Author Archives: Adele

Lesson from a boy with Autism

On Sunday I took our three children to our local soft play. We always go towards the end of the day when it is less busy.

 

They started to play a game, which involved taking a soft play ‘letter’ from the toddler area and hiding it.

 

After a while Darcy (our four year old) came to me and said that a boy had taken her letter. We watched as a boy emerged cuddling the letter. He took it back to the toddler area where it belonged. As I watched the boy go back into soft play I held Darcy close and kept telling her quietly to “wait”. When the boy was out of sight I said she could go get the letter, but not to worry too much if he came and took it again. He wasn’t being mean. He was returning the letter to where it should be. I could see where the boy was coming from. I could also see from the familiar mannerisms, quietisms and desire to categorise that the boy had autism.

 

It was getting near closing time and I saw the boys Mum go get his attention and calmly, tell him he had five more minutes, holding up her hand preparing the visual count down. Her son went off on his way. As she walked back I commented about how her son loved the letters.

 

“Yes. He doesn’t know how to play like other children. He has autism and loves the letters and numbers…” she explained.

 

I said that I was teacher at a school for children with learning difficulties and autism and admired the way he had coped with our children upsetting the correct order of his letters and numbers with their game.

 

Her son (being clever) took this opportunity to disappear.

 

I found him at the top of the slide (a favoured hiding place of some of my own class on our soft play outings). I called to his Mum to let her know.

 

My own children reluctantly responded to the count downs and were putting their shoes on.

 

I went and got the softplay letter from the toddler area and took it to the bottom of the slide. His Mum was already at the top explaining ‘Soft play is finished” I held up the letter. The boy clocked it instantly. I left it at the bottom of the slide, knowing he would have to come down to file it in the correct place. A minute later he was making his way to the toddler area to put the letter where it should be.

 

On our way home I said to Darcy, “You know the boy who wanted to tidy the letters?” She looked up and nodded. “You were right to wait. That boy has autism.”

 

“Ahh…” said Darcy knowingly.

 

Our children have grown up with parents who make autism software and a Mum who teaches and writes books about teaching children with autism. It is not a foreign word. But it was lovely to have another example our little girl could relate to and build upon her own understanding of these wonderful children who often play in their own unique way.

 

I hope Darcy will continue to be tolerant, interested and think about how others see the world. I hope she will continue to ‘wait quietly’ when waiting is the right thing to do.

 

I also hope that another Mum will read this and know that not all strangers are judging.

 

Many will be relating, observing, learning and admiring…  

 

In fact they might be quietly thinking to themselves (as I was):

 

“What a brilliant mother. What a brilliant child.”

 

ABC -  All Behaviour is Communication

For more information about my books visit http://www.jkp.com/author/authors/view/id/adele-devine-7850

 

 

 

 

Why failing that trainee on mental arithmetic might fail SEN children.

 

According to ‘The Guardian’,

 

‘In the last three years nearly 2,000 people have been turned away from teacher training because of failing this exam.’ http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/nov/22/pass-teachers-numeracy-skills-test-quiz

 

What about the trainee who really struggles with mental arithmetic and cannot process these questions fast enough? Maybe that trainee’s own school experience inspired them to want to go out and make education better, to make the classroom a happier place. Should that vocational, potentially amazing teacher be excluded from the profession without exception?

 

The best teacher may not pass this test. The teacher who gets what it is to find things difficult, the teacher who will understand and find different approaches, and the teacher who may be best placed to support a child who learns differently.

 

Is this skills test removing some of the most amazing, creative, empathic teachers from our profession?

 

What is happening to education?

 

A child does not require a teacher who can answer mental arithmetic questions at speed.

A child DOES need a teacher who cares deeply about who they are, how they learn and finds out what sort or individual support they need.

A child needs the teacher who is completely motivated to raise their self esteem so that they will not fear having a go.

A child needs the teacher who cares deeply and does not judge them by their ability to fit into tick box criteria.

They need the teacher who loves their individuality, is able to see their way and adapt to their learning style. They need the teacher who creates, inspires and fights their corner.

Some of our most wonderful trainee teachers are currently being restricted from entering the profession because they cannot do the mental arithmetic they will never really need. We must speak up for them. We must speak up for the children who are set to miss out if we do not include them in our teacher workforce.

Why can’t we replace those 12 mental arithmetic questions with questions that test empathy, creativity and putting the relationship between the student and the teacher first?

Shift the focus back to what really matters and allow that teacher who does not juggle mental arithmetic to continue training, to follow their vocation, to go on to inspire, love and ‘get’ our wonderful, individual children.

Sports day – Tips to support the child with autism.


To support the child with autism on sports day try stepping into their shoes.

 

Imagine that you are a non swimmer, but five days a week you MUST go on a sail boat. You have been doing this for sometime.

It is less terrifying than it was at the start because there are certain things you now know about the journey.

 

  • You have learnt the familiar landmarks to look out for.
  • You have learnt how long the journey will last.
  • You are secure in the knowledge that at the end of the day you will be back home and safe.

 

These ‘knowns’ make you feel braver and safer.

 

Today is different though…

 

Today you have been asked to wear different clothes and shoes.

 

You are nervous and reluctant, but you get on the ‘boat’.

 

The journey starts off the same, but them the boat takes a different direction.

The weather is changing.

You can feel a storm is starting.

You look around for the life saving rings usually hanging along the side (just in case), but they are gone.

You have not experienced this before.

What if you sink?

What if you are knocked over board and no one sees?

Suddenly you realise that you are not safe.

 

You look around for some reassurance, but things get worse and worse. You begin to panic, but no one sees it.

 

You feel you have three options:

 

1) Fight

2) Flight

3) Retreat

 

It is too late for fight now.

Flight is impossible for a non swimmer in the middle of the sea.

You choose ‘retreat’ and hide in a little nook.

You put your head down, cover your ears and close your eyes hoping that you will survive the storm.

Or maybe you do nothing different, but you do still FEEL the fear and discomfort.

 

The best way to help a child with autism deal with a ‘different day’ is to understand, prepare, inform, reassure and compromise.

 

A teacher might think that on sports day there is less need to put up their visual schedule. They replace the whole timetable with a ‘Sports Day’ symbol. Worse still they leave the previous days schedule up, which will completely confuse.

 

The child with autism arrives at school. Change is in the air and they look to the timetable for reassurance.

Knowing what is ‘next’ is part of what makes them feel safe and able to get through the school day.

On ‘different days’ the child with autism needs visual supports and information more than ever.

 

Ten Hints for Sports Day Success

 

Visual schedules are more important than ever on ‘different days’.

Show on a calendar that the change is only for one day.

Prepare to compromise on different clothes.

Prepare for disappointments with social storiesTM.

Have a sticker, medal or reward ready for every child who takes part.

Try to build in some ‘normal’ routines the child can cling to.

Praise the children who do not win for excellent sportsmanship.

Reduce expectations to suit. Do they need to sit through every race?

Build in some fun activities such as throwing water sponges at teachers.

Speak up and be proud of what the child IS achieving by taking part.

 

 ’I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.

The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’

Nelson Mandela

 

Helping that special child who hits.

A few months ago our daughter Darcy came home from preschool saying that ‘Billy’ had hit her and often hurt her. The hurting had happened quite a few times despite him being told “No” by teachers.

 

I asked Darcy why she thought Billy might have hit her.

 

She thought about it a bit, but could not think of a reason. “Is Billy bad?” she asked?

 

Instinct told me that Darcy was best placed to help Billy learn.

 

“Billy is NOT bad.” I said. “Maybe he wants you to play with him and does not know how to ask. Some children need to learn how to make friends in preschool. Maybe Billy is hitting because he likes you and he does not know how to show it. Maybe Billy needs a friend.”

 

I suggested that Darcy could help Billy learn to be a friend. She could show and tell him the sorts of things that friends do.

 

We did not speak about it again.

 

Months later we we were doing some gardening and Darcy said, “Billy is my friend now. He doesn’t hurt me anymore.”

 

“That’s great!” I said and then I remembered our previous conversation. “How did you make friends?”

 

“I told him be nice, do what I do – play and no hurting,” said Darcy.

 

I hugged Darcy and told her that she had made me very proud.

 

Darcy had helped little Billy with a social hurdle, simply and brilliantly and in a way that a grown up never could. Billy now has a friend, a role model and great potential to make more friends. Darcy could have changed his whole school experience.

 

I’ve heard parents and professionals observing a child who hurts say: “One day another child will hit him back.” But what would being hit back really achieve? The reaction may indeed ‘teach the child a lesson’, but it will be the wrong lesson.

 

Behaviour is so often a form of communication. We must always look for the roots. We must help our children to understand the roots and become role models.

 

If a child hits or kicks or knocks over brick towers then they do not need punishments. They need support and clear role models. They need directions and the chance to show they CAN. They need this to happen in the right way before behaviour habits begin to form.

 

The child who has been hurt may be best placed to turn things around.

 

Plant the seed. Children learn best from other children.

 

The conversation I had with Darcy made me very proud and reinforced my belief that children are our best teachers.

 

Ten hints to handle hitting

 

Be aware of triggers such as hunger, tiredness, boredom and avoid them.

Be aware of things that create anxiety such as noises, lighting and crowds.

Use visuals to forewarn children of changes to the typical schedule.

Support with small group structures if they are not ready to mingle with the masses.

Take the time to role play and teach play skills, pointing out good role models.

Use social stories to explain expectations in a clear and consistent way.

Use comic strip pictures to clarify why incidents have happened.

Explain the behaviours and promote a helping attitude to avoid social isolation.

Invite parents in. Strengthen and support them with strategies for home.

Use clear praise attached to ‘good’ visuals when the child gets things right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why SATS fail our square pegs.

Our seven year old son is completely unaware that it is SATS week. As he skipped happily into class this morning I was hoping that, at the end of the week he would be just as happy, confident and carefree.

 

Our seven year old has a brilliant brain. He asks the most amazing, unusual questions, which often make us stop and really think.

 

Like MANY children he does not enjoy sitting down and doing school work. He likes to be actively exploring, creating and questioning. These are qualities I admire and love. His daydreamy nature could (if correctly nurtured) bring about amazing positive change.

 

Our son dreads the achy hand and humiliations attached to doing that perfect joined up writing.

Homework – what a weekly trial!

 

We will treasure those cards that say ‘Dear bad’. We don’t mind that his letters don’t hang and love watching the way that he still uses his finger when spacing words.

 

I do not worry about the boxes he will or won’t tick in this round of SATS, but I do worry about the things that are important. I will do anything to protect his self esteem and make him feel brilliant about what he CAN do.

 

If you have a square peg child taking their SATS this week don’t push them into extra practice. Devote free time to what makes them happy.

 

We must invest in what makes our individual children tick because their self esteem is more important than any tick box.

 

“Autists are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work.

It’s that you’re destroying the peg.”
Paul Collins

 

Dear Secret Teacher; Why parents need you to support them in all areas (even toilet training).

 

I teach children with Special Educational Needs and Autism. We often find ourselves picking up the pieces after a  failed mainstream placement, where our special children and their parents have experienced a lack of understanding, a lack of adjustment and lack of support. This leads them to being placed in a school for children with severe learning difficulties, but these children do not always have severe learning difficulties. They represent a growing number of children with learning differences, who are being failed by a poor introduction to education.

 

I was shocked and saddened by the ‘Secret Teacher’ article published by ‘The Guardian’ yesterday (18/04/15)

 ‘Secret Teacher: why do some parents expect us to toilet train their children? We can’t teach children properly unless parents send them to school with the basic life skills. We are teachers, not supernannies.’

You begin by talking about a home visit,

‘Sitting in a family’s living room last September, I watched my school’s reception teacher force a smile. We were on a home visit for a soon-to-be student and the mother asked, “Is there anything I need to do before he starts?” A sensible question with an obvious answer as the child on her lap was wearing a nappy and drinking from a training cup.’

This parent does not need your judgement or forced smile. You are in her home and judging her parenting by a nappy and a training cup. Did you ever consider that the child wearing a nappy may have an invisible disability such as autism, which has made toilet training a very different task? Did you ever consider that this Mum may have spent hours researching, been through every type of potty and training seat and also tried a zillion different cups to get her child to stop having bottles? Whatever the circumstances this parent and this child clearly do need school support.

You say,

‘This wasn’t the first home visit that had left us mentally replanning our early years curriculum.’

If an Early Years, setting that sees toilet training as not in their remit then it is high time to think and rethink. Home visits are times to assess children’s individual needs and work out how best to support parents.

You mention another home visit,

‘The day before, we’d helped one desperate mother rescue her child from climbing on top of the kitchen cupboards.’

Could this child have a hidden disability such as autism or ADHD giving them a sensory need to climb? Was your presence causing anxiety? Could you be thinking of ways to support this child’s sensory needs with climbing equipment, a trampoline and more access to soft play? Could you be supporting a Mum, you observed as ‘desperate’ by telling her that she is doing an amazing job and helping redirect the child’s attention. You enter her home and judge her. You have no idea!

You say that you,

‘conducted another meeting in whispers because the child was still having her afternoon nap.’

Do you have children? Maybe this child is not yet properly sleeping through the night. Maybe the child is bouncy, hyper, non stop and exhausting. Maybe Mum knows that if your meeting wakes her sleeping child then you will really have a reason to judge. Maybe when she meets you and senses your lack of empathy she wants her child to keep sleeping. Maybe she is right.

You say,

‘These represent part of a growing issue my primary school is contending with: an increasing number of children are not “school ready”.’

I believe that you represent an unfortunate number of Early Years teachers who are not “child ready.”

You say,

‘Home visits for new starters are a relatively new phenomenon. They were introduced as an opportunity for parents to meet their child’s teacher and discuss any concerns either party may have to make the whole process a more positive experience. In reality, they allow us to suss out the extent of a problem before it arrives at our door.’

Using a home visit to ‘suss out the extent of a problem before IT arrives,’ suggests to me that you are completely the wrong person to conduct home visits.

You say,

‘I’ve had to ask parents not to send in cold Happy Meals for packed lunches, and known several children who have been put on school dinners so that we can “make them eat properly” (one notoriously having eaten nothing but potato waffles until the age of nine).

Are you working collaboratively to support these children to combat their eating issues rather than sitting back and judging their parents? Are you aware that some parents have children who will only eat one thing and it is NOT due to their parenting skills?

You say,

‘Unfortunately, in a group situation you have to meet the basic demands of a few children who are not coping, rather than the learning needs of the silent majority. This year, four families withdrew their children from our reception class after their first visit, citing the behaviour of other children as the reason. I didn’t blame them.’

Of course you cannot blame parents for withdrawing their children from a setting where the teacher seeks to blame and to judge rather than nurture and support. Have you asked why the children aren’t coping? Have you sought to accommodate their individual needs, to investigate the reasons behind their behaviours?

You say,

‘Parents arguably have far more influence on their child’s development than a class teacher, yet the government attributes a child’s progress almost entirely to their teachers’ performance.’

Vocational teachers do NOT allow governments to affect their performance. They will teach individual children from the heart and try to set them up to succeed no matter what their background or ability.

You conclude,

‘There are measures being taken to promote good parenting and there are also (thankfully) many wonderful parents who work tirelessly to do the very best they can in the world’s toughest job. They’re the ones who allow us teachers to do our jobs effectively by bringing us children ready to learn – and we salute them. But, for those other parents, please keep your end of the bargain. We are teachers, not supernannies. We care about your children but some jobs just aren’t in our remit – and toilet training is one of them.’

I will conclude by saying that the other day my class team went into joyful celebration when a four year old with autism did a wee on the toilet at school for the first time.

Maybe you would say, ‘that’s because I teach in a special needs school?’

Maybe you would say that ‘special’ child would not belong in your mainstream class?

But then maybe with the right structures, the right supports and a little empathy that special child could learn to cope in a mainstream setting.

Maybe these children who YOU are failing and the parents you keep on judging so harshly are doing a great job. Maybe they are coping with an invisible disability?Maybe that is what’s causing them not to be ‘school ready’ by your standards.

The fault may be with the professionals, who are not picking up on the real issue or offering the early support, which would make such a difference to so many lives.

In Early Years it’s our job to support ALL areas of development. These include eating, drinking, speaking, listening, co operating, dressing AND toileting. Teachers are not ‘super nanny’, but neither are most parents.

Having children is a lottery, but finding the right teacher, who can support children based on their individual needs, should not be.

 

 

The full article can be found here:

 

http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/apr/18/secret-teacher-parents-toilet-train-children

 

Not ‘impaired’ and not ‘disordered’.


Taking issue with the negative labels, which are often associated with autism.

There are some labels, which are still being used to reference autistic individuals that we must ALL stand up and take issue with. I hear them used regularly from other education professionals, see them on medical forms and even in the titles of current books ‘Impairment’, ‘Disorder’, ‘Low functioning’, ‘Non verbal’ – these terms are negative, misguiding, unhelpful and wrong…

 

Triad of Impairment

 

One of the first things we will encounter when reading about autism is ‘The Triad of Impairment.’

 

The ‘Triad’ is a helpful tool in that it highlights difficulties, which are common to those with a diagnosis of autism, but I have an issue with the word ‘impairment’.

 

The dictionary definition of impairment is,

 

‘The result of being impaired; a deterioration or weakening; a disability or handicap; an inefficient part or factor.’ http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/impairment

 

‘The Triad of Differences’ would be less harsh. Differences may lead to difficulties, but with the right structures and supports differences can also lead to great discoveries.

 

Many of the difficulties represented in the triad can also be positive character traits. The word ‘impairment’ does not suggest this.

 

ASD – (Autism Spectrum Disorder)

 

Autism Spectrum acknowledges that individuals with an autism diagnosis vary greatly (as can individuals without an autism diagnosis). Autistic people can be the great movers, thinkers, creators, innovators. They can hold down the most amazing jobs, be the most wonderful life partners and parents. Autistic people can also struggle with communication difficulties, social difficulties or be tormented with severe sensory issues, resulting in all sorts of challenges.

 

The ‘D’ for ‘Disorder’ is completely unacceptable. I cringe when I see it written on paper or hear it said because autistic people are not ‘disordered’. Perhaps they have an associated condition, but ‘disordered’ is a Dark Age term. The ‘D’ will stop being used in future. In time the autistic community will speak up, be heard and people will unanimously agree. If you see an individual referred to as being ASD you can make change happen faster by questioning the ‘D’. The more we ALL question the quicker we will see change in attitudes. The closer we will be to creating acceptance.

 

Low Functioning or High Functioning

 

A person diagnosed with autism, may be described as being ‘high functioning’ or ‘low functioning’. What a confusing, intolerable way to describe a person. ‘Functioning’ can be used to describe an electrical device. Your T.V. could be ‘functioning’. Would we describe a cat that has broken its leg or suffered a stroke as ‘low functioning’? No – we would be respectful of their individuality and describe their specific condition.

 

I’ve been teaching autistic children for over a decade. They do require a different approach, but I would never ever agree to hearing ANY of them described in terms of ‘functioning’. They are wonderful children, who continually cause me to reassess, to pause in wonder at their individual brilliance. They make me think and rethink. I teach in a school for children with ‘severe learning difficulties’. If there is ‘High Functioning’ then the children I teach would probably represent the opposite end. NONE of them are ‘low functioning’. We must abolish this negative terminology. Autistic people may be gifted, they may have learning difficulties, they may have sensory issues or experience different perceptions.  If you wish to add detail to the diagnosis mention these things. Question those who use ‘functioning’ to describe a person.

 

Non Verbal

 

Unless there is a known physical condition affecting someone’s speech they are NOT non verbal. An autistic person may not speak YET. They may (in some cases) never speak, but they do have the potential to speak. If they speak through an Assistive Communication Device such as an iPad then they are communicating. They are speaking with assistance. Never ever allow someone to describe an autistic child as ‘non verbal’. The term removes all hope and assumes a future, which is never set in stone.

 

A child who does not speak can still listen intently.

 

The label ‘non verbal’ is a write off term. If you hear an autistic person described as ‘non verbal’ question why. Do not accept age cut off dates because there are no age cut offs. Autistic people are individual. They can start to speak later. An approach that failed early on may be tweaked, tried by someone different and lead to success. I’ve seen speech develop late too many times to ever stop trying.

 

Even if an autistic person never speaks they must know that the possibility is always there, that the people around them are still hopeful. Talk about what they CAN do. Maybe they can make sounds, maybe they can echo or copy rhythms, press a switch, look at their reflection, react or interact. All of these things are communication. They may not be speaking, but they are communicating. Even if they are never able to find their physical voice, they can be given access to assistive communication – Apps, Eye Gaze and switches. Non verbal is a non hopeful term. Question it.

 

We must ALL speak up!

 

Let us eradicate this negative terminology and remove some of the obstacles autistic people encounter.

 

Do not isolate or accept negative assumptions based on outdated training and literature.

 

If someone uses negative terms to describe an autistic person we must question them.

 

Remove the write off terms and remove the stigma.

 

We must build people up, believe in them and highlight their individual possibilities.

 

 

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.”

(Wayne Dyer)

 

 

 

 

 

 

What if the child with autism could ‘fast forward’ school?

What if the child with autism could ‘fast forward’ school?

What if we gave the child with autism a magic remote control?

 

Buttons would allow them to have control of their school day. They could ‘fast forward’, ‘pause’ and change the volume at will. No one would question them.

 

Would they ‘fast forward’ that time before registration, when it is too noisy, unstructured and socially confusing?

 

Would they ‘fast forward’ registration all together? Is it fun?

 

What about Maths, Story time, Spelling, Handwriting, P.E? Would any of these subjects escape that button?

 

What about lunchtime – the noisy canteen, the disgusting smells, the noise?

 

Never mind ‘fast forward’ – would the child with autism just press the ‘skip day’ button and be back at home, safe in their comfort zone?

 

What if you had a magic remote?

 

Imagine stepping onto a crowed underground train and being able to fast forward the journey. Bliss!

 

 

Make journeys faster.

 

Inventors are always trying to make transport faster, smoother and more comfortable, but until they develop teleportation for commuters we must spend time getting from ‘a’ to ‘b’.

 

Most commuters are not looking out of the window admiring the views or engaging in social chat. Their attention is fixed on their mobile phone, their laptop or newspaper. Or maybe they are taking the time to catch up on sleep. Distraction helps the journey go faster…

 

On the underground we use a visual map to count down the stops. Knowing where we are headed – where we are ‘now’ and where we will be ‘next’ is comforting. The map helps us to prepare so that we can get off at the right stop. We can mentally prepare our walk to the door, pressing the button, getting passed obstacles. The knowing and preparing eases our anxieties.

 

That map helps us stay on the train until we reach our destination. The destination (even if it is work) is our motivator.

 

Underground maps have a similar function to the child’s schedule.

 

The child’s schedule helps them get things right, eases anxiety and helps them stay on track.

 

Underground maps also visually depict the time between stops. The length of the line between stops correlates with the distance and time between stops. This helps us gage our journey and work out how long we have left.

 

Timetable line

 

Time

 

Timers provide a visual for how much longer a favourable or unfavourable activity will last.

 

Sometimes timers can bear the brunt of frustration. They may even be broken in attempts to thwart time.

 

By adding visual time symbols to the schedule, which link with timers we give the child additional information. We show ‘goodbye’ will be ten minutes, but lunch will be half an hour.

 

Each orange sand timer represents ten minutes

A time timer and ‘Now’ and ‘Next’ schedule with time timer symbols

 

Knowing helps the child feel less anxious.

 

Knowing helps the child prepare.

 

Knowing breaks the school day journey down, making it all seem less interminable.

 

Lost in technology

 

Oh and when the child with autism tries to lose themselves in technology to help their school day pass quicker, think back to those commuters.

 

Making a ‘no tech’ rule on trains would be impossible and unfair. The way to get commuters looking out the window is to provide an exciting view. The way to get them communicating is to provide them with a good reason and motivation.

 

We cannot provide that magic remote, but we CAN provide the visual structures to make school days seem more manageable.

 

Once we relate to why the school day can be challenging, we see why having good visual supports is such a necessity.

 

Note: Symbols, schedules and timer symbols are all included in the resource CD that comes with ‘Colour Coding for Learners with Autism: A Resource Book for Creating Meaning Through Colour at Home and School’ published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2014. http://www.jkp.com/uk/colour-coding-for-learners-with-autism.html


Speak up to help unlock non verbal prisons.

 

Imagine being placed in a prison system where there were no choices at all.

 

Meals were served ‘like it or not’ fashion.

 

There was an eating window of five minutes (even if the food was still painfully hot).

 

Do you want to wear the scratchy top or the sweaty, uncomfortable one?

 

Imagine having no phone calls, no texts, no emails, no conversation, no contact…

 

Visits

 

Relatives may see you and talk to you, but you could never voice an opinion or talk about what is actually happening or how you feel.

 

Emotions

 

Imagine not being able to communicate frustrations, hopes or dreams with other ‘inmates’ or prison officers.

 

There is no way to express real feelings.

 

 

There are prisons like this, but what crimes have the inmates committed?

 

What have they done to deserve such treatment?

 

Are they the monsters, the paedophiles the scum of our society?

 

No.

 

The people placed in these incomprehensible, non communicative prisons have done NOTHING wrong.

 

Maybe they were born with a disability like Cerebral Palsy or Autism, which limits their communication. Maybe they lost the ability to speak through accident or illness.

 

These people have brilliant thoughts, creative imaginations and deep feelings, but no means to communicate.

 

They are innocent, but our society has left them in prison.

 

Technology and education is the key.

 

There have been amazing advances in the last decade. We now have Apps, with a never ending bank of symbols to scroll through, enabling those without speech to communicate choices and feelings. For those, who cannot physically operate a touch screen we have Eye Gaze technology. People can use their eyes to operate communication software, to send emails, go on social networks to interact with the whole world.

 

Special needs schools are equipped with specially trained staff and an array of switches, Apps, Eye Gaze and sound beams.

If a child can potentially communicate we will find a way.

 

But what about adults, who were already in homes, institutionalised and never accessed this technology?

Unless they have tech savvy families fighting for them, their education is unfairly and unjustly finished.

Their chance is lost.

 

But these are real people, with real thoughts and every day we wait is an extra prison day.

 

They are silently counting every hour, every minute, every second…

 

Scrap ‘missing boats’ and ‘slipping nets’. We are talking about PEOPLE.

 

Amazing, wonderful people imprisoned in the worst way, without having committed any crime.

 

I implore everyone to speak up…

 

SHOUT for people in residential care to have access to education and assistive technology…

 

SHOUT for those without a voice, who should have further education and access to life changing technological advances.

 

We are so incredibly lucky that we CAN!

 

 

To the Mum of the child with autism, who did not dress up for book day.

This morning I saw a few Harry Potter’s, a Red Riding Hood, a bear, a tiger and a teacher and head teacher dressed up as ‘Where’s Wally’. It’s Book Day and EVERYONE is getting in the spirit.

 

I also saw a few children, who were not dressed up. There was the Granny saying loudly, “Oh Mummy must have forgotten”. There’s a few guilty Mum’s who have a zillion other things to think of, who will rush home, turn the house upside down and return, red faced with a costume.

 

Other Mum’s may judge the non dressed up. Did they forget? Do they not care? Or maybe they are just thinking (like me) ‘Thank goodness I remembered.’

 

But then there is the Mum walking into school holding hands with her child, who NEVER does dress up days. The child who hates these different days… The child who struggles with a ‘normal’ school day and today fills him with anxiety and dread.

 

This Mum has tried EVERYTHING! This Mum is actually really pleased her son will wear the uniform and she really hates these days too. This Mum knows how her son is feeling. She feels it with him. This Mum and this son are actually being incredibly brave.

 

They say ‘Never judge a book by the cover’.

 

Maybe the child, who did not dress up is an original, a non conformer.

 

Maybe the child, who did not dress up is the one with the potential to make our world better.

 

To that Mum of that child, who did not dress up for book day I’d like to say…

 

I think YOU are doing the most amazing job and in the scheme of things dressing up and silly judgements don’t matter.

 

Be proud of yourself.

 

Be proud of your child.

 

Walk tall.

 

You may not have taken Harry Potter to school this morning, but you may just have dropped off the bravest and most magical child in the whole school.