Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Jimmy moves on, by the Support for Learning teacher

From fairly early on, most of us involved with Jimmy could tell that his learning situation and learning environment as not working for him; it was even documented in this blog.  I can't recall who said it but it was clear that Jimmy was regressing in so many ways.

In a previous post, I said that Jimmy's parents wanted to appeal his decision not to attend a school with a special unit.  Parents do have a right to appeal these decisions, but these appeals should be submitted days after a ruling.  As it had been months since the ruling, a new application for a special school needed to be completed by us at the school and by Jimmy's parents, with supporting documents from the professionals who worked with him (such as the Speech and Language therapist, the Occupational therapist and the Visiting Supporting Teacher).  A panel of professionals and local authority educational workers met to discuss the application and the new application was approved.  Luckily, a place in a special language unit was available in a nearby school .

Jimmy's last day at our school was Friday and he began at his new school on Monday.  We wish him and his parents the best of luck at the new school.

Written by Ms Childs

Friday, 4 November 2011

The first two weeks, by the Class Teacher

Jimmy has been in his new class for two weeks now.  I have to say I see a big difference in how he is now and what he was like when he first came in to my class, a fortnight ago.  I really felt for Jimmy that first morning, as he chanted away and ran around the room, clearly unsettled.

However, ov
er the past week I have noticed that Jimmy responds to what I ask him to do and is sitting for longer periods of time. He won’t sit on the carpet preferring a chair but that’s fine. He has a small piece of plasticine that he enjoys playing with and it seems to calm him. 

On Wednesday this week Jimmy went to music.  He sat on my knee and joined in with the games.  It was obvious he was enjoying himself.  Today Jimmy came to our infant assembly again on my knee and managed to stay for the whole time, something he had never been able to do before.  He was enjoying the songs we are learning for our Christmas play and it was good to see.

Jimmy has also started joining in with our little Check-in, in the mornings. That’s where the class sit in a circle and say "Good morning!" to each other and tell how they are feeling that day.

While all this is good, I really hope for Jimmy’s sake that a place is found for him soon in a special unit.  I agree with what the team determined at his review meeting: mainstream is not for him at this time. 

Meanwhile - roll on next week!

Written by Mrs Mouat

Monday, 24 October 2011

The first day after the move by the Learning Assistant

Jimmy came into the classroom quite happily after the October holidays.  He smiled when he saw us.  Mrs Mouat, his new class teacher, asked him to sit down on his learning spot and he did.  However, after a few moments, he stood up and was moving about, repeating phrases over and over.  He left the area to play with the farm.  I wrote down a social story for Jimmy to help him use a quiet voice.  He was able to read this and this worked: Jimmy was certainly a lot quieter this morning.

He was happy to do his work outside the class in the quiet area.  He then chose the computer after work time.

Written by Mrs Brodie

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The first review meeting, by the Parent

Well, it could have been worse… it could have been a lot worse, but for several factors:
  • I work as a teacher (albeit in Secondary) in a pastoral support role; so I know what they are talking about!
  • Similarly, I am not intimidated by lots of professionals 
  • I have a lot of faith in the school and trust them and am very happy to work with them 
  • Academically my son seems to be coping (at the moment)
  • My sons behaviour has not been too bad (so far) 

There has, though, been a deterioration in his behaviour and we discussed possible reasons for this and a variety of strategies, I hope this is a phase but we will do what we can.  I am hopeful the firmer boundaries will make a difference. 

I will now get some communication with school via a home/school diary, which hopefully means we can support the school and actually find out he is doing (instead of “I dont remember”).

We saw  his Additional Support Plan (though are not involved in drawing this up).

Overall, it was a friendly, relaxed and informative meeting with a lot of 2-way discussion and support.  However, I cannot help but think that the meetings are not always so open and good natured.  I suspect that  frustrated and defensive parents combined with  a large group of “experts” offering different jigsaw pieces of support does not always make for such a productive meeting.

What would I change?
  • A clear outline to parents before about who exactly will be involved, what their role is and what they will (or could) be bringing to the table, as it were. 
  • An outline of what will be discussed (not too prescriptive though, tangents can be useful) with perhaps some expectations of the parents or a place for them to write their concerns. 
  • Possibly a reality check as well:  your child is one of 25 or 30 in a class; there is only so much support we can offer; we are human!  

Anyway, I continue to count my blessings in this respect and I feel I have perspective about what the school can do, what we can do and what difficulties are part of my sons Autism and thus will never change!  Whether I continue to feel so positive as time goes on I cant honestly say.

I presume I will receive some minutes of the main points but have typed up some of my own notes just in case.

Away from school, my son will start attending the Beavers after the October holiday.  It is run by a teacher so he understands Autism and has had other boys who are autistic previously.  As I was discussing this, a boys father started speaking to me and explained he himself was “HF (high functioning), Aspergers”.  He was most open, relaxed and told me about his wife.  It was very reassuring in so many ways…

 Written by Robert's mum

The review meeting, by the Support for Learning Teacher

The day of the Jimmy's review meeting was nearly five weeks after we saw Jimmy's parents and we all voiced the same concerns.  Since that meeting, the P1s have started to attend school for the full day.  Most of the time, Jimmy falls asleep for a part or most of the afternoon.  He is beginning to soil himself at school too, sometimes multiple times a day.  Overall, Jimmy was continuing to be unsettled in class and at school.  There are some small rays of light, though: Jimmy was granted extra Learning Assistant time to help him with the full days and now another Learning Assistant other than Mrs Brodie works with Jimmy in the afternoons.  Jimmy at times sits, listens to a story and drinks his milk with the rest of the class.  The other children look out for Jimmy and try to engage with him.  It isn't reciprocated, unfortunately.

Jimmy's parents also decided that they were definitely going to protest the rejection of a special school place.  The team around the table (consisting of two Educational Psychologists, a Support Learning Co-ordinator, a Visiting Teacher from the Visiting Teacher and Support Service, Mrs Irvine, Mrs Morris, Mrs Brodie and me) generally agreed with this decision.  After all, most of us had observed or worked with Jimmy in class and agreed that his situation was serious and untenable. 

The team also discussed another, different point: Jimmy being moved to the other P1 classroom.  This move was recommended by Visiting Teacher and Support Service.  The team again discussed the issue and determined that, while we were not sure this would necessarily help Jimmy to settle better, the current situation was so grave that this option must be heeded.  So after the October holidays, Jimmy will move from Mrs Irvine's class to Mrs Mouat's class.

Written by Ms Childs

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The day before the first review meeting, by the Parent

Full days are go, but the first review beckons….

Tomorrow we have our first review for our son and I have absolutely no idea how it will go!  He gives me no indication of what he does in school and getting any information is like pulling teeth.  I am assured that this is normal behaviour for all children, as my husband says, "First rule of school is what happens in school stays in school."  However, I am not convinced that my son chooses not to tell us,  I think he cannot tell us.  I don’t believe his “I can’t remember” answer to everything.  So, that is something I need to discuss, a way to communicate with the school  about what he has been doing and how we can support him at home.  I think other schools can use a home/school diary to good effect; however, as a teacher, I know only too well the time constraints on everyone.

I am very anxious to find out about how his behaviour has been and certainly feel his concentration will be terrible.  On the plus note, we have not been called in to discuss his behaviour so far (surely a positive sign) and I know he is coping with the reading.

When I turned arch-interrogator again today, he told me that it might be maths he is struggling with, which I am baffled by.  And what is “check-in/checking or chicken!”?

As for the full days: well, he seems to be coping okay.  He was excited at first, but has now worked out this means less computer time at home, so I think would prefer to go back to the half-day thing!  What does he do at lunchtime? Well, eat of course, I am supposed to call it Lunch/Playtime!  I know what he does then too.  There is a large “spinny thing” in their playground and I am pretty sure he spends all of his playtimes making it go round.  I have tried to broach this with Robert about speaking to others and asking what they are doing.  He told me proudly one day he had spoken to someone, I was overcome with excitement: “What did you say?” I asked excitedly. "I said, 'It’s my turn'," he answered. I think this is actually my problem and not his, as he is perfectly happy!

Another plus note: he has been invited to 2 parties.  I think the whole class were but I am grateful.  We have been to the first one - I stayed of course.  He interacted very rarely, but the others seemed to accept him.

It is still very early days and I think the kids may get more wary of him.  At this early stage all are friendly and encouraging, but time will tell and who knows what we will hear at the review tomorrow.

Written by Robert's mum

Monday, 12 September 2011

Meeting with parents, by the Support for Learning Teacher

On Friday (9/9/11), Mrs Morris, the Head Teacher, Mrs Irvine and I met with Jimmy's parents.  We all have concerns about Jimmy and felt it was best for us to all meet to discuss things together so that we could find a way forward.

Our joint concern (the school and the family) is that we can see the current situation is not working for Jimmy.  In class, Jimmy cannot join in with group activities at all anymore.  He takes himself away from the group and plays with his favourite toy, the farm.  He loudly repeats phrases to himself.  Mrs Brodie has to take him out of the class in order for him to do work.  The social stories do not help.  From this meeting, we decided that the school should apply for more Learning Assistant time from the audit. 

At home, Jimmy's dad says he can tell the situation is not working because he is hearing the repetitive chanting we are experiencing in school.  It generally occurs prior to school starting - "as soon as the school uniform is put on," Jimmy's dad said - and on the way home.  In fact, it takes the whole of the walk home before Jimmy "snaps out of it", reports his dad.  This "going into his own world" is increasingly worrying to Jimmy's parents.  Jimmy's dad feels that the environment of the class, with the bright stimuli typical of a P1 class and large number of pupils (25), seems to be having an adverse effect on Jimmy's development.  Jimmy's parents think they want to appeal the decision to deny Jimmy a place at a special school.  They were told that decisions are reviewed around January.

Over my many years of teaching, I have had so many meetings with parents - good, bad, ugly, downright contentious.  This meeting we had with Jimmy's parents, for me, typifies the worse kind of meeting for a teacher: a meeting when you feel helpless.  The frustration of Jimmy's parents was evident, and not necessarily even directed at the school staff; they were frustrated with the situation.  And I felt in some ways that our hands were tied at the school in trying to eleviate that frustration.  I feel that, at this time, this educational setting might be too much for Jimmy and yet his application was rejected by others that felt differently.

If Jimmy's parents appeal the decision, the school want to support them.  I hope our willingness to help Jimmy's parents with their appeal is not viewed as us wanting rid of him.  At the school, we want what is best of Jimmy.  Unfortunately, right now it seems that is not our mainstream school.

Written by Ms Childs

Friday, 9 September 2011

Social stories, by the Support for Learning Teacher

Last week, Mrs Irvine, Mrs Brodie and I received training from two VTSS teachers on social stories.  A social story is a tool to help children with communication difficulties understand situations that can be perplexing and confusing.  Essentially, they are written explanations of life's grey areas.

This means that sometimes stories are about situations that could be slightly embarrassing, like toileting or farting.  But these things can be confusing to a person who is Autistic: when exactly are we allowed to do these things?  

I have tried writing my own social stories in the past, but it was good to have this training.  I've come to realise that I added too much detail to previous stories: the last one I wrote had 10 pages!  Ooops!  From the training, I learned that the stories should be to the point - concise.  So unlike myself.

We were encouraged to use this approach on the cuff: we could literally write one in front of the child and read it to him or her then and there.  So Mrs Irvine wrote the story below.  I'm pretty sure she or Mrs Brodie only read the story once, but it is no longer an issue and we didn't even need to send the story home.

I'm looking forward to using this approach more in the future.

Written by Ms Childs

You can find out more about social stories at http://www.thegraycenter.org/social-stories

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The first day of school, by the Parent

I am feeling fine until I see that there has clearly been some sort of a secret uniform meeting where all the other parents have agreed to dress their  kids in shirt, tie, blazer and long shorts.  Not the polo shirt and sweatshirt my son is proudly donning!  Have I gone back to the 50s?   This is my main worry as I take my 5 and half year old autistic son to school on the first day.  Luckily I am fairly sure he won’t notice or mind at all that he may look completely different from the others.  One of the benefits of Autism….

I am also feeling fine for a number of other reasons which I shall list in no particular order:
  • We kept him back a year and in this time his speech has really come on so he can actually begin to communicate with others in more than one word 
  • He has been interested in words recently and thus is getting there on the reading front already (a particular favourite is silent letters which could cause his teacher problems when she gets to words that start with the letter p!) 
  • I am not thinking that numbers are going to be a huge problem either… 
  • At the moment he is fairly good when it comes to toileting and getting himself dressed 
  • The school know him well through nursery and have taken him to meet his teacher, visit his classroom and playground and even made up a book about this with photos 
  • I have met with those who are going to be working with my son to give them an idea of his interests and what motivates him 
  • I know my son’s teacher as she is on the PTA (and she seems lovely) 
  • My son will have the same learning assistant he had at nursery who knows him well (though he has only been assigned 5 hours) 
  • My daughter has been through the whole primary 1 thing already so I feel I know what to expect 
  • I trust the school and the people who are working with my son as we have met already 
  • I work in education myself and know that teachers know a lot more about autism now than they did when I started 16 years ago! 
  • In the High School I work in I have seen several autistic children come and go successfully in the mainstream setting, with support. 
  • I feel confident when speaking to other professionals about my son and am happy to accept advice. 
  • I have several Plan Bs if mainstream school does not work out….. 

In many ways, due to the Autism we have got the precious extra year at nursery I always wanted and met with those professionals who will be working with my son to make them aware of his needs.  


I do think now is where the differences will begin to be magnified.  It is okay not to talk much sense and have strange interests when you are 3 or 4, but not sure how this will go down as gets older!  (Mind you, looking at that description I think of my husband who appears to manage!)

I doubt he will socialise much, if at all….WHAT ON EARTH WILL HE DO AT LUNCHTIME WHEN HE STARTS TO HAVE A FULL DAY!? I am not sure what things at school might set him off…. will he concentrate and listen at all without someone telling him exactly what to do?

There are bound to be things I haven’t even thought of yet! 

Written by Robert's mum

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The first day of school, by the Class Teacher

Robert settled very well in his new school environment and felt familiar with the surroundings, I think it helped a lot that Miss Brodie had been bringing him over for a visit to my classroom (whilst he was in nursery) before the summer holidays.  He joined in during our circle time and told the group that he liked going to the park.  We then had a colouring task to do and Robert chose red - his 'favourite'!  He asked if he could use all the colours and was delighted when I said "Of course!"  Robert was considerate of his peers and understood that when someone else is talking, he needs to wait his turn.

Jimmy had a good first day at school, he was a little unfamiliar with what to do with himself at first but he followed direction from the other boys and girls.  He happily sat on the carpet but I am not sure if he was really paying attention to what I was saying (even though I would remind him etc).

During circle time Jimmy wasn't sure what to say and repeated what the person next to him had said, although he did remember to say his name.  He was happy to colour his picture and when he was finished he chose to do a puzzle (which he did very efficiently!).  His communication may be a problem and at the moment I sometimes have difficulty understanding what he is saying.  He tends to just speak using single words and not in sentences.

Written by Mrs Irvine

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The genesis of this blog, by the Educational Psychologist

Parents and professionals working together to make good plans for children with additional support needs in language and communication in Edinburgh. 

We all work hard to think about a child’s entrance to education into nursery and then transitioning to primary provision. There are so many options it is hard to work out how best to meet the child’s needs and make confident plans to support parents in their decisions.

A multi-disciplinary team have to work alongside the child and parents as they progress through nursery and try to predict how the child’s language and communication will progress but it is not an exact science.  The presumption of mainstream is heavily supported by the authority with staff in central services paying for speech and language therapists to focus in early years and primary settings alongside learning assistant support, training for all staff, working with social, voluntary and health sector to support families in the many manifestations of their child’s additional support needs.

There are varying degrees of certainty about how to meet children’s needs, varying levels of confidence in nursery and schools about how staff can support children and when anxious parents meet that mix of variables they frequently go for --- my child’s needs are special and therefore I am going to insist that the LA acknowledge that by placing my child in one of their specialist facilities.  Of course numbers of children will outstrip the places available and hard decisions have to be made. Edinburgh has invested more in their special provisions than any other authority. What has that meant?

Most importantly, I think we have acknowledged that children with language and communication difficulties are a varied group and we have been working with them all in mainstream provision all along. We have developed our understanding and support for these children in an exponential way.  Have we made a difference? Do parents and professionals know about the success we have had? Can we get the message of this planning part of the journey which is scary for parents (and some professionals) over in a new way. Hence the blog!!

Two sets of parents and the mainstream school their children will be attending have been asked to contribute to this blog.  These parents have been through this application process, both requesting language class placements for their children and they have both been refused.  Despite the refusal, we have sought to support these parents and the children during their transition to a mainstream school through professional meetings to organise the logistics of the support package.  We also met with parents individually as agencies, in formal meetings and transition meetings with school as for all children with additional support needs.

Written by Mrs Littlefair