Supporting the siblings of children with SEN

As a SENCo, I spend much of my time ensuring the school is providing for the children with the greatest needs. Sometimes these needs also impact on life at home and parents often raise concerns about the effect on brothers and sisters, where one child takes up so much attention within the family.

Research suggests there are positives and negatives to having a sibling with SEND. For example, these siblings tend to have higher levels of emotional maturity and can be more tolerant and caring than their peers, often choosing to work in careers that involve working directly with special needs. It is also suggests that this can strengthen family bonds for a lifetime. For younger siblings, they may never have known anything different and just accept the situation as the norm, while older siblings learn to accept it as so.

However, it has also been reported that siblings are more likely to be impacted by behavioural and emotional changes that may affect relationships within the family and consequently may be more prone to anxiety and depression. Some may also feel the lack of support where parents are focused on the needs of one child in particular or they may take on the role of a young carer themselves. They may be particularly vulnerable during teenage years as pressure on school and social life increases.

The role of siblings is an under researched area which is not catered for within special educational needs policy and guidance. Charities supporting them however include Sibs and youngSibs (for 7 to 17 years olds) which provides tips and information and a moderated chat forum.

SCOPE also offers parents advice for supporting siblings which include: spending some individual time with that child, ensuring that they are able to continue with their normal routines and activities and letting them choose whether they help out.

Picture books can also be useful. Through the Eyes of Me, written by Jon Roberts is narrated by a 4-year old girl with autism who talks about the things she likes and dislikes and is a useful tool for helping to explain autism to a young child.

 

 

How to communicate when wearing a face mask

As more and more of us take to wearing face masks in public, it can be harder to understand what others are saying as well as to pick up on social cues such as reading other people’s emotions. Children can find this especially confusing and for individuals with hearing difficulties or social communication issues such as autism, this can be sometimes be distressing.

This poster, produced by University College London, helps to set out some of the key ways to get around this.  It suggests you first make eye contact, introduce yourself (where appropriate), slow down your speech and use hand gestures to support what you are saying. It may also be helpful to spell out what you are feeling, such as saying how happy you are to see them.

Download (PDF, 2.06MB)

Monday 15th June

School return or continued home learning?

With many of you thinking about whether to send your child back to school next week, this might be a good time to look at some of the resources suggested in my blog on Monday June 1st. Preparation is particularly important where your child experiences some anxieties about returning or has difficulties with aspects of learning, such as dyslexic or dyscalculia tendencies or social communication needs.

The focus on home schooling has led many organisations to offer free training and resources to support parents and their children. The latest of these is the British Dyslexia Association which is offering a free webinar session including tips, tools and strategies to help support the education of a child with dyslexia, a discussion of key resources and advice on where to go for further information and training.

You may find this helpful, regardless of whether you are planning to continue with home schooling or your child is returning to school next week.

The webinar can be found on bdadyslexia.org.uk. Go to ‘shop’ and add the webinar to your basket. There is no charge.

Remember, if you are concerned that your child is showing dyslexic tendencies and this hasn’t previously been flagged up by the school, please arrange to discuss this with your child’s teacher or myself when school is up and running more normally or you can email me any time on jnewhouse@stjohnssevenoaks.co.uk.

 

 

 

Monday 8th June

Tics and Tourette’s

Did you know that as many as 10 to 20% of children in primary school develop tics? Mostly these are single habits such as eye blinking, throat clearing, pulling faces or cracking knuckles and they tend to last for a short period or a child will typically grow out of them in adolescence.

Tourette’s Syndrome, however,  is a neurological condition which is characterised by multiple physical or motor tics plus at least one vocal tic and is much less common, thought to affect about one in 100 people in the UK. Only a small fraction develop Coprolalia which is where swearing is involved, even though this is probably the most common stereotype of the condition.

If you notice your child is developing a repetitive action or tic, it is important not to put pressure them. Trying to supress a tic can be enormously tiring and can lead to further stress and anxiety which in turn can make the tic worse. The child may already be quite self-conscious about this.

If the tic persists, gets worse or you notice additional tics, it is important to visit your GP. Tourette’s can occur alongside other conditions such as autism, ADHD, obsessive compulsive disorder or anxiety so they may want to consider a referral to a paediatrician. However, in the vast majority of cases, with sympathetic support, the child will grow out of it.

Monday 1st June

Returning to school

Did you see Mrs Quirk’s video about school reopening tomorrow? If your child is returning to St John’s this week then I’m sure it would have been really helpful for them to see where they will be learning and playing and how their pod will be set up.

If they are returning to school tomorrow, possibly in a few weeks time or not until September, it will still seem strange after such a long break and preparing them for this change is always helpful, especially if you know they are anxious. To help reflect on time during lockdown and to think about coming back to school, I have attached some resources.  There are six worksheets which include activities such as ‘What I did during lockdown’ and ‘My top five worries about returning to school.’

I will be teaching in Lion Pod on Wednesday so I’m really looking forward to seeing some of your children then.

 

Download (PDF, 460KB)

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Monday May 18th

Maths anxiety

Many of you will have noticed more about the way your child responds to learning while working closely with them during lockdown. There may be genuine joy at sharing learning but you may also have become more aware of the things you child finds difficult and the areas of learning that can become stressful for them. One area which has been highlighted recently is maths anxiety.

Adults often joke about not being good at maths, but for some children anxiety about the subject can become a real barrier to engagement and progress. It is believed that one in ten children between 8 and 13 suffer from this condition and that children as young as four can be affected. Levels of anxiety can range from a feeling of mild tension to a strong and deep-rooted fear. Pupils who struggle with maths compared with their peers or who find maths more difficult than other subjects are much more likely to experience these symptoms which is thought to be derived from fear of failing or of embarrassment about not being able to do what others can.

Maths anxiety may show itself as a reluctance to complete activities, random guessing, or taking a long time over the easiest questions but there may also be more noticeable avoidance behaviours and feelings of frustration which may show as anger, irritability and refusal to engage. If you child has other needs such as ADHD or ASD you may become aware that maths is a trigger for some behaviours.

 

 

In order to overcome this anxiety, it is important to show maths in a positive light and praise you child for their efforts. Making it fun and stressing maths in a real world context also helps to develop an understanding of the subject that is every day and less abstract. It is important to ensure that the maths set is not too hard and to break down more complex problems into small manageable steps. Always let your child’s teacher know if you feel the maths set is too hard and if your child is showing signs of stress.

Monday 11th May

Being kind 

One of the positive aspects emerging from this crisis is that people are re-discovering the art of kindness. Whether it is our weekly clap for carers or baking cakes for elderly neighbours, many people have paused their busy lives and made time to think about what they can do for others. Mrs Smith has also written in her blog about being kind to ourselves, making time for the things we enjoy and learning to praise ourselves when we have done something well such as made a nice meal.

The Red Cross has created a range of resources to help explore and promote the value of kindness. I particularly like this kindness calendar which can be used to record and plan kind acts that children, and their families, can do each month. This might include being helpful in the home, writing to a relative, checking on a neighbour or contributing to a food bank. Perhaps you could make a list of ways the family members could help each other around the home and in the community and put these on the calendar as they are completed.

Download (PDF, 54KB)

 

Many other kindness resources, suitable for different age groups, can be found on redcross.org.uk.

 

Monday 4th May

What an amazing rainbow last Thursday. It came out just as we started clap for carers/NHS and made everyone smile along our road.

 

I’ve received this letter from the Department of Health and Social Care, which concerns the arrangements for children with SEND, their families and people who support them. It sets out some temporary law changes they are making in relation to Education and Health Care Plans and refers to the ways children can be supported during this difficult time and has links to other guidance publications. If you want to know more, please contact me on my email address at jnewhouse@stjohnssevenoaks.co.uk

 

Download (PDF, 149KB)

 

We also have an offer for free Clicker software which can be used at home. Clicker is a really useful software package which we use at school to support children who find writing difficult. We have Clicker 7 installed on the computers and on some iPads through the Clicker Apps, so many of your children will be familiar with using it. If you use the following link, you will be asked to fill in a short form and then have free access for a limited period: https://www.cricksoft.com/uk/clicker/clicker-at-home

If there are any other resources you need to help support your child with the daily learning set by the teachers, then please don’t hesitate to contact me.

 

 

27th April

Yoga for kids!

 

As we all look for different ways to exercise in lockdown, you may have been practising yoga, but have you suggested your children join in too? I know a few of you have already introduced your children to yoga with great success.

Yoga for children can bring similar benefits as for adults, such as increasing flexibility, muscle strength and tone, but a recent study, published on the NHS evidence website, showed that yoga can also help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in children.

You can download three yoga sessions devised for young children from pre-school to age 11, although they are more suitable for the younger age groups, at https://www.yogaatschool.org.uk/your-free-video-and-game-resources. These videos were originally devised for children on the autistic spectrum but can be used just as well with non-autistic (neurotypical) children. You will need a small umbrella, a pole (such as a broom handle) and the posture cards which I have attached to this blog, although you could improvise with these.

 

There are many other examples of yoga for kids on Youtube so why not have a look and see which one would suit your family best?

 

Download (PDF, 7.72MB)

20th April

I wanted to show you some of the wonderful things that our favourite children’s authors have been doing over the last few weeks.

Author Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler have created some new versions of their famous books to help spread the message of how to keep well and safe. Using some of our favourite characters such as the Gruffalo and Stick Man, the words have been changed to give us good advice on the importance of staying safe and how to use our time at home wisely.

There is even a book for children all about Coronavirus illustrated by Axel Scheffler and written by doctors which can be read online or downloaded for free from axelscheffler.com or from the publishers website Nosy Crow. The book helps to answer questions such as:

  • What is coronavirus?
  • How do you catch the coronavirus?
  • What happens if you catch the coronavirus?
  • Why are people worried about catching the coronavirus?
  • Is there a cure for the coronavirus?
  • Why are some places we normally go to closed?
  • What can I do to help?
  • What’s going to happen next?

 

Author of books like Gangster Granny and Billionaire Boy, David Walliams, is reading extracts from his famous books every day at 11am. You can tune in live or find them anytime on worldofdavidwalliams.com.

Meanwhile, I’ve been spending time re-reading some of my favourite books. It’s amazing how you find new things to enjoy in stories each time you read them.