Expert event (4 September) - back to school - Mencap

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Expert event (4 September) - back to school

Sarah_Mencap
Sarah_MencapAdministrator
30 Replies

From Wednesday 4 September Steph Reed is here to answer your questions about education. This could include - heading back to school after the summer holidays, special schools, home schooling, or anything else you can think of.

Steph has been teaching children and young people with autism and complex needs for the past 10 years, in various mainstream and specialist settings.

Find out more about Steph - autismspectrumteacher.com/s...

Steph also has some great podcasts - autismspectrumteacher.com/c... and blogs - autismspectrumteacher.com/b...

Many thanks

Sarah

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30 Replies
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Adam1975

This sounds great. This is very relevant to me as I have a 4 year old son. He is not starting school this year, but I am starting to think more about how he might cope next year. I would love to know what other people have done. thanks

4 likes
StephAST
StephASTExpert
in reply to Adam1975

Hi Adam,

It’s always good to be planning ahead for preparation of a smooth and positive transition. Some things to think about could be some ‘going to school’ books if your son enjoys looking at books.

Walks/ drives passed the school can help a child become familiar with the area and in the spring/ summer, some transition visits to the new school will be really important.

Schools are usually very good at preparing extra transition visits for children with special needs, so check to make sure this will happen sometime in June and July 2020.

Your son may already be used to being around other children, however it can help young children to build up experience of being with others by visiting or joining playgroups or children’s clubs.

Steph

3 likes
Adam1975
Adam1975
in reply to StephAST

Thanks for your ideas Steph. I like the idea of going to school books as he loves to read (well look at the stories). He has been very interested in watching the kids go back to school and has started to say that that will be him next year. This has made us parents feel a bit happier. He definitely identifies the local school as the one he will go to. We do have quite a lot of contact with children his own age, but less so older ones. It is a good point that he might benefit from time with them. I will look into it. Love some of the other ideas in your other posts. Lots of things we can follow up. thanks

2 likes
Adam1975
Adam1975
in reply to StephAST

Hi again. I have just been having a chat with my partner about home schooling. I am not at all sure, but they are keen to explore all options. Do you (or parents on here) have experience of this? I don’t think he needs it, and he would benefit more from being with others at school.

Also, my son doesn’t have a formal diagnosis – can that be a problem? We’d like a diagnosis but up till now we didn’t really think it mattered.

Thanks

1 like
StephAST
StephASTExpert
in reply to Adam1975

Hi Adam, I would recommend going down the formal diagnosis route in order to identify areas of need and where support can be put in place. This will highly support an application for an Educational Health Care Plan (EHCP) which is a legal document which informs schools which support needs to be put in place and outcomes that your child is working towards. A diagnosis informs everyones understanding which in turn, informs the support that is required from everyone involved and how to set up our environment to further help.

On a personal and professional level, I would advise school over home schooling, especially in the early years. He may respond and achieve well at school - with the right support in place and this is therefore why I would suggest going down the formal diagnosis route.

Best wishes,

Steph

1 like
StephAST
StephASTExpert

Hello,

My name is Steph and I am an Autism Specialist Teacher with over 10 years experience in teaching in both mainstream and specialist schools, as well as being a school SENCo and school outreach leader.

My passion is in maximising outcomes for children with Special Educational Needs and I currently provide independent outreach support, coaching and training to schools and services.

The beginning of the school year can be very daunting for both children as well as parents and carers, especially after the long summer holiday. The transition between school, holiday and then back to school is therefore very important.

How are you feeling about the new academic year? Is there anything specific on your mind or that you would like to discuss? How have you prepared for the transition?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Steph

2 likes
Thomas-the-Tank

Here is a question for Steph:

Hello and welcome, you have such a great website and I’ve just subscribed to your mailing list. My question is, do you have any tips for incorporating sensory seeking exercises into learning? I home educate my teenage son who is barely able to sit still for a few minutes at a time. Do you have any strategies for incorporating sensory “relief” into classroom time?

Thank you in advance.

TTT

3 likes
StephAST
StephASTExpert
in reply to Thomas-the-Tank

Hello!

Thank you for your question, it’s great you are incorporating sensory seeking exercises into learning, great!!

Active learning including multi sensory resources can be incorporated into all subjects. Think fun activities involving movement and tactile sensations.

Here are a few examples:

Maths: splatting shaving foam with fly swatter revealing numbers/ sums, using a skate board/ movement board to lie on so he can move towards different numbers/ sums/ shapes/ colours (anything) using arms/ legs. Great for hand/ eye coordination to!

Practical and functional tasks such as cooking, folding and sorting clothes and buying from a shop are brilliant maths lessons involving measurement, calculations, sums, money and movement.

I will reply with more ideas soon!

Steph

2 likes
Thomas-the-Tank

These ideas are BRILLIANT thank you Steph. I absolutely love the skateboard idea I would never have thought of that! We go to our local shop every week where they know us and my son joins in with the whole shopping ‘process’, it’s lovely to see his confidence grow.

Thank you so much for replying so quickly, I look forward to more ideas.

Best wishes

TTT

1 like
StephAST
StephASTExpert
in reply to Thomas-the-Tank

Hello TTT!

Following on from my previous post, many movement and sensory seeking resources such as gym balls, swings, massage can be incorporated into different learning activities.

English: reading/ writing/ listening/ speaking: guess the letter/ word (drawing with finger on back/ arm like a massage). Spelling words/ reading when swinging/ bouncing on gym ball.

Carrying books for reading/ looking at/ in backpacks for proprioceptive input,

Role play is great way of incorporating movement, dress up and physical resources (i.e. climbing trees/ building large blocks for a particular prop (includes maths!) This is also great for story telling and writing! Writing can really be encouraged through play - perhaps designing a pirate ship or retelling a story!

Using different wet or dry sensory materials (i.e. playdough, jelly, coloured water, cornflour and water, dry rice, sand etc) to write/ draw/ spell words/

Science/ problem solving/ hypothesising: There are lots of un and engaging science experiments involving different materials/ reactions/

Examples are lemonade volcano, making sensory bottles mixing oil and water, making slime, these types of experiments have lots of learning opportunities and involves tactile sensory materials to touch, smell and sometimes taste!

A lot of learning can take place from functional activities which involve teaching life skills and touch on different school subjects and involve movement (i.e. making the bed, sorting the washing, cleaning etc) these all can involve reading, number, measurement, problem solving and have the additional factor of learning valuable life skills.

I always also suggest to have regular movement breaks or sensory activities that specifically target the personalised sensory needs of the child. For example, before a learning experience, it may be absolutely necessary to do some calming exercises such as massage, calming music, deep breaths, just before learning starts so that it can start calmly. There may be specific times where exercises to energise or use energy such as bouncing on gym ball, running, swinging may be more appropriate depending on the sensory needs of the child.

2 likes
Thomas-the-Tank

Thank you so much for this very comprehensive list of tips and tricks. In your reply you answered another question I was going to ask; do you use music for calming and focus before learning begins. My son has quite a severe learning disability so table based ‘lessons’ are limited to very short bursts. I want to calm him down sufficiently to be focused on the task in front of him. I am going to try incorporating music and see how it helps. Fingers crossed!

Thanks a million 😊

TTT x

2 likes
StephAST
StephASTExpert
in reply to Thomas-the-Tank

Good luck! another tip is to try things over a period of time and instill consistency and routine. This can really help. A child may not want to sit for massage and calming music on the first few times, but after understanding what will happen (after a few sessions), they may be more relaxed, calm and therefore enjoy the session.

Best wishes,

Steph

crazysquirrel

Sorry if this is a bit off subject but I saw this on Twitter - twitter.com/makatonlucinda/...

They have done lots of school related ones - twitter.com/makatonlucinda

I don't have experience of Makaton - is it widely used in schools?

thanks

3 likes
Thomas-the-Tank

Hi 👋🏻. I LOVE Lucinda isn’t she adorable? I follow her on YouTube but she’s on instagram too. She and her mum do the sign of the day. So helpful. I’m just learning Makaton (informally but there are courses) but I know it’s widely used in schools and learning centres.

Maybe Kagz on here will reply to you, she is learning Makaton currently and has lots of tips (there is a post on here somewhere).

Are you thinking of learning it, Crazysquirrel?

TTT x

1 like
crazysquirrel

I am feeling inspired after watching these videos so I might give it a go. It looks like fun. I saw Kagz post healthunlocked.com/mencap/p...

2 likes
Thomas-the-Tank

Ooo how did you do that link thingy? Clever squirrel 😆👍🏻👍🏻

1 like
crazysquirrel

I am feeling very proud of myself. That sort of thing doesn't normally work for me. I copied it from the address bit at the top of Internet Explorer and just pasted it in. It seemed to want to have a clear space on either side and then it knew it was a link!! It is like magic.

2 likes
Thomas-the-Tank

You know what they say; you learn something new every day - and I just did! Thank you 😊

1 like
StephAST
StephASTExpert
in reply to crazysquirrel

Hello!

Makaton really helps to enhance communication by making a word more visual through signing key words as they are said. Makaton is widely used in special schools and now (thankfully) is being used more in mainstream schools, especially in the early years.

I recommend to all teachers to use Makaton key signs during the day, especially for commonly used words such as 'home', 'school', 'toilet' and lesson themes for example 'float' and 'sink' during a floating and sinking lesson. Pairing Makaton sign with other visual and concrete resources, really reinforces undertstanding.

Some children will also learn to use the signs themselves and this will help them to recall words verbally or perhaps express their needs and wants through sign.

Makaton signs are always paired with the word, so never used as just a sign. This helps to reinforce and emphasise the word.

I use Makaton on a daily basis as a teacher and have written a blog post about how I use sign during teaching here autismspectrumteacher.com/s...

I also speak more about the use of sign to enhance communication during this podcast episode all about inclusive teaching strategies: autismspectrumteacher.com/a...

2 likes
Aholidaywouldbenice

Hello Steph

My son has got used to being at home over summer (and I love having him here) but I think we both need a break from one another.

During the holidays we have tried to keep in touch with a few of his school friends. This makes it easier when he goes back.

I have also made a big fuss of going to get new shoes for him – he liked that. I know that doesn’t work for everyone but he loves getting new clothes (even if they are identical to the ones had last time).

I think he is a bit nervous as he has a new teacher and a new classroom but the school did an excellent job of introducing them at the end of last term.

If you have any advice about what to do on that first day back I would appreciate it (it's tomorrow). I sometimes think that my excitement and nerves rub off on him. Should I leave him even if he is upset (he cried last year), or will I make that first day worse by fussing. I get the impression the teachers would like the parents to leave them in peace.

He is at primary school. Thanks

3 likes
StephAST
StephASTExpert

Hello!

It sounds like you have both had a good summer and you have done a lot to prepare him. It's great that he was introduced to his new teacher and classroom last term.

The start of the new term creates a lot of nerves both for the children and parents. It may be very difficult, especially after the long summer break and he may be upset because of this.

It is good you are thinking ahead. What is very important is instilling a routine and helping him to understand that you will be coming back. If you stay longer at school for example, he may want you to do the same the next day. Decide on a routine (e.g. speak to teacher, teacher is with your child, hug and kiss, wave bye at the door and leave. Keeping a consistent routine each day will over time, help the child to understand. If it is different each day, this can make a child more upset.

To further aid understanding, some children can really benefit from having a small photo visual timetable (i.e a photo of school, then a photo of you and then a photo of home) to talk through with him before you leave to show him that after school, you will be coming back and then you will be going home.

Perhaps he may even have a visual timetable at school and adding the photo of you or photo/ symbol of home at the end of the day may ease some anxiety.

I think it is good to think about how your feelings may have an impact on him. I have seen many anxious parents with anxious children, children really pick up on our feelings!

Good luck, I hope all goes well and things will get easier over time after a routine has been established.

Steph

2 likes
jow2319

Hello Steph. It is a very long time ago now but I used to have mixed feelings about going back to school after the holidays. My brother (with LD) went to a different school.

On one hand I missed him as we had just spent a lot of time together. Certainly when I was young (primary school ) I found it rather idyllic and I have very fond memories of these times.

But I was also glad to get back to my ‘other’ life. I felt guilty about this – particularly as he wasn’t keen on school. I liked my independence and that at school it was just me, rather than me looking out for my brother.

I know my parents were both exhausted by the end of the hols and ready for both me and my brother to spend some time out of the house. Looking back I can’t imagine how they coped as they both worked too. We must have driven them mad.

Going back to schools is a big change of pace for a whole family. My advice is to expect teething issues, and expect to be tired. Education for people with LD has changed massively since my brother went and I am sad he didn’t get many of the opportunities that exist today.

Thanks, Jo

3 likes
StephAST
StephASTExpert
in reply to jow2319

Thank you for your advice Jo.

Yes it is certainly a big change after the long summer holidays and such a change for the whole family. We therefore need to expect changes to emotions and energy levels.

I mentioned in an earlier post about the importance of instilling a routine and consistency as this can really help children understand what to expect both at school and at home. A consistent morning routine, school routine, after school routine can really help ease back into the change. What do you think?

2 likes
Sarah_Mencap
Sarah_MencapAdministrator
in reply to jow2319

Hello jow2319. It is lovely to hear your memories of the summer holidays with your brother. It is a bit of a shock to the system for everyone to get back to a routine (parents and teachers included). I think everyone is tired after the first week back. Steph's ideas about a consistent morning routine make complete sense. I think many families keep slightly different hours over summer (later to bed, and later up). Routines can be very hard to establish in the first place, it is such a shame when they are eroded. Thanks for sharing :)

1 like
chrisinem

Hi there,

In my experience, I have found that it is really useful teach children about the fire alarm and practice this as often as possible - loud noises can be very scary when the children are not familiar with this. Do you know if this is something that schools practise as part of introducing or re-introducing children back to school?

I'd also be interested to learn more about how teachers encourage friendships at school and what parents can do to support this. Thanks StephAST ! I look forward to reading your response.

1 like
StephAST
StephASTExpert
in reply to chrisinem

Hello!

It is definitely very helpful for children to teach them about the fire alarm and what they will need to do when this happens. The fire alarm can be very scary and shocking for some children. Thankfully, schools do 'fire alarm drills' where they practice what to do in a fire alarm.

I would suggest to all teachers to do a lesson before this to talk through what will happen before the fire alarm sounds.

I use a visual schedule to show the children where we are going in pictures, as this can be effective during loud alarms and shock. For example, I have a visual schedule showing a picture of the alarm, followed by 'walk to the playground' followed by 'wait in line' and then 'walk back to the classroom'. This helps to show a visual representation of what the children will be doing to help anxiety. I show this to the children at each stage.

There are many different ways teachers encourage friendships, from grouping children together for various tasks and activities, planning specific turn taking and collaborative tasks, discussing play at play time. Modelling different play and conversation skills whilst children are playing, can really help children learn what to do and how to build friendships. Teachers and parents can help by getting involved in play at home and school and showing children what to say and what to do in order to develop relationships.

1 like
Frumpyfish

Hello Steph. I struggle with anxiety and seem to have passed this onto my son. He's at secondary school and has just gone back. He is really struggling with anxiety. I know it hard to go back to a new school year but this is more than just nerves. I can recognise the way he acts when he is anxious as I have been there too. Nothing has really changed since last term, he still has the same friends and I take him to school. He doesn't want me to say anything, but I think I am going to have to. Do you think I should leave it a bit longer (he has only been back 2 days) or step in before it become a habit. It wouldn't surprise me if he started to say he didn't want to go. He looks so uncomfortable (can't sit still, panicky) so he must be exhausted. I also worry that I am projecting my own worries onto him. Sorry, this is a bit garbled. I just don't want anxiety to become as big an issue for him as it is for me. thanks

1 like
StephAST
StephASTExpert

The beginning of a school year can be a very anxious time for children and parents. Take each day as it comes. Ensure you are both having time for calming activities or quiet time, whatever you find helps to calm you. We are often so busy that we don't make time for this (I need to take my own advice!). Like you said, it is only day 2.

I can recommend this evidence-based guide to anxiety in autism -(however some great practical ideas in general as well) that has recently been put together. You may find this helpful whether autism is involved or not. city.ac.uk/__data/assets/pd...

Mindfullness may be a path to look further into, maybe for yourself or both of you.

Good luck and hopefully anxiety should ease after the first few weeks. It's always harder in the beginning.

Best wishes

Steph

1 like
StephAST
StephASTExpert

This has been such a great discussion involving important themes such as transition, preparation, anxiety, sensory regulation, learning, communication and diagnosis.

I have written many blog posts on these themes on my website autismspectrumteacher.com - you can use the search bar or category selection in the menu bar.

I also host a podcast called the Autism Spectrum Teacher Podcast which is free to listen to on:

Apple- podcasts.apple.com/gb/podca...

Spotify- open.spotify.com/show/46SFD...

Google- podcasts.google.com/?feed=a...

Previous episodes have included inclusive teaching strategies, emotional regulation, special interests, visual supports and upcoming episodes include anxiety, early intervention and reading - subscribe for free in the links above!

I provide specialist outreach support, coaching and training to schools and services in and around London and online autismspectrumteacher.com/o...

Good luck and best wishes for the new school year!

Steph

steph@autismspectrumteacher.com

1 like
Sarah_Mencap
Sarah_MencapAdministrator

Many thanks to everyone. Also a huge thank you to StephAST for being our expert and posting such wonderful replies.

This topic is now closed.

If you want to post more school, education or early years (or anything else) please just write a new post - healthunlocked.com/mencap/w...

There will be more expert events to follow soon.

Thanks

Sarah

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