Friday, 26 November 2010

Putting the Fun into Learning

A very useful strategy I have used over the years both with my own daughter and with the children I have worked with is getting them to forget that what they are doing is learnng.  The difference in results obtained between sitting a child down at a desk and having a boringly structured session and playing a silly game, laughing and having fun are remarkable, particularly with children in infant school.

You can still get across what you had planned to teach that day but there are ways and means of doing it successfully.  Even now after 22 years of experience, I can go in to work feeling pretty 'blah' one day and then at the end of the morning wonder why the child I have been working with has not cooperated, not learned anything or generally been difficult - it tends to be a snowball effect.

By contrast, if you turn the tasks into games and don't be afraid to wander off the target occasionally, you will be surprised at the results.  Even reading key words can be turned into a competition if you have a chart with a column of smiley faces or ticks and keep encouraging the child to get a higher total than last time, with a reward (sticker etc) at the end.  This works particularly well with two or more children (you may have to cheat a little if one of the children is far behind the other and starts getting despondent!)  I have also found that telling the child that you really don't think they will be able to do this when it is a very simple task they have done before and then pretending complete shock when they do it works extrememly well.  They love to prove you wrong!

For the really young child, don't be afraid to get down on the floor with them in order to play.  Adults are quite big and intimidating to young children and getting down to their level helps a great deal.  I had the most productive session ever with the little boy I am currently working with recently by taking him off into the school library where we could sit on the carpet with various toys and books,  sing action songs such as 'Row Your Boat', Old MacDonald Had a Farm etc., and all the time using Makaton.  At the end of a fun three quarters of an hour, I  had my first 'conversation' with this child in Makaton - he had relaxed totally, forgotten any reserves he might have had, enjoyed himself and was able to construct some simple remarks in Makaton about the up and coming playtime.

Also do try to keep your eyes open for signs that the child is learning from unexpected quarters.  Many is the time I have had to stop myself from telling a child off for something they have done because just in the nick of time I have realised that they have either just said/signed something for the first time or that they were attempting to do something you had taught them on a previous day, it had just manifested itself at the wrong time.   If you tell a child off for in these circumstances, it is easy to undo work that you had previously put in.

If things go wrong and you really aren't getting anywhere, let it go and take the child for a walk round the school or outside.  This can still be learning as you talk about what you see and the change can calm a situatuon right down.  If the child has been angry and stubborn, take them outside and do some shouting in the playground - turn it into a game of naming objects in the loudest voice, sing  a marching song and stomp about - it diffuses the mood as well as practising speech, voice control, following actions etc.

Above all, don't be afraid to be creative and spontaneous - it works!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


Isn't it interesting how my daughter's taxi's have been bang on time every morning this week?  And how we have actually had the same driver each day?  This is how it should be....shame it only happened after weeks (months?) of incompetence on their part, anxiety and complaints on my part.

I just wonder how long it will last.  Do you blame me for being cynical?

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Breaking Point

As a parent of a person with Down's Syndrome, life always seems to be one long battle.  Right from the start you have to deal with outside agencies who half of the time are telling you things you don't want to hear, don't agree with, or that are just plain worrying.

There will be battles over schooling - where to send your child for the best, how they teach your child, how they treat your child compared with the others if they are in mainstream, how to get all the extra help such as speech therapy, one to one assistance etc.

There will be battles over discrimination, healthcare, playschemes, respite care.

It feels like it is never-ending - there always seems to be yet one more issue that you have to confront  in order for your child to be treated with the respect and care that 'normal' children receive as a matter of course.  Most of the time you can deal with it, but sometimes it really wears you down and you wish for at least a few months without having to strap on your armour and go out fighting. It gets very, very tiring.

I've had a couple to deal with myself lately and it never gets any easier.  I'm not a confrontational person by nature but if pushed into a corner, I will react - it is very upsetting though.

A few months ago we had the negligent careworker to deal with - this one reared it's ugly head again recently when our regular careworker was off sick and I received a rota in the post stating that we would get the woman I complained about as her replacement.  I immediately rang the office and explained that I would prefer not to have this woman 'care' for my daughter again and was assured that someone else would take her place. Somehow, there was a slip up. Imagine my surprise and horror when the next Thursday morning the very woman I had requested not to have ever again turned up on my doorstep.  She swept into my house, barely speaking to me and never made eye contact once.  I was already late for work and had to pray that my daughter would be safe for the next three hours and that my house would not be burnt down or the dog be boiled!  A very uncomfortable morning indeed - and a position we should not have been put into.  So once more,  phone calls to be made and a situation to be dealt with.

This week, the problem has been transport to and from various activities.  I know we are very lucky to have a taxi service paid for in order to get my daughter to college, theatre group etc. and I really do appreciate it.  However, I do get the feeling that as this taxi service is paid for by Social Services and therefore not a great money spinner for the taxi company, they do not put as much effort into it as they should.  We have a different driver every day, sometimes every trip - just as well my daughter can cope with this.  I know a lot of people with Down's and other disabilities that would find this lack of continuity incredibly distressing. Over the past couple of years we have had many occasions where the taxi has been very late or even not turned up at all.  We have even had the taxi leave from the college without picking my daughter up as he had gone to the wrong entrance.  They do not seem to appreciate that she is a very vulnerable adult and should not be left waiting on the pavement, particularly in the dark winter evenings.

The last couple of weeks the morning taxis have been arriving later and later, culminating yesterday in turning up 25 minutes late.  The excuses have been about traffic, but I am positive that if a full-fee-paying customer needed to get to the airport on time, this would not be acceptable.  For my part, it also means I am incredibly late for work - thank goodness I have extremely understanding employers.
Not only have we had to put up with that, but yesterday lunchtime I received a phone call from the taxi company asking where my daughter was as the taxi driver was waiting outside the correct entrance to the college but she wasn't there.  Cue a frantic phone call to the college by me only to be told that the taxi driver had asked Stacie her name and because of her poor speech, hadn't understood her and refused to let her get in his taxi.  He didn't think to get up off his backside and go and ask inside who he was supposed to be taking.  In the meantime, my daughter is left on the pavement outside confused and bemused. 

Is it me? Or am I correct in thinking that this is shoddy behaviour indeed?  So once again I have to complain to the taxi company, give a lecture to the taxi driver and send an e-mail to our social worker begging that this be sorted out once and for all. 

I am so very exhausted by it all.  I know that in a few days time I will feel better and wonder why I was getting so upset, but for now I am feeling very low.  Unfortunately, this seems to be the way life goes when you are the parent of a child with special needs.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

I Don't Feel Very Well..........

We all have that sinking feeling when our child says that to us, but generally they are able to tell us just exactly how they are feeling and where it hurts.  Not so easy to obtain the information if your child has difficulty with communication and even harder if it is not your child but one you are working with, so you do not have a parent's inside knowledge.  Also, I have found that children with Down's Syndrome - and many others too - learn such stock phrases as 'I have a headache' or 'I feel sick' and use them to describe any ailment or injury.

A few years ago I was working with a little girl who was pretty good at getting her meaning across, her speech was clear and made sense.  However, when it came to feeling ill at school, she was unable to express how she was feeling and even closed questions didn't really clear things up.  In the end, I drew a simple outline of a human figure (rather like a gingerbread man) on a sheet of A4 card, with a sick looking face - two sad eyes and a wobbly mouth - and wrote a heading 'I feel poorly here...'  I then laminated the card and kept it with my resources so that whenever she was feeling a bit off colour, she understood to point to the relevant area on the drawing.  It was a very helpful little tool.

Something to keep in mind is children's knack for faking it.  My daughter learned very early on in her school career that by telling people she felt sick, they panicked ('oh no, the special needs child isn't well, we don't know what to do!') and immediately telephoned me, whereupon she was taken home.  Nine times out of ten, by the time we got home there was a miracle cure and she could look forward to an afternoon in front of the tv and no school.  It got to the point where I told the school that unless she had actually thrown up on the floor, I was not to be contacted - sounds harsh, but she gave us all the run around for a long time!  In secondary school I was contacted urgently and arrived in a rush to find her lying on a bed in the nurse's room, wrapped up in a blanket and looking as if she was at death's door.  Even I fell for this one, and took her straight home - but we hadn't even reached the school gate when she brightened up, skipping along and discussing which dvd she was going to watch when she got home......and you can't march your child back into school saying 'she's faking it, have her back'!!

You may think this was just my child, but over the years I have seen the same trick pulled by all the children I have worked with and their mothers in the same position as I was - exasperated!  If I rang them, after describing the symptoms,  I tended to ask them whether or not they thought it was worth them coming to pick up their child - after all, who knows their child better than their mother!