Wednesday, 19 November 2014

End Of An Era

When it's time to eat my words, I have no shame in doing so and admitting when I'm wrong.  My post a few weeks ago about strategies being used with the child I was assigned to felt true at the time, but I fear it was just a honeymoon period.  We had a few weeks of keeping the peace, a few blow-ups on his part but they were managed at the time with minimum fall-out.  I wasn't enjoying my job particularly, it felt like walking on eggshells and I had to be one step ahead of him the whole time in order to make sure nothing set him off.  Have you ever heard the story about the little boy who had to be kept happy because if he wasn't, he had the power to make the villagers experience terrible misfortune or even die?  That's what it felt like to me, and I really resented having to let him get away with behaviour that would have caused my own children to be under house arrest in their rooms until they apologised and changed their ways!   I also was not happy with the constant worry that he might get handy with his fists or feet at the drop of a hat - it made life stressful to say the least.

Strategies were followed, but a lot of the time it is not possible to get an angry flailing six year old into their 'quiet area', let alone keep them there until they calm down - half the time you are exascerbating the behaviour and causing it to escalate.  Which it did, quite spectacularly a couple of weeks ago.  It began with a tantrum over spellings - he hadn't paid attention to the teacher, got them all wrong and when I was quietly correcting him and showing him the right way to write them, he lost it, threw his whiteboard and while looking me straight in the eye, lobbed a chair for good measure.  I was pretty fast and got him into his quiet area, whereupon there ensued a fifteen minute struggle, trying to prevent the tables following the chair, him escaping, all the while fending off kicks, bites and punches.  Nobody was going to get calm any time soon. It ended with him coming at me with fists flying as I was sat on the floor - I restrained him as we have been taught, in a firm but gentle bear hug, pinning arms to the sides.  It was not easy - he's a big lad, and may I point out that up until this time I had been left on my own to deal with this. Finally the teacher came over to assist, and I lost concentration for a second and he got an arm free and punched me in the face, knocking my glasses off.  At which point I realised I was going to lose my temper any second and that I really did not want to be doing this any more, so I left.  First time in my life since being a stroppy teenager I have walked out of anywhere that angry, slamming a door behind me - it was not a good feeling, very frightening and shook me up for the rest of the day.

It took the headmistress and another LSA half an hour to control the child, during which he managed to throw a heavy book at the head, cutting her face and bruising her nose.

So, I refused to work with this child ever again - it felt horrible to admit defeat but I am in my fifties and my patience and body are no longer what they used to be.  I  have to go home and care for my daughter and to be in a state of stress does not help matters there either. There is also the fear of injury - if anything happens to me, I would be unable to look after my daughter and there is no-one else to take over should I be incapacitated. It is also very hard to do my other work as an artist when my brain is whirling with the events of the morning - and the potential for an injury to my eyes or hands affects that too.

I have been assigned to another troubled child - who I could probably work with now that I have got to know him and discovered that despite his outbursts there is no risk of bodily harm! But the heart has gone out of me as far as this job is concerned.  I'm no longer working with special needs children, it feels more like child-minding/being a bouncer.  I have loved working with children with Down's, using what I know to help them progress and grow; I thoroughly enjoyed working with children with speech and language problems, MLD and those needing occupational therapy - to know that you have contributed in some way to their improvement and growth, to see them confident and happy as they go on to junior school, it makes the job worthwhile.  But there does not appear to be a place for me to do this any more at this particular school, so I have decided to leave.  It is sad in a way - it has been 11 years of ups and downs but thoroughly rewarding up until now.  I know I have moaned and whined over the years about clearing up bodily fluids, the frustrations of seeming to get nowhere for weeks on end and dealing with parents intent on scuppering their child's learning with good intentions, but it has been something I have actually been happy to do because at the centre of it has been a child who needed something I was able to give.  It no longer feels that way - I feel weary, slightly demoralised and the motivation has gone.

Having made that decision though and handed in my notice, I am excited to be moving on - it's time to try and make a go of being a full-time artist, which ultimately has always been my vocation in life.  I'm hoping that while doing this, I will be able to return to happier times, devote more time to my daughter's needs and no longer run the risk of being punched in the face unless I absolutely deserve it!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Enough Already!

I am wondering why the press have had quite a few stories recently about how awful life is when your child has Down's.  Today's contribution by the Daily Mail has an interview with a woman who wishes every day that she had aborted her son.  While I completely understand why she feels that way after 45 years of caring for him, sometimes I think these things should not be voiced publicly.  It may be how you feel and I respect that, but it gives a wrong impression of people with Down's to those who have no experience of it and who may be having to make a serious decision themselves.  My life has certainly not been easy since I had my daughter but I definitely do not wish her dead or that I had got rid of her in utero.  We were given a choice when she was born and rejected it out of hand - I would not be able to live with myself if I had taken that road.  For all the hardship, frustration and despair, having her has made me a better person and realise the priorities in life.  This is just my opinion and I am sure that I am luckier than others in how she has been affected by her Down's, but I do wish the press would not use this kind of thing for a good story.

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!