Special Educational Needs and Disability blog

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  • Identifying children with SLCN

    Image credit: Micaela Plachetko

    Wendy Lee has been a Speech and Language Therapist for 30 years, and was previously Professional Director at The Communication Trust. In this post, Wendy looks at the importance of identifying children with SLCN, the options once a child has been identified, and what works.

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  • More funding has just been announced for children's mental health services, but there's a long way to go

    Fergal Roche

    Fergal Roche, CEO of The Key, writes about school leaders’ concerns about pupil wellbeing.

    At the end of last month, the government announced that it is to invest £143 million in improving children’s mental health services in England this year – welcome news, surely, but will it make enough impact?

    In the school year just gone, The Key asked some of the country’s school leaders what health and safeguarding issues affecting their pupils they were concerned about, if any. Top of the list was children’s mental health, with 67% of those surveyed saying this was a worry. Domestic violence and cyber bullying were next, of concern to more than half of those surveyed (58% and 55% respectively) – followed by bullying and obesity (38% and 36%).

    All such issues not only have implications for the classroom – affecting pupils’ concentration levels and consequently their grades – but also life beyond the school gates, with unresolved issues likely to have a serious impact on children’s prospects.

    School staff work tirelessly to do the best for their pupils, and increasing numbers of schools are employing their own counsellors or drawing on voluntary services to tackle the complex issues they’re facing. We, too, have seen leaders coming to The Key for help with things like writing a mental health policy, how to boost children’s self-esteem and what to do if a pupil is self-harming.

    However, many of the school leaders my team and I speak to are frustrated at not having access to the professional support they need to best help their pupils.

    Gary House, headteacher of Lady Hawkins’ School and Sixth Form in Herefordshire, explained that as well as a range of social factors, he sees his pupils contending with pressure after pressure in a school context. He’s also worried about the impact of the extra pressure on school staff who aren’t equipped to provide specialist help:

    “With declining social services support due to diminishing council budgets, more and more is having to be dealt with in schools. We take our duty of care seriously, but to do the best for our students, specialist mental health support services are needed. If we are not careful a dangerous cycle will develop; students worrying and teachers suffering as they worry about not having the specialist skills to support students in need of mental health care.”

    Our survey found that Gary’s view is mirrored across primary and secondary, maintained, academy and privately-funded independent schools; the profession wants to help but specialist support often isn’t available locally.

    I know of a secondary school in north London that is fortunate to have a CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services) worker based in school once a week to help identify and support students in need, as well as train and supervise staff. The school has other fantastic initiatives too, such as non-teaching managers for every year group, who carry out daily check-ins and build up good relationships with students and parents. It also has an effective transition programme which ensures its pastoral team receives essential information from primary schools, so it can make appropriate support available to incoming students as soon as possible.

    Sadly, not every school has the resources to offer this type of support structure, but there are other things schools can realistically do – for example:

    • Collaborate with other schools locally and look into jointly hiring a specialist
    • Arrange wellbeing training for staff from multiple schools locally, and/or hold regular cross-school meetings to share experiences and views
    • Dedicate some form/tutor time to discussing subjects like cyber bullying, keeping safe and managing stress

    Even with such measures, there’s only so much that schools can achieve alone, and our survey findings on school leaders’ concerns suggest that there is a long way to go. The government’s promised investment in addressing children’s mental health issues is a good start; let’s hope it’s directed in such a way that all schools up and down the country can call on high-quality specialist support to protect the wellbeing of children and young people in their care.

    For further information on The Key visit www.thekeysupport.com or follow on Twitter @TheKeySupport / @TheKeySL.

    Follow Fergal Roche on Twitter @FergalRoche

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  • Parents as partners for better speech, language and communication outcomes

    Shona Crichton from The Communication Trust writes about 'Parents as partners for better speech, language and communication outcomes'.1

    We know that children make progress in any area of their development when they can be supported to thrive in the place and with the people where they spend the most time and who know them best. Parents are experts on their children and provide information that is integral to ensuring that a child or young person makes the best progress that they can. However there may be challenges when striving to achieve good practice for including parents in supporting children’s speech, language and communication development.

    The new SEND Code of Practice highlights the importance of engaging and involving parents and families. Those working with children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), or any SEND, have a responsibility to ensure that parents are engaged with and involved in decisions that affect their child.

    It’s likely that every practitioner reading this blog has examples of times where we achieve true collaborative working with parents, and times when it doesn’t work so well. What is it that we need to be aware of when working with parents to support their child’s speech, language and communication at home?

    Ensuring parents are real partners - Parents want to be included as real partners, with true collaboration taking place. The challenge is not only that every child is different, but every SLCN is different, and every family is different. Taking time to share with parents their experiences of home life and their child’s SLCN, and your understanding and perception of the child’s strengths and needs will help towards partnership working that is meaningful to both parent and practitioner.

    It doesn’t have to be extra – Discussing what home life is like with parents provides an opportunity to think about how language and communication can be woven in to elements of daily life that are happening already. For some parents, the thought of squeezing extra in to busy lives is just not manageable. However, the beauty of speech, language and communication is that it’s part of everything that we do. Discussing what life is like for families and working together to think about where and how speech and language targets might sit in their daily routine can be a great first step to integrating targets in to daily life. Prepositions in the bath or practising turn taking during tea-time means that speech, language and communication targets can become part of daily life.

    Consider parents’ views and wishes - The Better Communication Research Programme sought views of parents with children with speech, language and communication needs. Findings from this paper show that parents are generally concerned with long term outcomes for their children – parents want their children to be included socially and to achieve independence. As practitioners working with children and young people with SLCN, our skill is in understanding parents’ long term wishes for their children. We can then break these down in to manageable, attainable short term targets that link with the long term aims that everyone can work towards achieving.

    Keep parents informed – The same research also highlighted that parents like to be kept informed of how children are getting on in achieving their objectives, and that this was different across the parents who were interviewed – some wanted a weekly update on progress, others were happy to meet to discuss targets on a 6 monthly basis. Discuss with parents how and when they’d like to discuss their child’s progress with you.

    The Communication Trust is a coalition of over 50 not-for-profit organisations with expertise in speech, language and communication and SLCN. Although our main audience is the children and young people’s workforce, we also have some information that’s useful for parents as do many of our members. Take a look at our website for more ideas and resources to help you encourage parents to support their children’s speech, language and communication development at home.

    www.thecommunicationtrust.org.uk

    [1] Throughout this article, the term ‘parent’ refers to any person who is the child or young person’s main carer.

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  • When appearing to do nothing is the strongest intervention

    Shelley Hughes, SROT, Senior Product Manager, Pearson Clinical Assessment talks on 'When Appearing to do Nothing is the Strongest Intervention' via our US blog.

    Something I am regularly asked is how to intervene with particular profiles derived from administering a clinical assessment. To clarify: I am an occupational therapist working in the publishing sector, developing assessment materials for clinicians and educators to support children and adults in their everyday life; my occupational therapy background serves me well in this endeavour. So…back to the question…it is a relevant question of course; you have administered an assessment, which in itself yields useful information, and so… WHAT do you do next?
    Ahh…now here’s the trick! To consider your options you need to contemplate why you are administering the assessment, and what it means to the individual involved. Some assessments take a top-down approach, i.e. they focus on the person as a whole within the context of their everyday occupations and roles important to them. The risk being that this approach does not always take into consideration how task components may be impacting roles and everyday occupations. Conversely, impairment or diagnostic level assessments can be helpful in determining how task components may affect performance and/or participation, but risk overlooking what is important to the individual in terms of roles and everyday occupations.

    via When Appearing to do Nothing is the Strongest Intervention | Pearson Blog.

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  • Inspired by communication champions and best practice

    Last Friday, a team of 25 judges came together to decide the results of this year’s Shine a Light Awards.

    This year Pearson Clinical Assessment and The Communication Trust, were once again incredibly lucky to have an exceptional panel of judges from across the education and speech and language sector.

    We welcomed back past experts who now know our judging process extremely well, new members whose understanding of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and local practices helped to inform and guide our decisions, and past Shine a Light award winners whose stories have clearly gone on to inspire others.

    Secreted away in the basement with a supply of coffee and croissants, our three panels turned their attention to the unenviable task of deciding this year’s winners and highly commended finalists. Tears and tantrums at the ready….!

    There were certainly a few tears as we made our way through the shortlisted applications; and the applications that we read left many of us feeling humbled and inspired. We heard about the exceptional best practice taking place across England – strategic activities that have had demonstrable impact on students’ lives; watched our young people nominees who have speech and language difficulties and have worked tirelessly to overcome them, inspire other young people and give back to those who have supported them; as well as exceptional innovative and community-based projects that have improved children’s opportunities to learn, and helped them to participate fully in society.

    For now, that is as much as I am going to tell you about this year’s winners. We’re keeping the results a secret and in true Oscars style announcing them on the 24th September. So make a date for your diary, and follow #SAL2015 on twitter, as we’ll soon be shining a light on the outstanding work of these settings and individuals.

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  • Summer tips for Cogmed Working Memory Training

    Summer can be an ideal time to start Cogmed Working Memory Training. Students are home from school and have the time and ability to complete the Cogmed program.  

    In order to help you succeed with Cogmed, we have put together a list of tips and articles that will get everyone talking about their memory during the summer months:

    1. Connect with other users: Do you have a Facebook page? Or a Twitter account? Connecting with other Cogmed practitioners is a great way to learn how other practitioners are keeping their clients engaged with the program. By using social media sites you can learn from a global Cogmed base about their experiences and share your learning too. Start by connecting with us @PsychCorpUK and @CogmedUK and look out for #Cogmed.

    2. Share your top tips: OK so if you followed point one, now you are talking to the world about #Cogmed. Top tip posts are a great way to engage other readers and make connections. Read Dr Darren Dunning’s tips here to get you started, and don’t forget to lets us know your recommendations.

    3. Shout about your successes: Everyone loves good news, so if you’ve had a client who has responded well to the program, let us know about their story. We can help you shout about it online via our blog.

    4. Take part in events: Whether these are face-to-face or online, events are a great way to promote the good work you are doing with Cogmed. Join us this November for Online Working Memory Week. Can you help us beat last year’s total of over 1,000 registered attendees?

    5. Cogmed on the move: Did you know that Cogmed can now be delivered via tablet devices? This gives you and your client anytime, anywhere access - so there’s no excuse for those missed sessions. Send us (@PsychCorpUK) a snap of you and your Cogmed app away from your desk and we’ll send you one of our lovely Cogmed iPad covers.

    Enjoy your summer with Cogmed!

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  • Simple steps to unleash strengths

    Have you ever read a research-based report and thought, "I don't recognise this person, are you sure you wrote about the right person?"

    This was the premise of a session I attended at the American Occupational Therapy (AOTA) conference in April titled: Strengths-Based Coaching: Learn how to Implement this Evidence Based Practice. I have to declare my reason for attending the session – one of the presenters is an author I have had the honor of working with, someone who has inspired and taught me so much over the years – Dr. Winnie Dunn (Professor and Chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy Education, University of Kansas), along with her co-presenter Dr. Ellen Pope (Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Occupational Therapy Education, University of Kansas). As an Occupational Therapist and mother of a child in receipt of many services over the years, the takeaway messages from the session struck both a professional and personal note.

    For the purposes of this piece I’ll refer to my child as “A*”…Perhaps subconsciously I am saying my child is “A star”!

    Countless times my husband and I have met with a professional to be told:

    • “A* can’t do this”
    • “A* has not reached this milestone”
    • “A* exhibits this negative behaviour”

    Countless times, we have turned it around to ask:

    • “What is A* good at?” 
    • “What are A*’s strengths?” 
    • “How can we use these strengths to support A*?” 

    By knowing the answers to these questions, we, as parents, feel more engaged in the process. Instead of being defeated by what our child can’t do, we embrace the positives; we see opportunities instead of challenges; we share A’s* potential with others!

    As Drs. Dunn and Pope demonstrated in their workshop, current evidence illustrates that strengths-based coaching leads to significant changes in both participation and self-efficacy; seeing the positives and strengths in a person helps focus on a more functional approach to intervention, it helps people to thrive with greater life satisfaction often in quite challenging situations, and in line with Csikszentmihalyi’s work on the Flow experience, helps people persist at an activity when it presents just the right challenge.

    Drs Dunn and Pope challenged the audience to consider practical examples of working with families to implement a strengths-based coaching model, to shift from a deficit based method of assessment and intervention to using positive approaches. As a takeaway, I decided to look at some reports I’d read over the years, and have a go at implementing this approach.  What do you think?

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