Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Why Don't You LISTEN?

I'm donning my Learning Support Assistant hat here and going on a bit of a rant.  Bear with me, it will make sense!

For the past year or so I have not had any specific child to work with, for the simple reason no-one with a statement is currently attending our school.  Instead, I have been working with all the children who have special needs, helping them with their daily tasks on a one to one basis, twenty minutes each per day.  These SEN covered mainly speech, a couple of behaviour, a couple of MLD, a couple of children in care, you get the idea.  It has been interesting, rewarding, and I have learned a lot.  One of the things I learned (but already knew with regard to working with children with Down's) is the value of consistency when you work with small children.  It's no good chopping and changing whether or not a child gets SEN intervention, even worse not to follow the strategies for each particular child, and you yourself have to be consistent in how you treat that child - usually firm but fair.  If you come in to work in a bad mood, or if you are having trouble getting yourself organised that day, you cannot take this out on the child you are working with.  I often go for my break and just sit there for ten minutes in silence, relishing a chance not to be jolly for a short while!  But then you get up, go back to work and be professional about it, someone a child can trust and have a rapport with.

This week I have been working with a little chap with a lot going on in his life.  Parents split up, beloved dog given away, and the shock of moving up to Year 1 and having to sit and concentrate with everyone else after a year of dipping in and out of learning whilst playing in Reception class.  He is only five - some heavy burdens to carry, specially when you have no control over your life and are unable to put into words just how confused and sad you are feeling.  So, his way of showing how he feels appears to be lashing out at anyone who gets in the way, plus trashing the classroom.  He's not stupid - he does this, he gets sent home to mum - result.

So, experts have been called in, advice given, strategies recommended and put in place.  Strategies include a visual timetable to be shown as soon as the child comes in; a portable two subject timetable so he can see what he is supposed to be doing right now, and what will come next - as soon as one activity is complete, the card is removed and relaced with what comes next; a particular spot on the carpet, with everyone else but not within punching distance; a puzzle type toy to keep his hands busy while sitting for any length of time on the carpet; a quiet spot at the back of the class to which he can be removed if things look like they are about to get out of hand; rewards for good behaviour, intolerance of bad behaviour; I personally wrote a set of child-friendly 'rules' that he has to follow, using understandable language such as 'kind hands, kind feet'.

The two days I worked with him (as did my job share in the afternoons) we had no trouble at all. Potential incidents were nipped in the bud, the child did his work - not always with the rest of the class, sometimes on the perimeter - and was happy.

Yesterday was my day off - it was less than an hour into the school day before I got the phone call saying he had kicked off. Had strategies been used?  Had the staff in that class been consistent with the previous two days? What do you think?  It's not rocket science people, it's a mixed up child needing some stability in his life.  Why don't you listen?

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Thank Goodness For That!

I haven't worked with a child with Down's this past school year - just because we do not have any attending our school at the moment.  Instead, I have been working with all the special needs children on a daily basis, with small 1-1 sessions - interesting, never dull and very rewarding.

Our Head, however, thought it  a good idea for all staff to have training recently in both children with Autism and Down's Syndrome.   I attended the Down's session to find out if there had been any developments in teaching methods or if there was anything new I could use in the future.  We had an educational psychologist give the training, and she was very knowledgeable and put across the information in a clear and concise way.

Whilst there was very little I did not already know due to having lived 26 years with my daughter plus over ten years doing the job I do, it was fantastic to find out that absoutely everything my job-share and I have been doing at work over the years was all spot on and correct.  Sometimes we doubt ourselves when results are not forthcoming or when parents come to us with 'new' methods or systems that they hope will magically produce the leap in progress they crave, so to have it all laid out by the ed psych was brilliant.  I feel a lot more confident about my work - just a shame I will not have the opportunity to use it all as so far, we still do not have any children with Down's starting in the coming school year.

So if you go through my past posts regarding teaching methods, I can now say, hand on heart, that they are the recommended systems, supported by research and experience - phew!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Change in Council Tax

Luckily for me, I started to follow the DSA on twitter.  A couple of months ago they tweeted that the criteria for a discount on your council tax bill had changed - it used to be that the person you were caring for had to be on the higher rate of DLA for personal care - it is now including anyone on the middle rate as well.

So I got in touch with our local council offices who were very helpful, even re-writing the form I had to fill in as it hadn't been updated yet, and yesterday I got notification that we were eligible.  It also gave us the backdated money as credit off our current bill, so has cut this year's payments by half.  This discount is worth  over £300 per year - well worth going for.  Of course, you won't be informed of this anywhere, but here it is - go for it!

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Quiet Time

I haven't written in here for so long - there's not been much to write about.  The little boy I was LSA to went on to special school last September - a very difficult decision to be made by his parents, but definitely the right one.  I would be the first person to champion a child with Down's Syndrome staying in mainstream schooling, but sometimes it just isn't the right placement for that child's needs.  It felt like a bit of a failure, but we did our utmost and know that we did help his progress a lot, but we just weren't qualified to take him further.  Last I heard, he was thriving at his new school!

It's been a difficult time in some ways with my daughter - she has calmed down a fair bit, but I still feel she is going through some kind of late adolescence as far as behaviour is concerned.  She still gets cross when I brush her hair, but at least she tolerates it now.  We don't have as many disagreements, but she is proving quite strong willed which is fine, but sometimes can be detrimental to her wellbeing.  She hasn't worn her glasses since last year and nothing I say or do can make her.  Today we have an eye test so it will be interesting to hear what the optician says about that!  Her eyesight was never that bad, she can function without glasses for everything but close work, so I am hoping it's OK!

She is still painting pictures in her spare time and that is great - we have had a foray into paint by numbers which I don't feel is as creative as her previous work, but on the other hand it does require a lot of thought and concentration in order to find the numbers and use the corresponding paint - so swings and roundabouts there!

The care company have finally started to send my daughter's favourite careworker on a more regular basis which has made her happier - I think half her behaviour problems were a protest against having someone she didn't like very much taking her out each week.  It didn't matter how much I pointed this out to the office that arrange it all, they were adamant that we should only have who we were assigned, rather than someone who we liked, and that it was inconsequential how much upset it caused.  Yet another example of the views of someone with special needs being ignored - however, for the time being the status quo has been restored and life is far more pleasant.

So, life goes on with it's ups and downs and we are just carried along!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013


While I was working on helping my daughter get more out of her life - still a work in progress but coming along - we were having some other behaviour problems.  This year she suddenly seemed to be going through a kind of adolescence (a bit late at 25 but there you go!) with a lot of independent behaviour and a great deal of stroppiness over little things.  One of the main bones of contention was having her hair brushed.  I'm very willing for her to do her own hair, but the bottom line is that most of the time she just wafts the brush at the front part and leaves the back straggly.  It's bad enough that she chooses to wear her oldest clothes which are battered and generally coverd in paint splashes (but they are her favourites so I try to keep my mouth shut as it is her choice), but I draw the line at letting her out of the house looking like she just got out of bed.

So I used to brush her hair before she goes out and get hands waved, head covered, flinching and more recently, I got hit.  I was trying to be as gentle as I could but nothing seemed to work.  It came to a head when I lost my temper at being thumped every day for a week, yelled at her and threw the brush across the room.  Not behaviour I am proud of.  I was appalled at what we had been reduced to and had to take a step back and think about what I could do to redress the situation.

So, after a chat with my daughter about how she should never hit anyone, which I think sunk in, I went on the hunt for a magic brush.  I eventually found something labelled as being able to get through tangles without pulling but it cost £11 - that's a lot of money for a plastic brush that might not even work.  I stood in the shop deliberating for a good five minutes then finally decided that if it did work, it would be the best £11 I spent that month.

It really is a magic brush - I am now able to brush her hair without fear of being hurt myself.  She is still not happy about it, but her hair is not getting pulled inadvertently, neither are the bristles scraping her scalp - I don't know if either of these were the problem, but whatever it was, we seem to have got rid of it.  You have not idea how relieved I am that this has been solved - it was making both of us so unhappy.  Little things seem to cause the biggest reactions, and many times it is impossible to see the wood for the trees when you are in the middle of it.

Now, about those tatty clothes....

Monday, 2 September 2013

Quick Update

I'm glad my last post seemed to get a response - it was quite difficult to write at the time, but I find by writing things down, it helps me to think.

After the 6 week school holiday where I have been at home the whole time, we managed to get into a better routine.  My daughter is currently really into painting at home, and since giving her a set of acrylic paints and a book entitled Painting Masterpieces By Numbers (or somesuch), she has been spending her mornings creating her own works of art.
We've also been out and about on little excursions doing the things she likes, such as feeding ducks and fish, having a cup of tea at a garden centre, etc. and I have tried to include her more in the daily routines - not that she always wants to be included, but at least she has had the option!
She is still quite reticent, but seems a lot happier.  It is very much a work in progress and as I return to the day job today we shall see if this has an effect on her behaviour.  I am hoping we are on the right road at least.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Never Assume....

I think lately I have been guilty of assuming that my daughter is quite happy occupying herself whilst I am either doing the housework, working, etc. when in actual fact, I suspect she might have been feeling very bored and undervalued.  It is very easy when someone is unable to communicate their feelings clearly to think that everything is fine with them,  just because they don't say it isn't.  It's not until things start to go badly awry that you wake up and realise that perhaps there have been signs that you have not noticed or have chosen to ignore.

My daughter is not one of those loud, confident and out-going people with Down's Symdrome that you see - she is very quiet, quite shy and due to her difficulty verbalising, quite lacking in confidence.  If something is bothering her, she will not (cannot) say anything - on occasion I will find a piece of paper with one of her 'essays' on it and notice she has written down a complaint about her life.  When this happens, I try to address the problem and sort it out as best I can.  But that is not always the case.

We have noticed of late that she has become virtually silent at home, answering questions in monosyllables and rarely starting a conversation.  She has also become a bit peculiar in her behaviour - resisting me when I try to help her with personal care such as brushing her hair or straightening a jacket for instance; continuing to walk when I am asking her to stop; other little quirks and tics appearing.  I have been worried for quite some time and did wonder if I have been doing enough to keep her mind active and her self-esteem high.  Since she finished college last year, she has three days a week where she goes to a placement, two at an art studio and one at a social group. One day a week she has a careworker take her out for the morning while I am at work - we have had a few hiccups with this lately, plus the routine has become the same every week which must be dull but my daughter has not asked to go anywhere different. Again, have we assumed that because she hasn't said anything that she doesn't want to do anything different?

When she is home, my daughter spends her time either drawing, writing her little stories or daily diaries, and watching tv - a lot of tv.  I charge around trying to get everything done singlehandedly around the house and garden, as well as holding down a morning job plus working from home during the afternoons and evenings.  As I am so busy, I tend to take over everything in order to get it all done quickly - should I be delegating some jobs to my daughter and biting my tongue when it takes her five times longer to do something than I would?  Yes, I think I should.  I have been making more of an effort to include her in daily activities and it pays dividends - this weekend she has been chattier than for a very long time, and far more willing to join in.

I am embarrassed to think that through some misguided sense of caring I have actually been a major contributing factor in making my daughter unhappy. We all need to feel valued and have a purpose in life - having your every need catered for and being able to sit around all day is fine for a short while, but in the long run must be soul-destroying.

So we will continue to get her up and about, perhaps cooking, using the vacuum cleaner, taking a bit more responsibility, and hopefully be able to repair the effects of the past few months.