Monthly Archives

November 2014

Special Education

How the world of a child with Aspergers syndrome looks like


We received on email an article written by a parent of a child with Aspergers syndrome.  It describes the common characteristics of children with this condition and ways in which parents and teachers can help.

“I am the parent of a child who has Aspergers syndrome – a form of Autism. I thought you might be interested in looking into our world for a short time.

My son, Victor, is 8. He was diagnosed with Aspergers eighteen months ago. It is common for children to go undiagnosed for many years as this disability is unseen and the symptoms can be similar with other difficulties e.g. dyslexia. He now has a statement and goes to an Aspergers unit which is attached to a mainstream school.

All children are different in some way and children with Aspergers are also very different but they will share a communication difficulty – an adult with Aspergers once described it as feeling like being an Alien from another planet.

Perhaps examples may help explain………….Victor’s main difficulties are poor concentration; a lack of understanding of social norms; obsessional behaviour, especially when stressed. When he was three years old, I took him to a local park and tried to play football with him. However, everytime he received the ball, he would pick it up and run away. I remember thinking…….perhaps he is going to be a rugby player! At 6 years old, Victor was taken to the local football fun club and placed in a team. As the children began to play, Victor stood still like a statue and moved only to shrug his shoulders……he didn’t understand the rules. He began to cry and I took him home. At Christmas school concerts I have seen him opening and closing his mouth in fish like movements because he realises the other children are singing yet he doesn’t know the words. Victor is also near the top of his class in science and maths, so his behaviour is not linked to any lack of intelligence/ability. School can be very difficult for children like Victor as teachers and parents try to help them to “fit in” to our world and despite a lot of effort, the child is often unable to change their behaviour dramatically. With care and effort, it has been discovered that Aspergers children learn visually rather than by reading. Victor therefore has a pictorial timetable which he can understand. When the teacher wants him to turn to page 10 in a book, as well as saying the command she holds up a sign with a number 10 on it. Victor can then go to page 10.

kids words special

The best way that Victor has been helped, has been when someone has taken the time to go into his world. When I stopped trying to “help” him to learn football he was happier. I watched what made him happy. Instead of fitting him to my world I am learning from him. He asks the most interesting questions sometimes and his insight is honest and straight to the point.

Victor has a lot of abilities and really his main disability is how other people treat people who are different. The parents who do not invite him to their children’s parties because he is “odd” – who give out party invitations in front of him but not to him. I think difference should be celebrated! it makes the world more interesting.”


Special Education

Top Learning Disabilities in Children of all ages


Identifying learning disabilities in children is often a complex task. A learning disability is not a set group of symptoms or signs. There is no specific age by which a learning disability will usually become apparent. While learning disabilities are usually diagnosed during the elementary school years, learning disabilities can develop much earlier or later, or go undetected for years. The first step in knowing if your child has a learning disability is understanding what a learning disability is.

What Is a Learning Disability?

There is considerable debate about the actual definition of a learning disability. The classic definition mandated for use by all school systems in the United States was created by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). The definition also includes such conditions as perceptual hardships, brain injury, dyslexia and developmental apraxia. It is important to note that this definition has changed over the years and has been criticized as being too broad, focused only on academic performance, and it potentially leads to over-identification. For a glossary of terms related to learning disabilities, visitIDEA. Additionally, you can find information about services available to children with learning disabilities, as well as interpretations of the IDEA definition, in the article “What Are Learning Disabilities?” on the National Parent Information Network web site.

What a Learning Disability Is Not

It may help to understand what is not included in the definition of a learning disability. A learning problem caused by the following conditions is not considered a learning disability:

  • visual impairment
  • hearing impairment
  • motor disabilities
  • mentally challenged (retardation)
  • behavioral or emotional disorders
  • environmental, cultural or economic disadvantages

Beyond Definitions: Characteristics of Learning Disabilities

Children who have difficulty learning will often express recognizable characteristics when they begin to participate in instructional activities. However, your child may only be having trouble learning in one of area. For example, learning to read may be difficult for your child, whereas learning to add is very easy. If you think your child is having trouble in any of the following areas, read the next section on identification, diagnosis and evaluation of a learning disability.

The following list of common processes affected by learning disabilities is adapted from the book Keys to Parenting a Child with a Learning Disability by B.E. McNamara and F.J. McNamara. Potential psychological processes affected by learning disabilities include:

  • Fine and Gross Motor Skill Problems (Fine: difficulty using fork, spoon, playing or handling blocks, coloring or copying shapes and objects, poor or illegible handwriting. Gross: coordination problems, clumsiness, difficulty in eye-hand coordination)
  • Perceptual Deficits (trouble differentiating between letters that look alike or words that are similar; for example, b for d, or saw for was; difficulty understanding what someone is speaking about when there is a lot of noise in the room)
  • Attention Deficits (difficulty concentrating on a task, prioritizing information, excessive hyperactivity, impulsiveness, highly easily distracted; require little sleep, constantly in motion)
  • Memory Disabilities (difficulty with short term or long term memory, repeatedly forgetting certain task or item)
  • Language Disorders (difficulty with the reception, processing and expression of language; for example, difficulty understanding specific words, sounds, or sentences; dysnomia, or difficulty choosing correct words, grammar, or syntax; exceptionally quiet and non-expressive especially when directly questioned)
  • Social Perception Disorders(difficulty understanding social appropriateness or constraints of a situation. For example, saying inappropriate things, saying things not usual for child of similar age)

Additional information on characteristics of learning disabilities can be found at LD Online.

Identification, Evaluation and Diagnosis of Learning Disabilities

Despite all of the characteristics that a child with a learning disability may exhibit, it still may be difficult to know if your child is actually learning disabled. The best way to find out is to have your child evaluated. Arranging for an assessment can be done through your child’s school at no charge. You can also arrange to have your child assessed by an outside specialist which, if arranged through your school system, your child’s school is obligated to pay for.

Do you know what is dyspraxia?


I present you an article describing the nature of Dyspraxia and the way it effects children.  Useful to help understand the technical terms professionals use, as well as providing a list of things to look for.

What is Dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia is a brain immaturity; messages sent from the brain are not properly transmitted to the body. Most problems are with the organisation of movement, although there may also be difficulties with language, thought and perception. About 5% of the population are affected by Dyspraxia, 70% of whom are boys. Dyspraxia used to be called ‘clumsy child’ syndrome. It is a hidden disability, with all of the associated disadvantages. Other names used by special needs professionals may be:

  • Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD)
  • Minimal Brain Dysfunction
  • Motor Learning Difficulty
  • Perceptuo – motor Dysfunction
  • Developmental Dyspraxia

Most problems for those with Dyspraxia are associated with the organisation of movement, although there may also be difficulties with language, thought and perception. It is a disorder that can also be found in children with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or ADHD (Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity Disorder). (See article on this site by same author)

What are the features of dyspraxia? 

All children are individuals, and so may not exhibit all of the characteristics noted below. However, if your child has some of these indicators it is worth talking to his class teacher who will liase with the SENCO (SPecial Needs COordinator) to help your child. If your child is not yet at school, talk to your Health Visitor who will be able to give you access to the appropriate professionals.

Child Successfully Ties Shoes

Some problems linked with dyspraxia

  • clumsiness, uncoordinated movement, constantly bumping into things
  • poor posture, hunched shoulders etc.
  • walks awkwardly
  • inability to decide which hand to favour, showing confusion over which hand to use. This may lead to your child having difficulty with hand-eye coordination, unable to throw or catch a ball.
  • sensitivity to touch. He may not like the feel of certain fabrics next to his skin and find particular items of clothing uncomfortable. He may also find that plasters are too uncomfortable, he is too sensitive for these against his skin as well.
  • poor short-term memory. Dyspraxics have difficulty in recalling tasks from the previous day. He may not remember the skills he seemed to have mastered previously. He may seem to be ‘slow’ as he finds it difficult to perform routine tasks that his peers find easy and automatic.
  • reading/writing difficulties. The dyspraxic child finds holding a pencil uncomfortable and may not remember how to form his letters correctly. His work may be generally untidy and badly organised. Writing on lines in schoolbooks will require a supreme effort, and may still look messy.
  • by the time your child has started school, most of his classmates will have learnt to pedal a bicycle, hop and skip. These motor skills are hard for the child with dyspraxia to learn and retain.
  • most children on entering school can easily dress themselves ready for the day ahead. However, the dyspraxic child finds this task difficult to learn, and may also have great trouble feeding themselves properly and efficiently. This can have an alienating effect with his peers who find his feeding habits repulsive.
  • language difficulties. When questioned directly your child may not give the correct response, even when he knows the answer.
  • your child may have speech problems. These can be manifested by your child being slow at learning to speak, or the sounds they make are unintelligible as sentences with meaning.
  • your child may exhibit phobias, or show obsessive behaviour. He may be impatient, not liking his teeth or hair brushing, or his hair or nails cut.

Dyspraxia is not something that your child will ‘grow out of’, although most children with dyspraxia will be integrated into mainstream schools with ease. Early identification of dyspraxia is essential as school based programmes are extremely efficient at helping children cope with this disability.



Educational Terms

Top 20 terms used in Special Education


1) Annual Review Statement 

An Annual review of your child’s Special Educational Needs must be made at least once a year. It is to confirm that the Statement of Special Educational Needs continues to be valid, and to check on your child’s progress through out the year.

2) Code of Practice 

This is produced by the Government. It has been written to guide the school and the LEA. It gives guidance about the help that they should offer to children, and the LEA and the school should refer to this when they are working with yourself and your child. There should be a copy of the Code of Practice in your child’s school and there should be the opportunity for you to see this to inform you about Special Educational Needs provision.

3) Educational Psychologist

This is a professional who has had previous experience as a teacher. They have specialised in how children learn and behave. They will work in partnership with parents, children and the teachers to help them overcome the difficulties they may have.

4) Health Visitor

The Health Visitor is someone who you will have already had contact with when your child was small. They have been trained in child development. S/He may be attached to your doctors surgery and will have assessed your child at regular intervals. They are generally friendly and approachable. They may visit you in your home to give you advice and support.

5) Individual Education Plan (IEP)

special education pic

This is a plan produced specifically for your child. It is a plan outlining what will be taught to the child with Special Educational Needs. It sets realistic, achievable targets for your child. There is also a time scale showing when the targets set are expected to be achieved. There will be regular reviews. You, as parents, are invited to attend the review meetings and contribute your thoughts. All of the professionals involved in drawing up and implementing the IEP will attend the review meeting.

6) Primary Support Teaching Service

This is centralised service. They provide specialists to mainstream schools to help them with the children who have a range of learning difficulties. They give the schools advice on the planning and the implementation of the Individual Education Plans. They may also be involved in the teaching of some of these children, either in small group situations or on an individual basis.

7) Local Education Authority (LEA)

This is your local government body that are responsible for education. They also intervene to make statutory assessments and implement the child’s statement.

8) Learning Support Assistant (LSA)

These are the people that help to carry out some of the individual or group work needed by your child. They are under the direction of the class teacher or the SENCO. They help to implement your child’s IEP. They will be involved in the review of your child’s IEP.

9) Named Officer

This is someone who works for the LEA. They will know about your child’s assessment and they will be able to speak with you about it.

10) Named Person

You are able to choose someone to help you with the assessment process. It can be a friend, a relative or it can be someone from an independent organisation. They are there to specifically help and support you.

11) Note in Lieu

This is detailed report sent to you if your LEA has completed a statutory assessment but have decided not to issue a statement.

12) Paediatrician

This is a doctor that specialises in working with children.

13) Physiotherapist

A Physiotherapist may be involved in working with you child if they have difficulties with movement. They will be able to advise parents and teachers about suitable exercises for your child.

14) Special Educational Needs

A child is deemed to have Special Educational Needs if they have a difficulty with learning which warrants special educational provision.

15) Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO)

education special 2

The SENCO is a teacher within your child’s school. It may be that your child’s teacher is the SENCO. They support the other teachers in the school and devise IEP’s and work materials to help the children. All mainstream schools must have a SENCO.

16) Special Educational Needs Register 

This is a confidential document of all of the children in the school that have Special Educational Needs. All schools must keep a register of all children with Special Educational Needs.

17) Specialist Advisory Teacher

This is someone who has specialist knowledge of differing difficulties. There are teachers that specialise in the teaching of children with hearing difficulties or those with sight impairment. They will be able to support, advise and co-ordinate the teaching of these children in the mainstream classroom.

18) Speech Therapist

Speech Therapists work with all of the people involved in the direct teaching of individual children who have speech and language difficulties. They also advise parents, giving them strategies to improve their child’s communication difficulties. They may also help the individual child in school.

19) Statement of Special Educational Needs

This is legal document. It states exactly what a child’s Special Educational Needs are and the way in which the LEA will provide help to meet the needs of your child.

20) Statutory Assessment

This is the way in which your LEA will find out all of the information it needs to find out how best to help your child. This assessment will help them to decide whether or not to issue a Statement of Special Educational Needs.


Strategies to help in the classroom


Classroom strategies 

There is always the tendency for adults to finish off sentences for those who are finding difficulties in articulation. Give the child enough time to respond to questioning, as he may already have a problem in this area. Listen closely to all the child has to say. After a while you will be attuned to the child and able to easily interpret his response. Try to maintain eye contact, using short sentences and familiar language. As with hearing impairment, make sure the child is concentrating fully, watching your facial expressions as a clue to content.

Make sure that you use all available media to reinforce instructions, such as print, diagrams, symbols and the use of materials the child can feel and touch. Using visual aids to reinforce learning is also appropriate.

Use of open-ended questioning should be encouraged as it asks the child to reply in more than one word, using sentences. It is useful for the child to be part of the whole class, reading their work in the Literacy plenary as well as working in small groups to encourage integration. As some of these children may have a shorter attention span, it is important that the activities offered to them should be focused on strengthening auditory skills and reinforcing oral work.

Poor auditory skill – short-term memory and processing skills

The auditory short-term memory is the area of the memory that is used to ‘listen’ to what is being said in a conversation and then respond properly to it. The information is held, processed, understood and then assimilated for the length of time that it takes to respond. This deficit ion this area will affect the child’s ability to converse with his peers or answer direct questions from his teachers. It will be hard for them to follow verbal instructions or to remember the instructions accurately.

It is important that the child is given the time to respond to questions and that any instructions are kept to a minimum. If there is a whole class instruction, try and also repeat the information on a one to one basis with the child. If possible, allow for visual instructions by the teacher or any other adults involved with the child. Remember that children with Downs’s syndrome are more visual than auditory learners so concentrate on this aspect of their skills. Their listening skills are not as good as their visual skills.

Short concentration span 

Many Downs syndrome children are easily distracted and have a short concentration span. It is usual for the child to have a support worker in the class, and this means that the child may become more easily tired having to concentrate fully on one person speaking.
Make sure that the child is given short, focused tasks that are sensitively planned. It may be useful for there to be a set of activities kept in a small area of the classroom where the child and his support worker can go when they have finished the set tasks. The selection can include items such as jigsaws, books, cards and toys that have a link to the part of the curriculum being studied. This structured situation allows the child choice in a structured way. To encourage the Down’s child to integrate fully into the class, it may be possible to allow another child to be part of this activity, encouraging cooperative skills and friendships.

Learning and retaining new skills 

Down’s children in general have difficulties in transferring skills across the curriculum. The children take longer to learn and consolidate new skills. They also retain differing amounts of information from day to day. It is possible to help the Downs syndrome child by extra repetition, presentation of key skills in a variety of ways and use every opportunity to use visual stimuli. Make sure that all skills are built upon, and that the skills remain after new input.

open education week

Routine and structured timetabling 

Downs syndrome children do not like changes to routine, so it is advisable for you to have a coherent routine that the children can rely upon. Unstructured routines are not conducive to learning for them. Upon transition to new situations, allow the child to have enough time to adjust. Make sure that the child is conversant with his timetable, presenting it in a number of forms. It may be a good strategy to give him a pictorial representation of this for him to refer to, and his adult helper may help him to trace his progress throughout his school day. Try to keep to this routine as much as possible. If there is to be large-scale change to this timetable, allow time for the child to adjust and also give advance warning of these changes to his parents.


Bad behaviour is not just a problem encountered by the teacher of children with Down’s syndrome, it is one faced by us all. Usually the Downs child’s behaviour is related to his immature development, but it is similar to children’s behaviour in a younger age group.

However, Down’s children have more problems to contend with than their peers, due to their problems as outlined above. They are more vulnerable to change, and are therefore more likely to be fretful and anxious. They also have good avoidance skills, being able to divert attention from their rigid attention to tasks by bad behaviour.

Strategies to help in the classroom 

It is imperative that the child knows the boundaries of behaviour expected in the classroom, and the child with Down’s syndrome should not be treated any differently to his peers in this respect. Try and make sure that all instructions given are short and explicit, avoiding the opportunity for the child to misinterpret the meaning of the instruction. Also, try to identify if the child is ‘unable’ or ‘unwilling’ to complete the task. If the child is unable this is no fault of his, if he is unwilling this behaviour should not be tolerated. Use of visual prompts again reinforces your expectations. Rewards systems can be in place for ‘good’ behaviour, whilst it is also acceptable to ignore the poor behaviour if it is not too disruptive to the rest of the class. Some tactics for avoidance behaviour can be sorted out between all professionals engaged in working with the child. Working with positive role models is a good strategy to encourage appropriate behaviour.

Classroom integration 

Most children with Down’s syndrome educated in mainstream classes will have been allocated additional support. Usually these are Learning Support Assistants (LSA) or Classroom Support Assistants (CSA). Not all of the work undertaken by the child should be on a one to one basis. It is important for the child’s integration and emotional development for them to also be taught in small groups and whole class situations. The children need to be accepted as part of the class, not just an appendage. This will also help the child acquire the skills of independence.

There must be regular contact by all professionals engaged in helping the child so that a common approach can be coordinated. All teachers, LSA’s etc should be aware of the work to be undertaken by the child and the differentiated tasks to be undertaken. Communication with parents is vital to ensure that there is continuity between school and home

Teaching all children with learning disabilities is a challenge. However, if undertaken with care, the Down’s syndrome child can be a joy to work with, as is the way with most children. Inclusion is important for all children to feel a part of their community and for them to enjoy local friendship groups.


How to integrate children  with Down’s Syndrome into the classroom


There has been a positive response to the Governments push for inclusion of children with disabilities into the mainstream classroom. Academic research has shown that children with disabilities perform better when included in an ‘ordinary’ class. It gives the child the chance to mix with children from their own locality and see them acting in an age-specific way. They also have good role models in their peers. Being in this school setting also includes the child in their local community. There is also the opportunity for non-disabled children to learn tolerance about children with Special Needs. The issue of inclusion is one for the whole school to approach, using an integrated policy. There is also the issue of staff development. There needs to be support for this idea throughout the whole of the school, and adequate resources provided.

What is Down’s syndrome?

The most common form of learning disability is Down’s syndrome. It affects one in every thousand children born each year. It is marked by the presence of an extra chromosome; each child has 47 instead of the usual 46. All Down’s syndrome children have a certain degree of learning difficulty, ranging across the spectrum between mild and severe. There is also a wide range in development between these children, just as in children without disabilities. However, children with Down’s syndrome develop more slowly, the gap between these children and their peers widening with age. Problems associated with Down’s syndrome

integrate children

All children have specific strengths and weaknesses, and children with Down’s syndrome are just the same. There are some ways in which these children can be helped, that will help them learn. The problems associated with Down’s may also be applicable to other children with disabilities, and some of the ways of dealing with them can be used across the mainstream school.


The problems associated with Down’s are listed below:

1. Hearing impairment
2. Visual impairment
3. Problems with gross and fine motor skills
4. Speech and language problems
5. Auditory skills – poor short term memory and processing skills
6. Short concentration span
7. Learning and retaining new skills
8. Adherence to routine and structured timetabling
9. Behaviour
10. Classroom integration

1. Hearing impairment

Many children with Down’s syndrome suffer from some form of hearing loss. It is thought that approximately 20% have developmental ear defects and damaged auditory nerves. As Down’s children have smaller ear canals and sinuses, they are prone to recurrent chest infections. This may cause glue ear; untreated this can lead to hearing impairment. Have a hearing defect will also affect the child’s speech and language development. 

How can we overcome this problem?
There are a number of strategies that we can use in the classroom to overcome the problem of hearing loss. These strategies apply to all children, not just those affected by Down’s syndrome. 

The first and most obvious solution is to place the child at the front of the class where they can see and hear the teacher clearly. It is important for the teacher to be facing the child squarely so that the child has every chance to hear what is being said. Using gestures and good facial expressions is also helpful. Visual aids, photographs, pictures, artefacts, print all help the child with hearing problems. The noise of the classroom can be confusing, and it is good practice for the teacher to repeat answers to questions for the child to give him the opportunity to respond. The child will also respond to written material, and writing key, new vocabulary on the board is an important feature.

2. Visual impairment 

Children with Down syndrome tend to have good visual awareness, even though a high percentage, between 60-70%, has been prescribed glasses before the age of 7. However, it is important to understand that there needs to be specific strategies in place in the classroom to make the whole of the curriculum available to them. 

Overcoming the problems
The child needs to be placed at the front of the class so that he can easily read the work written on the blackboard. When you are producing work cards or printing prose for use in the class, make sure that the size of the font is accessible and that the type of font is not too fussy (fussy) as it could be difficult for the child to read. It is also important to make all presented materials clear and as simple as possible.

3. Gross and fine motor skills control 

Many children with Down syndrome have poor muscle tone and loose joints. This affects both gross and fine motor control, meaning that motor development can be delayed and also restricts experiences in the Early Years. Because of this, a child will find that he is affected when beginning to write, further restricting his development. 

How to overcome this
Give the child plenty of opportunities to practice this skill, sending home some work sheets for practice, where the parents can give extra support and help. All of the child’s motor skills will improve if he is given the chance to practice them. As the child may have loose joints, there is the need to provide strengthening exercises for his wrist and fingers. These can take the form of tracing, sorting, cutting, building etc. Most of these are an extension of activities usually provided in the Early Years settings and are easily copied by parents at home. Make sure that all of the activities you provide are relevant, yet enjoyable, so that the child has every chance to progress.

4. Speech and language problems 

By the time children have entered full-time compulsory education, their needs should have been assessed and the level of help to be provided by speech or language therapists should have been established. These professionals, who should be able to offer some support to you in your efforts to teach the Downs syndrome child, will see them regularly.


There are many reasons why the children with Down’s syndrome have difficulties with speech and language problems. Some of the problems are physical in nature, and some are due to perceptual and cognitive problems. Delays in understanding and learning will inevitably lead to cognitive delays. Any learning delay will mean that the child will have a restricted access to the schools’ curriculum. However, a child with Downs will be able to understand far more than they are able to express. This means that their cognitive skills may well be underestimated. 

The child may have a restricted vocabulary, unable to learn the complex rules of English grammar. As the child is able to learn words rather than the order of the words, this means that they have problems with social language. Language specific to subjects in the curriculum are difficult for these children to learn as they are infrequently used in daily life. They also have difficulties understanding instructions. 

Forming words is difficult as children with Downs’s syndrome as they have a smaller mouth cavity and the muscles in the tongue and mouth are weaker also. 

Special Education

Introduction to Special Educational Needs


So, this may be an extremely useful article covering frequently asked questions to do with special educational needs.  Areas covered include how to tell if your child has special needs, the law and special needs, school policy and the implications of the different stages your child may be placed at.  This article is a must for all parents embarking on getting their child’s special needs identified and provided for.

All children are special

All children have needs and many children experience some type of difficulty at school during their educational careers. One in five of them will need some kind of extra help at school at some time.

This series of articles aims to help you as parents do your best for your child. It aims to show you how the partnership between parents and teachers can work well when they work together. It will also highlight the roles of the other professionals that may also need to be involved.

The Law and Special Educational Needs

The Government tell the schools and your Local Education Authority (LEA) what is expected from them. They have to give regard to “The Code of Practice”. It should be possible for you to see a copy of the Code of Practice at your child’s school. You can also send for a copy for your own reference from the DfEE. (see address below)

The Code of Practice

The Code of Practice is a set of guidelines, showing your school and LEA how they should identify, assess and then provide for your child’s Special Educational Needs. The Code identifies various Stages. Once your child has reached Stage 5 of the Code they will receive a Statement of Special Educational Needs. All parties concerned will review this every year. As a parent you have the right to be consulted throughout the whole of the process

Schools policy

All schools in your LEA will follow the same procedures. They will all have written Special Needs policies. These describe how they endeavour to help children with Special Educational Needs. It is a requirement that all schools produce a prospectus and somewhere in it there will be information about their special needs policy. All schools are required to have a SENCO and s/He will be able to give you a copy of the policy.