Monthly Archives: April 2015

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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:


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.’


‘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)