Employment, Purpose, SEND

What’s your story?

By Anita Devi

This week (4th – 8 March 2019) brings together four main events:

It is therefore, not by chance six months ago when we started planning our first #SENDcareers event, we chose this week.  The World Health Organisation with The World Bank published the first ‘World Disability Report’ in 2011.  At the time, it stated about 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability, of whom 2-4% experience significant difficulties in functioning.  It is important to remember, these are only the cases that are known.  A colleague working in assistive technology, recently shared with me, given a rise in the retirement age, this number is much higher.

In the Foreword of the World Disability Report (2011), Professsor Stephen W. Hawking, shared the following:

Disability need not be an obstacle to success. I have had motor neurone disease for practically all my adult life. Yet it has not prevented me from having a prominent career in astrophysics and a happy family life. Reading the World report on disability, I find much of relevance to my own experience. I have benefited from access to first class medical care. I rely on a team of personal assistants who make it possible for me to live and work in comfort and dignity. My house and my workplace have been made accessible for me. Computer experts have supported me with an assisted communication system and a speech synthesizer which allow me to compose lectures and papers, and to communicate with different audiences.

So why does the #SENDcareers project matter to #TeamADL?

Our overall mission is about:

Strengthening Localities

Within this, though we recognise a wide range of vulnerabilities that need addressing.  Supporting people with learning difficulties and disabilities into the workplace and sustaining them in such dynamic environments is vital for individuals, families, employers and communities.

Different companies like Microsoft and Apple are developing a number of ‘lifestyle, open access tools to help. We have also come across various organisations working to develop vocational opportunities for those with disabilities.  We commend all these efforts.  However, we believe, there is a need to do more.

We want young people and adults with special educational needs and disabilities:

  • to have a voice
  • to tell their story and define their story going forward
  • to ‘own’ their abilities and future
  • to advocate for themselves, so they can experience independence and choice
  • to be connected and part of a community

To do that, we need to give people a platform to tell their story that is safe, empowering and forward thinking.

That’s why we’ve teamed up with The RIX Media Centre at The University of East London to utilise researched technology to give people with disabilities a voice to tell their story.  We will be sharing more information about this in due course.

For now, here is a statement about the partnership:

TeamADL RIX Partnership

… and pictures of us working with Ajay Choksi, Wiki Master at RIX.  One of Ajay’s goals this year is to travel by himself to an unknown place, using public transport.  He has used the wiki to communicate his goal, his plan, what it would look like and celebrate success.  This is part of his story.  Regardless of what profession we are in, isn’t this what we do every year?  As part of his wider travel plan, Ajay wanted to learn to drive.  He plots his full journey of taking both the theory and practical test, through his wiki.  Another story part to his life.  By weaving all these sub-stories together, we develop an understanding of Ajay’s life … and his story.

Ajay at RIX

Stories are powerful.  They embrace a beginning, middle and end. This short video I made for UKEd Chat Conference highlights the need for stories to be at the heart of person-centred approaches.  Stories aren’t just about, what has happened, but also what could happen.  They bring to the forefront possibilities.

Recently, I was privileged to visit The Book Trust to review a range of books for secondary special schools.  One genre particularly fascinated me.  In this book, the pupil reads a page and then makes a choice.  The choice determines which page is read next.  Then there is another choice and so the journey continues.  It was great to hear from librarians in special schools how much pupils enjoy these types of books.  The book brings together not just alternative endings, but also different scenarios, journeys and new possibilities each time.  To me, it is such a reflection of life and the choices we need to give young people.

At #TeamADL we do not claim to have all the answers, but we are keen to ask the right questions and explore possibilities and different solutions in partnership with young people, adults, families and employers.

The #SENDcareers Project is relatively young, but we have BIG plans.  So, if you are interested in keeping up to date with developments, do sign up for our termly newsletter.  We will be sharing new solutions and good practice case studies, as part of the editorial.  We will also provide readers with updates on the use of wikis in employment.

Further reading

Can Sam have special educational needs and be more able?

Change my story: ’Facing the abyss’

About Anita Devi

Anita has had an extensive career in education.  Her why is based around the ‘joy of learning’.  As such, she focuses on what enables learners and what hinders them and more importantly, what can she do to improve the system.  Amongst many other roles, Anita leads #TeamADL

To find out more visit www.AnitaDevi.com


#Curriculum, #Teaching&Learning

Curriculum under the magnifying glass

By Jeremy (Jez) Bennett

What knowledge, skills, attitudes and values will your pupils develop in order to share and thrive in their world in 2030?

(The Future We Want, OECD)

This is a crucial question for all school leaders, and its answer will shape our curriculum decisions.  Is our current system fit for purpose?  Are current curriculum and assessment structures effective in meeting the needs of our children?

The school curriculum and the National Curriculum are different.  The National Curriculum is compulsory for maintained schools but not for academies.  It is detailed for some subjects, and cursory in others and in both cases should only form part of the full school curriculum.  Leaders have the opportunity to design their school curriculum around their priorities and in response to their local context.

Ofsted’s recent draft Education Inspection Framework (EIF) places the curriculum under the microscope, and provides an opportunity for schools to conduct a curriculum review.  Schools must consider how their ethos and philosophy drive the curriculum (the intent), how well this curriculum intent is designed and shared across the school (the implementation), and the evidence that the implementation is effective (the impact).

Many of our curriculum decisions are driven by high-stakes accountability, which has increasingly become through examinations.  Everyone has an opinion about exams.  We have all experienced them, and often feel strongly about them, either positively or negatively.

“Scrap ‘pointless’ GCSEs” (Robert Halfon MP, BBC website, 11/02/19)

“Overhaul ‘narrow’ A levels” (Prof Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, BBC website, 12/02/19)

Exams are the culmination of a programme of learning, and are only one way of assessing this learning.  Why are exams so prevalent?  Possibly because they are relatively simple to administer, efficient and reliable in a low-trust system.

There are alternatives.  Coursework, formative assessment, skills matrices, national reference tests – these could all be used collaboratively to build the picture of a system’s performance.

We know that, in any system, “What gets measured gets done.”  So what do we want to measure?  Organisations like the National Baccalaureate Trust have been working to develop frameworks to recognise and reward the spectrum of students’ achievements and development, whatever their background or starting point.  Does such a framework led itself to greater social mobility? In reality, such a framework probably needs to start from where we are, using GCSEs and the rest of our current suite of qualifications.  However, there is then scope to add in additional elements for the gaps or consider alternatives with equity.

In my opinion, there are reasons to be cautions about the draft EIF. For example, it states one of the factors that research and evidence indicates makes for effective education is that “the curriculum remains as broad as possible for as long as possible“. The English exam system leads to curriculum narrowing sooner than most countries. So a tension exists between what we aspire to and what we are doing.  This raises some interesting questions:

  • Is a child’s experience at KS2 particularly balanced?
  • Moving forward will the majority of schools revert to a 3-year KS3?
  • What does a broad curriculum at KS4 look like in your context?
  • Should schools encourage breadth at KS5, as happens in many other systems internationally? We could call it a Baccalaureate !?

The future is bright, the future is #curriculum

I am confident that school leaders in the system will balance the nuances of the EIF with the principles of their curriculum intent.  Having reviewed the curriculum in several schools, I have noticed that most school leaders understand these tensions well, and are fully supportive of holistic curricula.  Areas for development I have raised have included, for example:

  • How well leaders and teachers understand and build on prior learning at the start of a key stage, particularly following a change of school.
  • How effectively learning is planned through a key stage to embed and consolidate knowledge and skills.
  • The extent to which the curriculum intent and language for learning is disseminated and shared across the organisation.

This is an opportunity for school leaders to become creative curriculum designers.  If we are bold, perhaps by 2030 we will have schools confidently tailoring their curriculum to their local context, with carefully designed programmes of learning ensuring strong progression with assessment informing the process rather than driving it.  This would, no doubt help to ensure children develop the attitudes, skills, knowledge and values they need in order to share and thrive in their world in 2030!

This remains an on-going discussion and I welcome your views …

About Jez Bennett

As a member of #TeamADL, Jez focuses on #Curriculum review and development using theory of change models such as ‘Appreciative Inquiry’.  As a music specialist, Jez contributes to curriculum development in this area for trainees and he utilises his leadership and headteacher experience to coach other leaders. To find out more visit: www.AnitaDevi.com



SEND: We need to learn to synthesise information better!

By Anita Devi

Over the last two months, I have doing more in-depth work on the ‘Four Broad Areas of Need’.  This has included training, talking to parents, writing, working with leaders in a variety of roles and I’ve been looking at the quality of Education Health Care Plans (EHCPs).  In this blog, I seek to raise some of the unanswered questions, that I think is hindering the effectiveness of the SEND Reforms being realised.  This is not a fait accompli piece, just a few current thoughts.

I have already contributed some of my thoughts to the current #SENDInquiry Here I specifically wish to focus on how needs are synthesised to form a holistic picture of the child or young person.

The construct ‘Areas of Need’ (a legacy of the SEN Code of Practice 2001), I believe evolved from the shift in thinking from a medical model to a social model of disability in the 1970s.  However, it probably become more relevant when considering data analysis of need.  The SEND Reforms (2011-2018) saw a shift in emphasis in one area of need; from behaviour, emotional and social development (BESD) to social, emotional mental health (SEMH). These ‘areas of need’ are not directly referenced in the primary statutory legislation (The SEND Regulations / Children & Families Act 2014). However, they are discussed in the secondary statutory instrument, known as The 0-25 years SEND Code of Practice (2015), SENDCoP hereafter.

My own interest in the ‘Four Areas of Need’ and working with settings on this, since the SENDCoP was originally published in 2014, was triggered by 6.25, which states,

When reviewing and managing special educational provision the broad areas of need and support outlined from 6.28 below may be helpful, and schools should review how well equipped they are to provide support across these areas.”

At this point, I’m sure many colleagues may possibly think, ‘Oh she’s talking about Provision Mapping, Provision Management or SEND Reviews’.  I’m not, though there is some overlap.  For me, 6.25 goes further than just a review.  It’s about strategic leadership that is supported by a depth of knowledge and resources in all four areas.  It’s an understanding of holistic educational provision.

The second nudge for me came from The Rochford Review 2016 (Recommendation 3):

“Schools assess pupils’ development in all 4 areas of need outlined in the SEND Code of Practice, but statutory assessment for pupils who are not engaged in subject-specific learning should be limited to the area of cognition and learning.”

Hence began my work with a wide range of stakeholders on:

  • How well do settings / local areas assess in the four areas of need?
  • How well resourced are they to support the four areas of need?

The conversations have been varying and some dovetailed into work I undertook with local authorities on developing a ‘Written Statement of Action’, enhancing consistency of decision making for Educational Health Care Assessment (EHCAs) and EHCPs, as well looking at the quality of Assessment Advices that contribute to an EHCP.  Since 2011, working with Pathfinders and others, I’ve been in involved in numerous quality assurance (QA) activities on EHCPs; with a vision to see how this can be included as part of the 20-week cycle, not after the plan has been issued and agreed.  Other #TeamADL members are also looking at the QA process of EHCPs.  Sadly, I have yet to see a gold standard EHCP or see a system that embraces a QA process, as part of the 20-week cycle.  This has made me question several things.

Under the previous system, Statements were assessed and issued in a 26-week cycle.   We struggled to QA fully then, often taking just a random sample of cases.  What made us think, we could improve the quality of plans in a shorter time?  In pursuing speed, have we compromised further on quality?  The 20-week cycle is enshrined in law, but it is certainly something we need to consider.  Would families be happier with a slightly longer timeline, knowing that at the end of it, they would get a better quality plan that has been quality assured?

Back to ‘Areas of Need’. As a previous SEND Advisory Teacher, who use to undertake statutory assessment and sit on Panel, I recall how much time and thought I had to put into evaluating the diverse and what sometimes appeared contradictory evidence to truly narrow in on need and identify what was required in terms of support.  In reflecting on support, I also had to consider, whether the proposed intervention was long-term or short-term.  Was it to develop an adaptation independence skill (e.g. social stories on safety) or move a child or young person on to the next point, or indeed, was it something needed long-term (e.g. visualiser)? Since the SEND Reforms, these are not questions, I see colleagues asking and I genuinely feel we should.  Implementing short-term support, does not take away from the need of the child.  Instead, if accurate and appropriate, it provides a way of managing and supporting needs through inclusive practice.

Four Areas of Need

Prior to this role as an Advisory Teacher, I led SEN in a school, as a SENCO.  I was never keen on discussions about primary need or secondary need.  I insisted my team saw the four areas of need as a Venn Diagram.  So, we discussed overlaps, consequential needs etc.  The conversations amongst us as a team and with families were far more constructive.  Our approach rippled out to any external specialists commissioned for their input.  What this meant was we started see coherent and strategic multi-agency working.  On many occasions, in my SEND Advisory role, I recall undertaking joint observations assessments with members of other teams.  When we saw OT waiting lists were not being met, across local authority teams we worked on up-skilling setting staff on universal & targeted provision for co-ordination difficulties.  The impact – waiting lists went down and children’s needs were met in a timely manner.  Imagine that change model with mental health and CAMHS!  This is one of the many visions behind #TeamADL and the work we do in #MentalHealth

A carer recently said to me,

“When we were struggling with two boys with severe attachment issues, we had conflicting advice from social workers, psychologists, and others.   We worked a lot out for ourselves which meant sourcing and reviewing a lot of information ourselves.  We are a lot more therapeutic with our practice now, but even now there are those who don’t understand or agree with how we approach things. Many different voices, plus of course every child is a total individual, so therapies may or may not work with them. I love the multi-agency approach, but I suppose a lot of ongoing cooperation and flexibility is required.”

So, what next?

I think national changes in assessment and curriculum do give schools more autonomy and flexibility to be inclusive.  However, settings and practitioners need to give more thought to synthesising information and seeing the ‘whole’ child, as they progress into being ‘whole’ adults too.  I have always encouraged settings to align their vision / mission statement to the principles of the SENDCoP (p19, Section 19 CfA).  However, we now have a mandate to align these principles (which are universal and apply to all children/families) to the ‘intent’ and ‘implementation’ of any curriculum we deliver.

The second item on my wish list: I’d like to see those who write Assessment Advices and those who use them to write EHCPs become more intentional in how they synthesise information.  Demonstrating joint-up thinking in practice and provision. Considering the child, as a whole.  This takes skill and I do feel more training is required in this area.

Finally, I would like to see a more robust approach, at local authority level regarding how quality assurance can be brought into the system.  Not as an after-thought, but as part of the process.  This may involve changes in the law and extending the timeline.

To conclude the SEND CoP (6.27) is clear: (underline added)

These four broad areas give an overview of the range of needs that should be planned for. The purpose of identification is to work out what action the school needs to take, not to fit a pupil into a category. In practice, individual children or young people often have needs that cut across all these areas and their needs may change over time. For instance, speech, language and communication needs can also be a feature of a number of other areas of SEN, and children and young people with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may have needs across all areas, including particular sensory requirements. A detailed assessment of need should ensure that the full range of an individual’s needs is identified, not simply the primary need. The support provided to an individual should always be based on a full understanding of their particular strengths and needs and seek to address them all using well-evidenced interventions targeted at their areas of difficulty and where necessary specialist equipment or software.”

We, therefore, have the responsibility to make this a reality.

Postscript:  It is my intention to share further thoughts on ‘well-evidence’ interventions at a later date.  For now, if you are interested in finding out on what we are doing around the ‘Four Areas of Need’ – do get in touch.  As I shared, we have other members of #TeamADL also involved in the QA of EHCPs.

About Anita Devi

Anita has had an extensive career in education.  Her why is based around the ‘Joy of Learning’.  As such, she focuses on what enables learners and what hinders them and more importantly, what can she do to improve the system.  Amongst her many other roles, Anita leads #TeamADL

To find out more visit www.AnitaDevi.com


Why Cuisenaire® Rods are my Number-One ‘Go-to’ Resource

By Zena Martin

“The use of words for expression does not necessarily imply their useful communication… Because of this we can safely say that in verbal relationships ‘communication is almost a miracle.’”  – Dr Caleb Gattegno

In recent years, there has been a resurgence in the use of concrete apparatus and manipulatives in primary mathematics teaching and learning. We have the pedagogy of the Far East to thank for this. Yet for many specialist teachers, the use of manipulatives has been part of their everyday repertoire of teaching strategies for the most struggling learners of maths for decades.

For me, and many others, there is one manipulative that rises ‘head and shoulders’ above all others. This is the mathematical rod, originally invented by Georges Cuisenaire. Cuisenaire® rods have been in existence since the 1930s and are the number one go-to resource for many specialist teachers who recognise the uniqueness and visual power of these materials.

However, there are still many teachers who do not yet feel confident in the use of this resource and will often reach for other manipulatives that appear to give a quicker short-term gain of a correct answer for children. Understanding the long-term learning benefits of Cuisenaire® is a vital lesson for every teacher of mathematics, whether new or experienced.

I concur with the view that many children with apparent learning difficulties are actually learning differences. What children with learning differences often find challenging in the mainstream classroom is the significant amount of language and verbal instruction that is employed. They require far more visual and practical input and experiences than are often provided. This statement could be echoed for most children in primary classrooms; it could be argued that they are just better equipped to cope with the absence of such visual stimulus. Here begin the seeds of quality first teaching!

Why rods?

Cuisenaire® rods allow children to see and internalise the relative sizes of numbers; to feel in their hands how six differs from seven, and from 10, and so on. They can see the difference of one white rod between each of the other rods. They internalise that all the blue ones are of the same length, or that it always takes two yellow ones to make an orange one.


Cuisenaire® rods have no numerical indicators. Though sometimes criticised or rejected for this (or even compensated for, with teachers and resource publishers adding markings or pictures to aid counting), the lack of numerical indicators is an essential feature for many children who struggle with number. I am sure you will have encountered children who reach the upper end of Key Stage 2, still insecure with number bonds to 10 and feeling compelled to count everything, still dependent on fingers and number lines for basic number bonds. These children have internalised that their only reliable method of calculating is to count – nothing else works for them because they struggle to ‘see’ magnitude. Of course, we know that counting has its limitations.

You can’t count rods – you have to become so familiar with them that you begin to see and internalise the ‘seven-ness of seven’ and understand its relationship to 8 and to 6, and later to 70, and so on. It moves children away from the ‘comfort blanket’ of counting and into a more secure internalisation of the magnitude of numbers and the structure of our number system. This cannot be achieved with any other manipulative that I know of as they all contain markings and numerical indicators that invite children back to their status quo of counting[1]. They provide an understanding of the magnitude of number, a fundamental concept that eludes many struggling learners. We can immediately see how small ‘red two’ is compared to ‘orange 10’. We can create ‘staircases’ with our rods, going beyond 10 up to 20, or even to 50. This requires a lot of orange rods but is a worthy exercise in demonstrating to children not only the magnitude of number, but also an introduction to place value. Long before children encounter the traditional ‘tens and units’ grid, they need to explore what these numbers ‘look like’. For example, recognising that the number 26 is made up of two ‘orange 10’ rods and one ‘dark green six’ rod is the beginnings of an understanding of place value.

Another wonderful thing about rods is their versatility and ability to become a familiar ‘first port of call’ for most new mathematical concepts all the way to the end of the Key Stage 2 curriculum. The possibilities are endless! Commutative laws, fractions, decimals, percentages, ratios, time, equivalences, bases, and so on. There are few concepts that cannot be taught at least initially through Cuisenaire® rods. For children who are fully familiar with these rods, they give access to mathematical concepts that many might’ve thought not possible. It is a resource that can ‘open doors’ to maths for children who otherwise would struggle to access its abstract nature. Just for starters, imagine if the ‘orange 10’ rod no longer represented 10. What if it represented 100? What would the others become? What if it represented a million? What do the others become? What if it represented one? What would the others become? What if the dark green one represented one? What would the others become? I can think of no other manipulative that I can effectively do this with.

Ultimately, these mathematical rods, whether used by Reception children in continuous provision or by a child in Year 5 to close gaps in learning and access the curriculum more effectively, are teaching children algebra long before arithmetic. They are ultimately discovering that a brown rod and a red rod together are the same length as an orange rod – that’s algebra!


I am often met with the response from teachers (and occasionally specialists) that they don’t use these rods because the child or children don’t know the number that each one represents. Consequently, they will continue to encourage children to use counting manipulatives (often cubes or counters) to help them complete their work. Whilst this gives a short-term gain in producing a page of sums that stand a fighting chance of being correct, it does nothing to develop the child’s long-term understanding and internalisation of the number system.

What is overlooked here is the need for children to develop full familiarisation with these rods before their potential as a learning tool can be fully realised. This requires huge amounts of structured play involving making pictures, building structures, talking about the rods with an adult or peer, exploring their representation on squared paper, colouring them in, and so on. Sometimes, we follow this with multi-sensory flashcards that the children make so that they can reach a point where they can confidently pick up any rod and say its colour and number. Knowledge of colour plus knowledge of number equals full familiarisation. Once this has been achieved, a world of mathematical concepts can be opened up to children with Cuisenaire’s® ability to represent the number system so visually, to strengthen number sense and to be used with such versatility.

Time to dig them out of the cupboard

In the UK, these rods were used by the teaching profession throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, particularly in primary schools. Many adults who were at primary school then remember these resources fondly and describe how they learnt and consolidated their knowledge of numbers bonds through these delightful coloured rods.

After that, these valuable resources seemed to fall out of favour, and I have heard many sad tales of boxes of Cuisenaire® rods being thrown in skips during ‘clear outs’ or moves to new premises. Many teachers at that time were unaware of what these resources were, let alone what to do with them.

But now they’re making a comeback! If you know you have these wonderful little tools in your school, that give visual access to the world of number to so many children who otherwise find the number system a mystery, then dig them out, dust them down, and explore their learning potential!

About Zena Martin[2]

As a member of #TeamADL, Zena specialises in developing teachers and leaders in the North to be more inclusive for ALL learners.  Zena facilities several SENCO Networks and is a SENCO Coach.

To find out more or book Zena’s services visit www.AnitaDevi.com

[1] Please note that I do not advocate children being ‘forced’ to stop using fingers or other counting aids. They will stop using them when they are confident that another system has replaced the need to rely on them.
[2]Please note that I have no pecuniary interest to declare in sales of Cuisenaire® rods or any other manufacturer. 



An ode to an Autism Friendly Christmas

By Louise Lawrence and Dr. Rebecca Varrall

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… the festive season is rapidly descending upon us in all is chintzy glory!  While this build up can be exciting to some people, others with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) can find the changes to routine, the increased social demands and the sensory overload all too much. This season does not have to spell disaster though, and with planning and support we hope that everyone can enjoy Christmas how they want it to be.

Autism is a lifelong condition which impacts people’s lives every day. People who have ASC may experience the world in a different way. ASC is often described as a ‘hidden disability’ as the difficulties people experience in the world are not obvious to those around them.  ASC is a disability that society needs to understand in order for neurodiverse people to be valued and included.

A feature of ASC is processing sensory input like sounds, smells and touch differently. Have you ever been on holiday to a remote place where there is no traffic noise, there are sounds of nature and tranquillity and then you return to the city and your senses are reeling; you feel overloaded by the lights, sounds, smells and pace of life. This level of heightened sensory sensitivities is what people with ASC face daily.

The lights are starting to twinkle, the bells are almost beginning to jingle and the smells of cinnamon and mulled wine are starting to waft in the air. As the days get shorter, the build up to Christmas season begins, and yes, this does seem to be earlier each year… we’ve have put together a chorus of carols to help you to have autism friendly Christmas.

‘Dashing through the snow’

  • Christmas can often be a hectic time with changes to the usual routine – as the old saying goes, be prepared (as much as possible). Without structure, people with autism can be left feeling confused and worried.
  • Do try to stick to your usual routine to keep things the same as much possible – if you choose to eat Christmas lunch at 11.30 am because that’s the usual then so be it.
  • Use calendars and visual aids to help countdown to events and support people to cope with changes to routine.

 ‘Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells’

  •  With lights, sounds, smells and the season changing the sensory information can be overwhelming.
  • Try to involve the autistic person with choosing and putting up decorations in the house. They may appreciate being in charge of the switch for the lights to help give a sense of control.
  • Trial ear defenders for sensory overload.
  • Prepare a space in the house or classroom where there are no Christmas decorations which can be a calm space to retreat to as needed.

‘Good tidings we bring’

  • Surprises such as presents can often cause anxiety in people with autism so limit the number of presents or try using cellophane to wrap.
  • Limit the number of visitors to the home and ask friends and family not to come unannounced.
  • In social events make sure you plan how long you will stay and know how to leave easily should it become too over stimulating.

 ‘Simply having a wonderful Christmas time’

  • The shops can be heaving with people whether you are going to the supermarket or Christmas shopping for gifts. You know your child best; can they cope with the hustle and bustle of Xmas shopping? 
  • If you do venture out, perhaps a social story to explain that the shops can be very busy at this time of year, if you think it would be too much for your child perhaps think about online shopping or going shopping without your child.

 ‘All I want for Christmas is you’

  • If some situations are too much for you or your child to cope with, choose your battles and allow them time and space to cope with the festivities.
  • Don’t put too much pressure on yourself – make time to do activities you know you enjoy whether this is 10 minutes outside the home, scanning Radio Times for Christmas plans, or a soak in the bath, remember to focus on you.

Christmas has different meanings to different people and is bound up by family traditions.  Christmas is about taking the time to spend with family and making memories together. So, whatever you do this year relax, indulge and enjoy from all at #TeamADL 

Christmas 2018

… heads up, #TeamADL January 2019 blog will focus on Speech, Language & Communication Needs.  Till then.

Additional resources:

For further ideas to plan for the Christmas season please see the National Autistic Society website www.nas.uk

About Louise Lawrence and Rebecca Varrall:

As members of #TeamADL, Louise and Rebecca lead on identification, support and provision for children and young people with Autism.  Their combined experience and expertise in Language Therapy and Clinical Psychology enables them to consider holistic solutions to meeting the needs of children and young people with ASC.  They believe passionately in focusing on a person’s strengths and harnessing those for children and young people to live independent fulfilling lives.  To find out more about how Louise and Rebecca’s work visit: https://www.anitadevi.com/team-adl.php

Preparing for Adulthood, SEND

Change my story: ‘Facing the abyss’

By Cole Andrew

Last month, I was privileged to meet and listen to ‘the story’ of young people’s journey towards adult life from two key perspectives; parents and the young people themselves.  One story was told by parents of young people with learning difficulties and the other by the young people themselves.  This was part of a research project I am involved in.

As a I reflect on my experience as a Head teacher in Special Education, I think particularly about the shared story that most special schools have; namely a focus on developing life skills in readiness for adult life.  Over the years, as a team, we did a lot for the young people in my care.  I’m now at a place, where I want to influence the story beyond the day the young person leaves the secure setting of the school and support the increasing number of youngsters with learning difficulties that are being educated at home (80% increase in home schooling in the last 5 years).

The stories I heard recently have given me a deeper experience of what I felt I knew.  Three key messages resonated with me:

  • Parents / carers have hopes and dreams for their children but struggle to feel truly part of the ‘route mapping’ or even understand what the adult life opportunities might look like.
  • All young people have a story to tell about their education; their views on this can provide invaluable incite to shaping the foci for their education.
  • Many young people and parents struggle to see what lies beyond the day they leave the education system (home or school based).

Hopes and Dreams

Whilst listening to the parents and carers of these youngsters, I was overwhelmed with a sense that everyone shared a similar story. Their initial hopes and dreams for their child had been shattered, when their child was first diagnosed with learning difficulties.  They talked about their shared experience of loss and the bereavement process they had to go through on the way.  As a foster carer and a parent of young people with autism, I could empathise.  I recounted the story analogy ‘Welcome to Holland’ written by a parent of a child with Downs Syndrome.  Our initial expectations may not be met, but we can still find ways for young people to live fulfilling lives as adults.  The overwhelming feeling in the room was the sense of anxiety about the inability to see the opportunities for their children in adult life; a strong sense of ‘facing an abyss.’  What will they do? Where will they live? How will they live? Who will support them when I’m no longer here?

Young People’s Story

The reality of co-production has yet to be realised.  Maybe we were ambitious in our vision or possibly naïve.  However, the bottom line is, there is so much to gain by giving young people and families the space ‘to tell their story’.  A parent (@StarlightMckenz on Twitter) shared her thoughts last December via this blog.

How can the story and journey of these young people be better told?  In the project I am now part of we are particularly interested in hearing/telling the story from the young person’s perspective.  I certainly do not want to suggest I can ‘fix’ the issues raised here single handed.  I simply ask the question; how can we help these amazing young people and their supporters to see a clearer picture beyond the ‘abyss’?  The story needs to have at least a sketched outline for the later chapters.  How can we better ‘co-produce’ the journey and experience of the story for these youngsters?

Beyond the abyss … access to the workforce.

One young man’s story was particularly compelling for me.  He has significant physical impairments requiring full time care and support.  Cognitively, he’s sharp as a razor, putting my aging brain capacity to shame!  His story centred around a heartfelt desire to be valued and give value into the community he lives.  He sustained placement in mainstream education, achieved GCSE outcomes and went to college.  Then he faced ‘the abyss.’  No career opportunities opened, due to complexity of the benefits system, support he needed to live independent life and due to the inaccessibility of the workforce arena.  Year by year his demeaner began to lose its shine, he would smile less and spend long periods of time feeling depressed and frustrated.

The turning point in this young man’s story was meaningful work, even though he is not paid.  This is another issue for debate.  However, his whole demeanor and self esteem has grown exponentially by securing week by week, year by year meaningful and valued contribution in the work place.

#TeamADL are hearing similar stories to this, all too frequently.  In response to this, we are seeking to find tools and opportunities to support and develop young people.  One aspect of our work this year is to develop tools to help them overcome some of the barriers to accessing the workforce community.

Together with Anita Devi, and other collaboration partners, we are pleased to announce our #SENDCareers Event on March 9th, 2019 for young people (16-25 years) and their families /carers.  We will release more information about the day and a sign-up link in the new year.  The event will be held at the Network Rail HQ in Milton Keynes.  We are really excited about this.  This is not an event, where young people are given lots of information, to go away and digest.  Our model is different – it’s about listening and dreaming BIG … together.  It’s about showing young people what’s possible.  It’s about rekindling the hopes and dreams of parents and carers.  The event is FREE to attend.

On the day, we will also be sharing a new tool to help young people take up a vocation and support them through workplace induction and further development into promotion.  It is a tried and tested technology and we will be sharing case studies of how it has transformed the lives of young people with learning disabilities in the work place.

So, for now – save the date … and watch this space! (Details below)

Further reading:

Capturing the Voices of Children in the Education Health and Care Plans: Are We There Yet?

About Cole Andrew:

As a member of #TeamADL, Cole leads on the SEND Careers Project.  His experience as a Special School Headteacher and work across more than three local authorities helps him coach new aspiring special school heads, as well as those more experienced.  Cole also has a keen interest in training Teaching & Transport Assistants.  As a parent of a child with Autism and a foster carer, Cole has a 360 insight into the system.  To find out more visit: https://www.anitadevi.com/team-adl.php

Save the date 9th March 2019


5 Top Parenting Tips for the Holidays

Anne Goldsmith (Parenting & Behaviour Specialist #TeamADL)

With the school holidays not far away, you might be thinking what will I do with my children during the holidays?  How do I keep them occupied?  How do I distract them from wanting to play on their XBOX or PlayStation all day and every day?  In this thought-piece, I share 5 top tips to extend your thinking and help plan a more productive leisure time.

It’s often easier to find activities to do with younger children, although I am sure you have realised, that this becomes more difficult as your children head towards their teenage years.  I have two teenagers myself – a 15 year old son and a 13 year old daughter.  When I do find things to do with them, I am mindful that their idea of fun differs from mine and my choices may not be something that interests them.

Top tip #1 Whatever you decide, ensure there is a balance.  Like meal nights, it’s about ensuring everyone has their choice considered, at some point. Planning together is great fun, and children often become quite creative in presenting the plan for the holiday period, knowing they have had a say in the planning and their favourite activity is included. Look online at activities and events on in your local area.

Obviously, there are places to go, such as the cinema, VR Rooms, trampoline parks, which are great and children often enjoy these too. Going for family walks and bike rides can be lots of fun and involves fresh air and exercise.  Again, taking this further could be stopping at the local park.  This was something I did quite a lot in the summer holidays with my teenagers.  We would go for a bike ride, stop at the park and then cycle onto somewhere local for breakfast/lunch and then cycle back home again.  This also makes the fact they want to play on electronic devices for a couple of hours more acceptable, as they have had some fresh air and exercise for the day. Baking with your children is another fun activity to do together.  It doesn’t cost a lot of money, it’s a great way to bond and of course you can make some yummy treats too.  This is one of my daughter’s favourite things to do with me during the holidays.  A top tip from my daughter, is to be flexible with the recipe and give your child the chance to improvise with a recipe, instead of you taking over!

Spend time talking to your child about their favourite XBOX/PlayStation game or their favourite group/music.  If you’re feeling brave, you could take it one step further and spend some time playing with your child on the PlayStation/XBOX or listening to your child’s music and sharing with them, your music or outfit from ‘back in the day.’

It’s important to let your guard down with your children and have some fun too 😉

Top tip #2 It’s a holiday from school, so whilst being active, it’s also important to make time to rest, just chill out and do their own thing.  Whatever that means for them.  This might be staying in their room, reading a book, having a lie in until lunch time, meeting up with their friends, watching TV and yes – I know – playing on their XBOX or PlayStation!  A tip from my 13 year old daughter here, is to leave them alone – unless the house is on fire!  This is their time to recharge their batteries and take time out from the routine.  The tail end of the holiday, it’s always good to start preparing them for structure, routine and early morning starts.

Top tip #3:  Invest in quality time for connection.  Spend some time with your children bonding and deepening relationships.  If you have more than one child, I would recommend giving each child some quality one to one time with you and/or your partner.  It doesn’t have to be for hours, or anything expensive or adventurous.  Sometimes just playing a game of cards together, board games, watching a movie (of everyone’s choice) with a favourite treat food or just popping to a local coffee shop for a catch up, is effective.  These ideas work for younger children and teenagers.  It shows them that you are willing to take time to stop and think about what they would like to do. I have these times with my own teenagers and they are ‘mobile free’ times for them and for me!

Top tip #4: If the holiday is followed by school assessments and your child needs to revise during the break, help them to find that balance and to be organised.  Give your child the chance to organise themselves too and try not to be too overbearing and ‘force’ them to revise.  A great technique to motivate children to complete their homework or revision, is to sit and do your own work alongside them.  They appreciate the company and feel happier doing it, as you are doing something too.

Top tip #5:  As well as activities and things to do, plan sit down meals with your children and your family.  It’s a great opportunity to reflect on the day and gauge how they’re feeling.  This is a great way to connect and re-connect with each other.  It’s often a time when your children are quite open, chatty and responsive.  You can learn so much about your children at these times.

I’d be interested to know how you build connections with your children during the holidays.  Do share your thoughts, ideas and experiences.

One final thought, no one wants to hear the constant moans of “I’m bored!” However, I believe it’s good for children to feel bored at times.  It encourages them to use their imagination and often results in them doing something creative, practical or active.

Have fun!

About Anne Goldsmith

As a member of #TeamADL, Anne, our Parenting and Behaviour Specialist is supporting and providing behaviour management guidance / training for children, young people and their families, as well as educators. To find out more visit: https://www.anitadevi.com/team-adl.php