It is nearly the start of a new school year and thoughts turn back to work.
So what do you do teach them?
This is question I am often asked when someone finds out that I teach in a school for children with severe and profound learning difficulties. This is especially so when talking about children with the most profound difficulties. “What do you do all day with them?” “Do you just care for them?” “Isn’t it just very sad?” These are questions I have heard more than once.
I then spend time explaining just some of the things I do. This is nearly always then met with “oh wow”, “I had no idea”, “how interesting” and other such positives.
People don’t know what they have never encountered before. Ignorance is usually just a lack of knowledge. I am happy to talk about my teaching of pupils with profound and multiple learning difficulties to anyone who will listen so I thought I’d blog a few examples.
Communication is one if not the most important aspects of my job. Many of the children I teach have little or no awareness of other people or how to get their needs met by others. My job is to try to interpret unintentional communication and find ways for every child to communicate with the outside world. This involves so many things, too many to mention. Below are some of the things I do on a regular basis.
Look closely at what a child does when they are presented with some kind of sensory stimulus. It might be a sound, a smell, a texture to feel or a movement. The changes might be a startle response, a change in eye movements, a change in breathing, smiling, crying, moving away or towards the stimulus. Over time you can build up a picture and you try to look for a consistent response so every time I present X to a child they give one of the responses.
Once a child has realised that other people can help them to meet their needs the challenge is on to find a way for them to communicate. Examples include eye pointing towards objects, photos or symbols, reaching towards objects, photos or symbols, signing or speech or a combination of all of the above. This really varies from child to child and often depends if they have a physical difficulty
Physical Skills often play a huge part of my day. Many of the children I teach have some kind of physical disability, most commonly cerebral palsy. I work closely with physiotherapists and occupational therapists to make sure that the children I teach have a range of functional and comfortable working positions. Initially this is a good sitting position. Many children require specialist seating, often a wheelchair. There are so many on the market and all do slightly different things. For someone with high or variable tone it might have a kind of shock absorber to reduce the impact of their muscle spasms. For someone with low tone, it might have support at the trunk and provide a comfortable position for hands and arms to rest on. We also make sure that the children have other good working positions such as on their back, on their front or side and maybe the use of a standing frame. Postural care is of huge importance. How can my children learn anything if they are uncomfortable. You know how horrid it is to not be able to get up and move about (think of being stuck in a traffic jam or on a plane journey with the seatbelt sign on. Imagine not being able to get up or readjust yourself. Daily stretches and changes of positions are crucial for good learning and comfort.
Once they have these good positions we can then work on skills such as independent sitting, rolling, reaching, developing head control. They can also work on skills such a learning how to press a switch, pick up a toy or explore a tray of messy sensory play. All these skills are crucial for being able to develop other skills such as understanding basic cause and effect and developing communication skills for example learning how to control their head or hands to be able to press a switch to activate a game on the computer or say hello to their peers during circle time.
There are many more things I could write about and more detail on all of the above but that’s just a small introduction I guess. If people are interested I could write more. Just let me know in the comments!