Friday 27 November 2020

Is Charlie racist and rude? Does he need excluding for his behaviour? Or is Charlie struggling in a neurotypical world where he is mis-understood?

I wrote this blog a couple of years ago In many ways this could be Charlie about whom I’m talking. It wasn’t, I hadn’t met him, but I meet hundreds of Charlies a year, and I have done since 1986. Charlie is autistic and a part of him being autistic is that our neurotypical world does not suit him. He appears just like his peers: bright, chatty and able but Charlie is actually from a different culture. In the autistic world, the typical rules of politeness or saying ‘how it is’ do not apply. As part of being a neurotypical adult working with autistic teenagers it is our duty to understand this and to deal with it. 1. Say it as it is: the bluntness of autism If a 14-year-old teenage boy told me I was fat and ugly I might be offended if he was neur0- typical. If he was autistic, I would thank him for pointing it out and realise that he was just telling me the truth. This descriptive bluntness may also apply to people’s obvious ethnic backgrounds or other neurotypical ‘sensitive’ topics. But that's what it is; it's a description, it is not an insult. So, if an autistic teenager calls you a ‘black idiot’ then you could be offended perhaps by the ‘idiot’ but not by the black descriptor, if you are of Afro-Caribbean origin. He doesn’t mean anything derogatory. 2. The wanting to fit in Other autistic teenagers will want to be seen to fit in so may use phrases or sayings that they have heard of the children use. These may be ‘cool’ children, who autistic teenagers would like to emulate . They may want to impress these cool children or indeed other children . However, it does mean they will be using phrases or words they don't necessarily understand and certainly don't understand the full implication of using. Therefore, the consequences of this sort of language used in school should not be the same as for neurotypical children, it is part of reasonable adjustment. A child like Charlie responds well to discussion about such issues . He does not want to offend or to be rude. He does want to fit in. 3. Neural response By the time a neurotypical child is a teenager, we expect them to have control over their emotions and their emotional outbursts in school. However, non neurotypical children cannot be expected to have this same control. It is unrealistic. Professionals must understand the difference between cognitive control and neural response. Neural response is automatic, so children and young people are likely to do things in the heat of the moment without actually being in control of what they do. It’s a typical stress response e.g. the fight as part of fight, flight or freeze. Trauma informed schools are extremely good at understanding the neural response of an autistic child which may lead to seemingly undesirable behaviour. A neural response is the key difficulty of a child with demand avoidance and MUST be seen as an anxiety or panic attack. As with anxiety or panic attacks, the child needs supporting not punishing. 4. Executive function We must know more about executive function as professionals working with ND children and teenagers . When we do, we realise that they may have no filter, so this will be another reason to ‘say what you see’ without the typical ability to think twice before you say anything. This is an issue with the prefrontal cortex so shouldn't be punishable but can be guided when there is a rapport and trust between professional and child. I could go on but I'm short of time this morning however it is imperative that Charlie’s behaviour is understood. His behaviour is communication; he's communicating to us that he's having a hard time. Professionals must, as part of reasonable adjustment find a way of dealing with this and not seeing his responses as illegal, unlawful or punishable. I actually find Charlie to be a completely delightful young man!

Friday 24 July 2020

The Wrong Environment For A Child Hold on to your seats…. This may get a bit ranty!!!

I absolutely love my job, the autistic children I get the privilege to meet and get to know are incredible. I’ve said it before but it needs saying regularly; they are brave, resilient, and beautifully natured. This makes it all the more frustrating, overwhelming and upsetting when it comes to doing the hardest part of my job….. Fighting for their rights, fighting for what they need and more importantly fighting for what they deserve. This part of my job leaves me with days of anxiety and overwhelm.

What needs to be made clear is that autistic people aren’t going anywhere, in fact quite the opposite, autistic people grow up to have autistic children……. Yes we literally are increasing in number…. Some refer to this as an autism epidemic!!! Well that’s bloody charming isn’t it! In fact it’s disgustingly insulting. What are we some form of disease that is a threat to human kind? NO, we are a community of good, strong hearted people, people who drive change, people who invent and create amazing things. We are the best Drs, nurses, scientists, teachers, animal conservationists, eco warriors, parents, advocates …. The list is endless.

So prevalence is increasing, I already see at least two autistic children in each class of 30…..a much higher number than recorded. So why, oh why, can’t we change the school environment to meet need?

What ‘the powers that be’ need to know is that autistic children are the (to quote Jo Billington) ‘canaries in the mine’. They are the sensitive ones that are feeling the pressure of mainstream class sizes, increased educational expectations, behaviour policies, over stimulation,  school uniform policies……….but actually aren’t ALL children starting to show signs of this?

 YES! Mental health problems in children are on the rise! Making a school ‘autism friendly’ isn’t making a school ‘neurotypical child un-friendly’ in fact quit the opposite…. It’s making a school child friendly. Autism friendly strategies are actually all gold standard best practise for all children! What child wouldn’t benefit from smaller classes, more outside learning, more experiential learning, more moving while learning, more emphasis on emotional literacy and self-care?

School life does not reflect adult life!
A common argument I hear against reasonable adjustments is ‘they have to get used to it’, ‘we have to prepare him for the real world/adult life’.

Well that’s a crock of rubbish!! In what job would you be told you can’t use the loo except during designated breaks! In what job would you be made to sit on a hard floor squished up next to a colleague and sing songs? Why would a person who works best with their hands and while moving opt for a job sat still and quiet? The adult world is a much better place for autistic people. In fact mainly due to autistic people….. We can now order food online and avoid supermarkets altogether, we can work from home, we can take breaks when we need them, we can socialise with people when and how we chose to! Sometimes not face to face, sometimes not with those our own age. 

What are the repercussions?
Well if you are a parent of a child who’s needs are unmet you will know all too well the impact L however if you don’t then you should.

I’m going to outline this simply and bluntly; the children I work with who haven’t had needs met in education and/or been subjected to an environment that is inappropriate suffer the following;
Low self esteem
Feelings of failure
Anxiety disorders
Suicidal ideation
Suicide attempts
Mis-trust of any adult outside of the home
Separation anxiety
Environmental mutism

Many children are unable to return to school. Even the mention of school can produce a trauma response (fight/flight). A child becomes a ‘school refuser’ which in itself it’s damaging and incorrect, as the child is simply in self-preservation/survival mode at this stage and so are UNABLE to attend not refusing. It can be likened to a child ‘refusing’ to jump into shark infested waters! Or the term I often use from a parents perspective ‘it feels like you are sending the lamb to slaughter’ (I’m not great with subtle words!) My experience of this comes from children of all ages, already showing these symptoms from as young as 4years old.
What needs to change?
Surprise surprise I have a few ideas about this!!! I will simply list them!
More funding to provide;
ALL school staff training in autism, PACE & trauma. Up to date progressive thinking Dr Luke Beardon style training! Including MDSA’s.
Smaller numbers of students per class
More staff who have been invested in through training and care.
More pastoral support
More SENCo time
More specialist input, such as educational psychologist, occupational therapist and speech and language support in mainstream schools. A holistic approach.

Environmental changes;
Less ‘overstimulating’ classroom settings and layouts
Moving while learning
Flexible/positive behaviour policies (or just scrap them!)
Flexible approaches to uniform
Flexible approaches to teaching
More animals, nature and outside!

Curriculum changes;
Experiential learning
Functional learning
Child lead learning
Emotional/mental health/self-care education
Less attainment/progress pressure (for teachers and students)

The list could go on. I truly believe that if this was how mainstream education looked, we would be seeing less children needing EHCP’s, less children needing specialist placements and less children needing to access mental health services. And most importantly; less children suffering,
I know this is possible, I work with and know there are some amazing schools, SENCo’s and teachers that make this happen or try to make this happen for their students. I know many amazing people’s hands are tied by funding restraints, policies and ‘the powers that be’. The rigidity and inflexibility is damaging.

 How do we make this a reality?
I don’t know!!! I am not great at big battles and making big change! I make small changes for small people! Well I would like to think sometimes bigger changes for children and their families. But this is BIG. I talk with many about opening a school like this, I already have a team of staff who want to work in a school like this!
I wish I had as many viable solutions as I do issues with the system.

Friday 17 July 2020

Welcome Tara

Hello, I am Tara and I will be working with Small Talk speech and language therapy as a speech and language therapist based in Rugeley. I am excited to share my journey as a speech and language therapist with Small Talk as their commitment to “helping children achieve their true potential” is very important to me. I will mostly be working across Staffordshire and the surrounding areas, although as a car driver I will be travelling further afield on occasions. I will also be providing teletherapy (online therapy/advice) during the current circumstances and going forward I will continue this service for those who would prefer to use this method and it is mutually felt suitable.

I have two children, both currently in primary school, who love all things Pokémon, Roblox and Minecraft. They also love the outdoors and we often visit parks and various National Trust sites to connect, explore and have some much-needed freedom in nature.

My youngest had speech and language therapy between the age of 18months and 4years which sparked my interest in the field. I feel that this has given me a unique insight into working as a speech and language therapist as I have personal experience of navigating and working with services which helps me to genuinely empathise with the parents which I work with. I will not bore you here with the details but feel free to ask me and I will talk for hours about my boys.

Qualifications and experience:

I have a BSc (Honours) degree in speech and language therapy and a diploma in children’s care, learning and development. I have experience in using Makaton with my children and in educational settings. I have started a level 1 BSL course during lockdown which I plan to progress with to develop my skills (I’ve shared it now, no pressure) following a wonderful placement working with d/Deaf children which made me think differently about the ways in which I communicate with others. This is one of my in-progress qualifications as it will take time and practice. I have completed a number of introductory courses to increase my awareness in a number of areas and welcome any questions about these.

My clinical experiences have been with a range of individuals across all age ranges and I have been fortunate to have experienced working in a variety of settings including acute wards, community clinics, children’s centres, individual’s homes, care homes, preschools, nurseries, schools and SEN provisions.

What can I offer?

I can provide screening, detailed assessments and personalised therapy for children and young adults with speech, language and communication difficulties.

I can also offer communication groups, as well as training and support for parents and those working with children and young adults with speech, language and communication difficulties.
I am keen to work with other professionals to ensure that individuals and their families receive the most appropriate support.

I have flexible working hours and I am available both in and out of term time. 

Please feel free to contact me should you have any queries. If there is one thing that I have learnt during my years as a parent and a student is that “no question is a silly question” so you are more than welcome to contact me. You will often find it is not a ‘silly’ question and often a question that others have asked before or many are wondering the answer to.

You may see me wearing my tinted glasses at times, I don’t wear them all the time. So, here is a picture of me with them on so that it isn’t such a surprise if you do see me with them as they do look a little bit different. They can look different colours at times, magic glasses! Some people say they look a bit like sunglasses, although I wear them inside as well as outside.

Tara Wilson