases’:

Parents are not expecting inspectors to directly sort out their individual cases, they’re reporting that inspectors aren’t using individual examples as a basis for drawing up lines of inspection enquiry, and therefore feel it’s a justified concern. When a parent tells an inspector that the LA told them e.g. ‘Your child cannot have an EHC assessment until they are 3 years behind their peers’, it’s an individual example, but it would give inspectors valuable information in order to determine whether it’s a one-off, or whether it’s a widely-used unlawful local policy. The example that you provide is exactly how inspectors are to consider such evidence. “I would hope that parents do not feel that inspectors aren’t interested in their individual cases but it is that we cannot investigate or comment on this. What inspectors do is consider what wider issues this indicates. Exactly as you illustrate above. You can appreciate that if every parent were to explain their individual cases in a meeting then it would not be practical. I think the challenge for us is in managing expectations. Ofsted has no powers to investigate complaints or individual cases. Similarly we cannot use one case in isolation as being indicative of the quality of the whole provision. This is not to dismiss or ignore the failings in an individual case.”

The same is true for Tribunals & LGO complaints. Parents have said that some inspectors have a tendency to assume that these are reflections of individual parent dissatisfaction. That they see these cases as individual / anecdotal outlier complaints, rather than cases of statutory failure that might suggest that more systemic failings are going on beneath the surface. “Inspectors routinely consider the outcomes of tribunals and LGO cases in their preparation and with the discussions with leaders.”

One example given was from a father, who pursued a complaint about his local area inspection. In the complaint correspondence, he was told that individual cases are not pursued, and that notice would only be taken if the case was representative of the majority of cases. Parents are therefore confused how Inspectors would know if an individual case was a majority experience unless it’s investigated further. “Inspectors are holding differing meetings with all different people and not just from the LA. We evaluate a large amount of evidence prior to the inspection and during the inspection. Inspectors ‘triangulate’ what they see and hear and then come to conclusions. Where there are weaknesses, this is because there is a weight of evidence supporting this. Ofsted has no powers to investigate individual cases.”

The way in which evidence from parents gets treated during the inspection process itself:

The way that parental evidence is framed in many inspection outcome letters is often instructive: parents “feel”, “believe”, “are anxious,” “are worried”, particularly when this evidence is critical of local area services. Evidence from local professionals tends to be framed far less emotively: they “report”, “confirm”, “comment” or “describe.” A common opinion is that there is perhaps a degree of unconscious bias from some inspectors when evaluating evidence from parents and carers versus professionals. Although evidence will be surely be relayed in various ways, most of it reviewed by parents who studied the submissions, say they were sober, data-driven, and clear in their findings of how effectively the local area is implementing the reforms. Surely there must be evidence to support the parental submissions in order for them to be included in the reports, otherwise wouldn’t OFSTED or CQC say so specifically? Alternatively, if the evidence is there, why are parental submissions either consciously or unconsciously being framed this way? It might not seem like a big issue, however, as SEND parents, we’re used to the “Mum feels…” approach in meetings and reports. It is one that discounts our input from the offset. “In our earlier reports, parents and other stakeholders identified this very issue. We have reviewed our writing guidance and inspectors are to write clearly and unambiguously on what the evidence says.”

I am grateful for the opportunity to share this information with you. Thank you for listening and I hope to hear from you soon

Kind Regards

Claire Ryan

Tips for new SEND Parents

I’d like to start by quoting the formidable Sally Phillips ‘The special needs club is one that nobody wants to join but once you’re in, its the best club in the world’.

The reason its the best club, is because it is full of parents, carers, medical professionals, teachers, educationalists, Lawyers and supporters who all have one single aim, to improve the world for children, young people and adults with SEND. We all have different areas of knowledge, experience, expertise, but collectively we are a powerhouse and you’re already a very welcome member!

Finding yourself thrown into the SEND world, educational processes and legal and medical terminology can be overwhelming. I thought I’d write a quick list of top tips for new SEND parents struggling to get their children’s needs met. It isn’t a definitive list and it isn’t a list that everyone must do in order to achieve the right outcomes. It’s just a list of suggestions based on mine and my families experiences over the years and one which hopefully will help.

  • It can be hard to be assertive if it doesn’t come naturally. Being a parent of a disabled child means we can’t dodge regularly being told what our children can’t do, or for some parents, being made to feel we are the only ones who see their difficulties. We are often told what to do, when and how to do it and feel like our parenting is under microscope. Its therefore understandable that this can cause us to doubt or for us to fear ‘rocking the boat’, but despite how others might perceive it, when assertiveness is required, we know we are not after confrontation, arguments or to ‘get people into trouble’. How others perceive us for challenging decisions made for our children, or for not recognising their struggles is not something we can control anyway. Being assertive via factual, firm and informed challenge can sometimes be the only way forward.
  • Local Authority employees must share out limited resources from an ever shrinking budget which, may lead to decisions that are unlawful, but It is also a sad fact that very often only the parents and schools who challenge and use the law, secure exactly what the child needs and is their lawful right to receive. It can never lawfully be about only what is available. Parents can seek advice independent of the Local Authority via organisations such as IPSEA or SOSSEN, or they can Instruct a Solicitor (via legal aid if eligible) or ask other parents via SEND Facebook groups and on Twitter. (See the list of ‘who to follow for SEND’ on this blog site)
  • Arm yourself with knowledge. Learn yours and your child’s rights and if relevant, how Statutory processes such as the EHCP process must be carried out. You don’t have to wait until your child  begins to fail to learn about rights or seek support and it can be so much easier if you don’t wait. IPSEA charity run courses for parents both in person and online. This can give you a firm foundation to move forward from.
  • Be wary of SEND myths. Common ones are around access to EHC assessments and how children ‘must be behind academically to qualify for an assessment’. ‘they’ll never get an EHCP so its not worth applying’, ‘parents can’t apply themselves for EHC assessments’, ‘only children in specialist schools have EHCP’s’, ‘the provision in an EHCP must be flexible’ etc. There are countless other common myths and all unlawful. Always check the advice you are given to ensure it is accurate. Experienced SEND parents, independent SEND charities and legal professionals have heard numerous examples of these myths before and can quickly tell you if the advice you’ve been given is lawful or not and what to do next.
  • We all know it shouldn’t be like this. We all feel frustration and dismay at the amount of hurdles and challenges we and others face. We all want the system to improve, but that is about the larger picture, and in a way, it’s a separate battle to any immediate difficulties your child is facing now.The appeal processes and laws are there to protect our children and for us to use and, as unfair as it is, individual challenge is a vital part of what most of us have to do in order to secure the right support for our children.
  • Focus on the main/end goal. Try not to get distracted by anything which is not going to get you and your child to that goal. This includes alternative (and sometimes unlawful) suggestions to resolve an issue swiftly. For example if a Local Authority offer a non statutory plan rather than an EHCP to avoid an appeal. If you are offered an alternative school in order to resolve a formal challenge quickly, but it isn’t the school and/or provision which you and supporting professionals know your child needs. If you appeal or challenge a decision, don’t be persuaded or tempted to stop an appeal/challenge/complaint until you have the full, detailed agreement and timescales in writing, or better still, in a signed final EHCP.
  • It can feel like sometimes there’s just too much to learn or understand. It can really help to break the SEND processes into manageable chunks and focus on one step at a time. For example, the EHCP process. Try to focus on requesting an assessment and making sure that the Local Authority’s decision on whether to assess or not, is lawful and accurate. If you don’t feel the decision is accurate, you can appeal. If/when assessment is agreed, focus on making sure it is carried out thoroughly, accurately, that all appropriate assessments are sought and that all reports are specified and quantified in terms of provision. Once this is done, move onto understanding the processes involved in the next stage. This might seem overwhelming, but for every stage there is good independent advice available via IPSEA, SOSSEN, legal professionals or via parents on social media or in SEND Facebook groups. You’re never alone!
  • Self care is important but we often overlook it. If you are the only person fighting for your child’s rights then you need to keep that fighter strong. You can’t pour from an empty cup so make time for yourself to refill it occasionally and try not to feel guilty about doing so either!

Inclusion. An act. A state. A right.

A few months ago I attended FestABLE, an event dedicated to SEND and inclusion. I was so excited to attend, to meet friends, other parents, educators and professionals and I arrived with a mental list of the talks that I was looking forward to hearing. There was a lot going on and it was a large venue, but the detailed programme and map helped me make sure I knew exactly where to be, and when. After a few hours of meeting people, chatting and attending talks, I began to feel quite overwhelmed. I needed some quiet time on my own to relax and reboot, but one of the talks I was desperate not to miss was about to start. What if I went and sat outside for a while and then went into the talk? That was a scary thought because what if I disrupted it and all of those people turned to look at me? I was beginning to get more and more overwhelmed so I made a decision that I must put my needs first. I found my way to one of the smaller cafes which was empty apart from a smiley Lady behind the counter. I wonder if she knew I was anxious because she left me alone, which is exactly what I needed at the time. To my delight, inside the cafe, there was a large screen showing the talk which I had wanted to attend. I sat alone, drank some water, watched the talk, calmed and my day continued stress free.

This described what I and others did and provided, but what I’d experienced, I believe, was inclusion.

A teacher on Twitter, who I have great respect for, said she wasn’t sure if she actually achieves inclusion, but that she tries to. Knowing this teachers approach towards inclusion, difference & SEND in general, I felt strongly that they probably are, and that by questioning whether they’re achieving inclusion or not is really a positive thing. I’ve seen conversations from other educators who make big statements about how inclusive they are, but the thing that confuses me is that they rarely, if ever, engage in conversation around it. Achieving real inclusion is certainly something to shout about, its rare these days so why wouldn’t they want to discuss more?  Share good practice? Is inclusion ever achieved to a point where we can sit back & don’t have to do anything else? Possibly for some, probably not for others. Therefore is it sensible to have more confidence in those who continue to question whether they’re inclusive and who engage in discussion to keep learning and developing ideas?

What is the first, or most important thing to consider in order to achieve inclusion for all? Are any considerations more important than others? I asked parents and educators on Twitter to share their thoughts. These are the key words used; management ethos, courageous leadership, attitude, strategy, solution focused, enablement, role models, culture, truth, individuality, belief, belonging, compassion, respect, feeling considered, integrity, awareness (that not every need is obvious) and the ‘will’ to make it work for all. Looking ahead, I struggle to believe that inclusion is something that’s achieved and can then be left. If its truly valued, then good practice would suggest it needs and deserves constant monitoring and review as needs adapt and change perhaps they increase or lesson and/or improve. On the surface, I appreciate that this sounds like a lot of work, but if we consider the key words above, if many of those things were truly present and prioritised in a community, monitoring and review would come naturally. It would happen all the time, everyday ideally to the point that we won’t even realise we’re doing it. It just ‘is’.
So what actually is inclusion? One formal definition is ‘The act of including and the state of being included’ but is this specific enough to use in order to start making an environment and community inclusive? It should be, but I’m not sure it is. Should we make sure that, although each situation will vary as to what is needed, the foundations, and more importantly the culture of inclusion are understood by all? For me, inclusion is not just about disabled children, it’s about all children, all adults and environments. It includes everyone & everything but it also involves everyone and everything. Inclusion requires action but it is fundamentally a mindset, a way of being at all times and in all environments.

After many discussions with children, young people, parents, teachers and professionals about inclusion, it appears that there are common themes and problems stemming from lack of inclusion. There are also common themes around good practice. The following ideas and suggestions are based on those discussions.

1. The community is a whole. It isn’t separated into categories such as SEND & non SEND. In a school for example, they are simply children with varying degrees of needs and skills. Obviously it’s important to recognise disabled identities and to be fully aware of, and understand individual needs, but an inclusive situation is one where many disabilities won’t impact involvement.

2. Adapting the environment for physical needs such as installing ramps and accessible toilets could be considered to be the more obvious adaptions that are made to include, but consideration of physical adaptions also need to be for those with hearing impairments, visual impairments, sensory needs, language, literacy needs and others too. An inclusive environment includes all and benefits all so adaptions to the environment are most likely required, however they won’t necessarily be diagnosis or SEND specific, they could potentially help many other too.

3. In addition to environmental adaptions, consideration of our actions and words are crucial. What do we do, or don’t do? What do we say or don’t say? Perhaps we should do and say more, perhaps do or say less, or maybe we should do or say things differently. Evaluation and monitoring of both words and actions I think, are very important because they not only encourage the correct culture by providing positive role models, but also in terms of including all who struggle with identified and unidentified difficulties such as  developmental language disorder, hearing impairments, processing difficulties, mental health difficulties where our words, actions and the approaches we use can be either very helpful, or really unhelpful.

4. There is a great deal of untapped knowledge and skills in communities and in schools. By involving parents, children and professionals, and by doing so in various ways, allows everyone to benefit from a collective knowledge and skills pool. It helps everyone to be involved in the discussion around needs, but also around solutions. By including families and looking at what works outside of school, solutions can be collectively and effectively problem solved. For example, is an autistic child at a disadvantage when they are in their favourite and safe space, not having to interact and only doing things of their choosing? Unforeseen situations could arise, but they’re probably not. Obviously it isn’t realistic to recreate every child’s bedroom in school, or to allow them to spend all day in playing xbox! However, by looking at factors in those environments and activities and  noting skills which are and are not being used as well as those being avoided, it could reveal a great deal of information about needs and about how to adapt things to encourage inclusion in school.

5. ‘Support’ and ‘independence’ encourage vastly varying views and definitions. Inclusion absolutely can help children develop or achieve independence but the views of what is meant by ‘independence’ are as varied as definitions of what inclusion is and isn’t. For me, Independence means achieving things with as much or as little support as is needed. It doesn’t mean being able to do things unaided or without any support and support can be provided in numerous different ways. It isn’t always in the form of a piece of equipment, a printed resource or even an action from someone else. Support can be having some time away from the group, which is fine because we don’t have to be present continuously in a group in order to be or to feel included in it.

6. I’ve seen definitions of inclusion which only really describe a child being present in school or in a classroom either full or part time, but is this accurate? Unless that child is also fully included, happy, learning and achieving to their individual potential, and unless they are they a fully valued and included member of the community, then that can’t be inclusion, surely? Possibly a more important factor to consider is the degree to which they want to be included. A friend’s 8 year old disabled son wrote ‘I really really just want to be part of everything they are doing’, however another child might struggle with a class topic or assembly’s and need the option to leave. Whilst its important to include everyone, it is also ok to opt out sometimes and understanding and allowing this, is being inclusive.

7. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t think its accurate or helpful to call rooms or units that segregate children, often for behaviour difficulties, ‘Inclusion rooms’. Going back to the key words, honesty is important, so if that child is there for their safety and the safety of others, or to avoid exclusion, even if the aim is to support them to reintegrate back into the community, then surely being honest about that drives focus towards the support needed in order for them to be fully included again? There are obviously countless reasons for behaviour difficulties, however in terms of inclusion, if a child is struggling with behaviour to the point they need forced seclusion or exclusion, it is certainly very likely that there is an issue with overall inclusion in their community and environment.

Working towards inclusion for a diverse community will undoubtedly take a great deal of thought, time, knowledge and perhaps training but the end results will benefit everyone. No parent wants their child to ‘cope’ in school and I’m sure educators don’t either. High expectations are vital but they must be based on inclusive foundations in order to enable all children, in particular children with SEND to thrive not simply cope.

List for SEND

Who to follow on Twitter for SEND advice and information

The following advice was written by another parent;

“By joining Twitter I’ve reached some amazing people that I could never otherwise have hoped to, but it is important to be careful what you tweet and to remember:

1. There is no Edit button

2. Anyone can read your tweets. Even if you restrict your account, there is nothing to stop someone taking a screenshot and sharing.

3. Deleted tweets do not remain deleted. They can be recovered.

Take care what you share on twitter.”

This list isn’t definitive, but the people below can help to connect you with others. Please ask questions or for help if you ever need it. There’s a vast array of expertise within this list and all are dedicated to making things better for children and young people with SEND. Welcome to #TeamSEND!

@bjpren                        @SteveBroach              @StarlightMcKenz            @JonReidOBU

@CaptainK77               @IPSEAcharity             @Claire_Ryan12                 @JulesDaulby

@emmadimps              @AspieDeLaZouch     @sos_ssen                            @nancygedge     

@2tubies                       @JarlathOBrien            @SimonKnight100            @gdmorewood

@Sue-Cowley               @cherryl-kd                   @Mishwood1                      @elly_chapple

@rlrossi64                    @Lorrainep1957           @newsworthy_gem          @itmustbemum

@darynsimon              @leoniedelt                    @MumForAutism             @jordyjax

@SEN_advice                @TenaciousRK              @SENDcrisisHack            @bt_sen1  

@JayneDillon1             @IMPublicLaw              @SENDFamilyVoice         @stephstwogirls

@ChrisG4347               @SM_EduComCare       @mtmatmtmmktg            @rbax            

@ASTsupportAAli     @ASDDadAdvocate       @lorna_borthwick          @elenorjwright

@SmartTalkers           @nonsocucinare           @SheffieldLuke               @milton_damian

@ican.org.uk                @June4oneness             @lenabellina                    @RenataBplus3 

@SENexchange            @icecream43                 @pancake_puns               @GillianDoherty

@CallumSEND             @WordAware                 @_chrisrossiter              @mustntgrumble

@sendisnotniche        @DianeMkay                   @SENDAdvocates          @sofadog

@suzyg001                    @TraceyScriven1           @MattGovenor               @LoomesGill

@HilaryNunns             @SpcialNdsJungle         @smfeasey                      @Kennyinclusion

@gemmshar                 @sazalder                        @MsjoBillington            @Lorrainep1957

@MikeArmiger         @OnExclusions              @vicks_marshall            @k_allely

@sentas6                       @ChrisChivers2             @WholeSchoolSEND     @anitakntweets

@Livingwithajude      @creativeartjan            @smithsmm                     @Comm_nTrust

@naplic                          @jo3grace                       @passey_louise                @BarnsleySEND

@drlindagraham        @KaraChrome               @_LisaCherry                   @mrsElParker

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Updated 25/10/18

SEND Parents and what you need to know about us.

Which adjectives come to mind when you think of a SEND parent? A warrior? Agitator? Tenacious? Unstoppable? Strong? Annoying? Unrealistic? Over anxious? Something else? The processes around SEND can bring out the best and worst in all of us, but behind every irate parent, is a child who is struggling. It’s our job and human instinct to protect them however we know best. The way we do this and react, is of course our responsibility, but it’s only fair to keep in mind what it really means to be a SEND parent. Here’s some of the things you need to know about us.

We didn’t choose this path.

As much as I wouldn’t change my children, and I genuinely mean that, who would choose to have to navigate countless professionals, appointments, appeal processes, legal jargon, LAs? It’s rarely our children who cause us the greatest struggles. It’s often everything else, especially accessing education, support and services.

We don’t get a day off.

Think about a Tribunal process, when everyone involved gets to go home at the end of the day and ‘switch off’. We don’t. We can’t. Can you imagine how terrifying it is to feel like you can’t cope, but the fear of judgement, stigma & perhaps even social services, stops you from asking for help? Would this happen if the child didn’t have SEND? As soon as SEND is mentioned, it’s often assumed that is the problem and It’s often not the case at all.

We don’t enjoy fighting.

Tribunals, Judicial Reviews, formal complaints are tiring. They often leave scars and take away so much precious family time. Who would choose to spend their weekend studying the CoP for an upcoming Tribunal over spending time together and having fun?

We’re not stupid!

SEND parents are often the most informed on SEND Law and their children’s rights and those who aren’t, often ask others who are. I was easily convinced that unlawful practices were great ideas in the early days, but when I saw the damaged they caused, learned about my children’s rights and appealed, it ruined relationships with the SENCO and teachers. So much precious time was wasted when small, mostly cost free, reasonable adjustments would have made a huge difference. The result was a disability discrimination Tribunal, and them needing costly specialist placements, so assuming this is ‘cost saving’ is simply wrong.

Work with us. We can help.

Our children are the experts on their needs, but we know our children best. We’ve often had to work out strategies to support them in countless ways, so why not tap into that knowledge as valued partners? I don’t want to ‘participate’ with professionals in my children’s education & development, I want it to be a partnership.

We respect honesty.

If you don’t know, please just say that so we can work things out together. This applies to all areas of our children’s SEND. As a parent, I have a lot of respect for people who admit what they don’t know. Those who obviously don’t know, but insist they do can be very harmful towards our children.

Understanding and real support goes a lot further than sympathy.

We don’t need sympathy, we may need empathy, but we mainly need to feel like a valued member of our child’s ‘team’.

Sensory Processing. Top 10 tips!

It’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed by noise, movement etc, but for children with sensory processing difficulties, this can impact their ability to function, focus, and learn. When we refer to sensory processing, we don’t only mean sight, taste, hearing, touch, smell. It includes numerous other senses such as vestibular and proprioception. Autistic children, and those with ADHD often have additional sensory needs, however it is not limited to autism and ADHD. Also children without any additional diagnosis can have SPD.

SPD is a neurological condition that interferes with the body’s ability to interpret sensory messages from the brain and convert those messages into appropriate motor and behavioral responses.’

Sensory difficulties manifest in a variety of ways. Some children are over responsive, taking in too much information, and some under responsive, not receiving enough. Some are a combination of both. Some of the ‘behaviours’ we see are; banging and crashing into things, finding it impossible to focus, displaying aggression towards themselves and others, withdrawing from activities, seeming constantly lethargic and numerous other things. To find out more about sensory processing and ways to help, I’d recommend ‘The Out Of Synch Child’ and ‘The Out Of Synch Child Has Fun’. However, the best source of learning comes from the child, with guidance from an Occupational Therapist and parents.

Here’s my top 10 tips for helping children and young people who do, or might have sensory processing difficulties.

1. Look for triggers. I found the best way to do this is to keep a diary or log of events. Write down what you are seeing but also take note of what is happening around the child. What is the environment like? Is it noisy? Busy? What has just happened? Have they recently been active? What is about to happen? Are there changes coming up? Look at the information you’ve gathered to see if there is a pattern.

2. Environment is key! Reducing sensory input and providing specific support can really help. I always think of a reception classroom when I mention this, because it has pretty much every ‘sensory’ area covered! Displays everywhere, things hanging from the ceiling, lots of children moving about, noise, movement etc. If they need to focus on structured tasks, think about removing as much as you can from the environment, or providing a separate space free from additional sensory input. This could be a bare workstation or a pop up tent.

3. Some children crave noise, but can also cover their ears at noises too. This is because it is often its specific noise they crave, or can only cope with noise which they have control over, or which they are making. Children who are over sensitive to sound, often benefit from ear defenders. If they don’t like these, try in-ear headphones with quiet music playing. It can actually help them to focus.

4. We are all unique and individuals. What works for one child might not work for another and can make things worse. For example, weight can help calm senses if the child is over responsive, but weight for a child who is under responsive can make their ability to engage, reduce. Vibration works in a similar way, in that it could help an under responsive child become more alert, but for an over responsive child, it could make it even harder for them to engage.

5. Occupational Therapists often recommend join compressions and body brushing. This might sound alarming, but I can assure you if the children need this input, they soon learn it helps & come and ask for more! It is a way of allowing them to know ‘where their body is’. That might sound odd, but if you imagine having a numb leg, you possibly instinctively stamp your foot until you feel it in a normal way again. Although this isn’t about numbness, it’s similar in that you might find these children bumping into things, hitting themselves or numerous other things in order to gain the information their body needs. They could try doing joint compressions themselves by doing wall push-ups, lifting themselves off their chair with their hands whilst seated, hugging themselves, putting their hands palm to palm and pushing as hard as possible 5-10 times.

6. Sensory circuits are brilliant, but they need to be carried out in full. They involve an ‘alerting’ activity, then an ‘organising’ activity, finally a ‘calming’ activity. It isn’t always helpful to recommend ‘running off spare energy’ because many of these children are already overstimulated, they will need a reduction in sensory input and calming, rather than more. That’s not to say structured exercise won’t help, it often can. Be led by the child, get to know what works for them. There is more information about sensory circuits and ideas for activities online if you google ‘sensory circuit ideas’.

7. Consider what you see, to be a clue to what the child needs. For example, if the child is purposefully running into things or people, they may be looking for a way to alert their body. If this is the case, ‘deep pressure’ activities could help. The OT might recommend joint compressions, brushing, using a hug-jacket or weight, or you could try putting a few heavy books in a rucksack, asking them to carry heavy items from one place to another.

Sleep is often another issue, but strategies can be included in night time routines to help. Nice smelling baths, soft lighting, different coloured light bulbs (UV ones are fab!) Rolling them up in their towel to provide deep pressure, tight PJ’s etc.

8. Many children don’t want to feel ‘different’, so they might avoid or refuse support. You can try disguising them as ‘helpful tasks’ such as pushing a heavy box across the floor, carrying the shopping bags in, doing the hoovering or other housework tasks. Cycling, climbing, running etc are helpful. Provide them with a rough sponge to shower with in the morning and/or a rough towel to dry themselves on. This will get a form of body brushing into their day. Buy them tight vests to wear under their clothes. The key is to be creative, get them onboard and follow their lead.

9. Have fun! Try using songs and rhymes along with joint compressions or brushing. Set targets or goals in sensory circuits to make them more motivating. Do the activities with them and/or in groups so they don’t feel singled out. Let them try them out on you first if their anxious. Allow them to be in control at all times. If they don’t want to try something, get creative and think of other ways to provide the same input. Teeth brushing used to be a big battle, you can’t really allow them to choose not to brush their teeth, but you CAN make it fun. Sit in front of a mirror so they can see what’s happening, (if a child has issues with body awareness, the mirror can help. It can also help with a feeling of control). Sing a silly teeth brushing song and take turns for 5 seconds saying ‘your turn, my turn’. Try an electric toothbrush and various toothpastes. The flavor can be a big no-no for some kids! Clothes can cause big problems, so take them shopping with you, or order a few choices online to try at home. Let them feel the textures and try them on (if possible). Get seamless socks (Primark sell these) & be prepared to cut all labels out of clothes.

10. Sensory processing differences morph, and this can happen a lot! Just when you think you have it nailed, their needs change and something they loved last month, is now the root of all evil! (The exact terminology my son used to describe his *very expensive* vibrating cushion, just 1 month after he begged for one ‘just like the one at school’). This is why I wouldn’t suggest spending lots of money on various sensory equipment unless recommended by a professional of course. There are ways to make or use cheap alternatives and still get the same input.

I hope this is helpful in some way. I couldn’t possibly cover all the possibilities, but please ask if you need ideas for a specific problem. I might not have the answer, but someone will and I’m happy to ask on your behalf.