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Thursday, 17 December 2009

People with autism 'have problem with self-awareness'

People with autism struggle in social situations
Scientists have produced evidence that self-awareness is a big problem for people with autism.

Sophisticated scans showed the brains of people with autism are less active when engaged in self-reflective thought.

The findings provide a neurological insight into why people with autism tend to struggle in social situations.

The study, by the University of Cambridge, appears in the journal Brain.

Autism has long been considered a condition of extreme egocentrism. But research has shown the problem is people with the condition have trouble thinking about, and making sense of, themselves.

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance scans to measure brain activity in 66 male volunteers, half of whom had been diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder.

The volunteers were asked to make judgements either about their own thoughts, opinions, preferences, or physical characteristics, or about someone else's, in this case the Queen.

By scanning the volunteers' brains as they responded to these questions, the researchers were able to visualise differences in brain activity between those with and without autism.

They were particularly interested in part of the brain called the ventromedial pre-frontal cortex (vMPFC) - known to be active when people think about themselves.

The researchers found this area of the brain was more active when typical volunteers were asked questions about themselves compared with when they were thinking about the Queen.

However, in autism this brain region responded equally, irrespective of whether they were thinking about themselves or the Queen.

Researcher Michael Lombardo said the study showed that the autistic brain struggled to to process information about the self.

He said: "Navigating social interactions with others requires keeping track of the relationship between oneself and others.

"In some social situations it is important to notice that 'I am similar to you', while in other situations it might be important to notice that 'I am different to you'.

"The atypical way the autistic brain treats self-relevant information as equivalent to information about others could derail a child's social development, particularly in understanding how they relate to the social world around them."

Dr. Gina Gómez de la Cuesta, of the National Autistic Society, described the study as "interesting".

"We know many people with autism do want to interact with others and make friends but have difficulty recognising or understanding other people's thoughts and feelings.

"This research has shown that people with autism may also have difficulty understanding their own thoughts and feelings and the brain mechanisms underlying this."

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Earlston High embark on a unique way to assist the transition from primary to secondary school

Original paper headline: This is your captain speaking, welcome aboard Flight 90210

When 190 new S1 pupils filed into their Borders high school for the first time, they weren’t expecting to be greeted by a captain and first officer at Earlston International Airport.

Captain Michelle Strong (headteacher) and co-pilot Jill McDonald (S1-2 year head) welcomed the voyagers who were shown into a departures lounge (assembly hall), where they were checked into registration classes by the guidance teachers and escorted to gates 1A-G by cabin crew (S6 pupils). They were then given an itinerary and in-flight menu.

“Captain Strong welcomed them aboard Flight 90210 and did her usual message - try your best, we’re here to help - but with a wee slant on it,” explains depute headteacher Beverley Clark. “We wanted to try something different, so high school is seen as fun and exciting rather than scary. We had a PowerPoint of a plane taking off, representing their journey into high school. It’s cheesy, but it worked - primary schools do a tremendous job of making learning enjoyable, and in secondaries sometimes we think we’re not allowed to make learning fun, but we are.”

Earlston High has always had a strong transition process, with guidance teachers going to each primary and gathering information about every child. Miss Clark works closely with the primaries, and they wanted something creative, that would give some continuity and make the start of secondary enjoyable, “because there’s a lot of pressure with the longer day and more structure”. Going from being the biggest in a small school to the smallest in a big school can be daunting for even the most confident of children.

And so their journey began. Earlston High’s transition project spanned six weeks - the last two of P7 and the first four of S1. Pupils from the eight feeder and nine other primaries (placing requests) made a two-day visit to the high school in June, then the real work started.

Miss Clark came up with the travel theme and journeys, and each department had to decide how it would address the theme for the first month of term - all while moving into their new school building in August. Meanwhile, the P7s did some preparatory work, making passports and preparing a leaflet about their home town or village.

“It made you feel better because you weren’t being thrown in at the deep end,” explains S1 pupil Rhona Callow.

The concept of a storyline was new for many of the secondary staff, though commonly used in primary schools. “We’d never done one before,” says Neil Westgarth, principal teacher of science. “There was a mixed reception initially, but once we got thinking of ideas, everyone got excited. We came up with a story that it was the year 2051 and our planet was dying and we needed to find another one to colonise.”

His department identified what skills they wanted to cover and introduced experimentation; investigated whether a potential surrogate planet would support life; explored how they would reach their destination and what they would take; and covered other lab work and theory. With information on six habitable planets, groups of pupils had to choose one and give a presentation on their reasons.

The science staff introduced the topic during their P7 visit. “They went away really excited,” says Mr Westgarth. “We got them to bring in plastic bottles to make ‘moon rovers’ for collecting samples from the surface of planets.”

The four weeks allocated quickly turned into eight. “If pupils wanted to investigate something further, we let them go with it. Before, it was difficult to go beyond the constraints of a topic. This pushed staff and brought out creativity.”

The extension has put a little pressure on the rest of the year, but Mr Westgarth feels the whole initiative has been hugely valuable for pupils and staff alike - and in first year, you can make up a lot of time in the way you deliver things. He also anticipates it will be easier next year, because it will be more familiar.

Pupils’ comments were “overwhelmingly positive”, he says. “If they’re interested, they’re going to be far more responsive. It was nice for staff who haven’t delivered a science topic like this before.”

The pupils also “gelled” more quickly because of all the group work and enthusiasm for tasks.

The maths department planned a family holiday to Paris. Pupils had to organise and budget for travel, accommodation, food and entertainment, as well as working on the 24-hour clock, time differences and exchange rates. Its story was created around Great Uncle Willy’s will. Uncle Willy had left £5,000 to the Masson family - mum, dad and three children - and the pupils did a code-breaking exercise, using logic and problem-solving. Nicer accommodation or food meant less to spend on entertainment, or taking the ferry meant less time there.

“A lot of children find maths a bit threatening,” says Christina Fleming, who teaches one able and one less-able class (maths is set in S1). “This was something they could relate to and have opinions on. It gave them time to settle in and it gave me and the other support staff time to get to know them.”

The English department decided on “Imaginary lands” to give the children creative freedom. Judith Weston’s two classes were each split into five groups of four, and every group had to create a land, considering everything from culture, geography and history to food and drink, language, people and lifestyles, currency, society, crime and punishment, dress, gender roles, constitution and work. One group even created a national anthem.

Pupils made cultural exchanges with other lands - another group in a different class - and did written work around the project, producing stories set in their land.

“It sparked their imagination, and pretty quickly they got into the creativity of it,” says Mrs Weston. “We got some very impressive pieces of writing, with convincing settings. As a department, we were able to assess their individual presentation skills.

“I think first-years spend a lot of time worrying about where they’re going and who their friends are. Some people feel they take a step back academically, but my view is they’re having to cope with 16 teachers in a big building and big pupils, which can be daunting. It was a very positive start to the year.”

The children’s parents are also positive about the new approach. Susan and John Sharp feel it helped their son Robin to settle in. “Robin has dyslexia. We were slightly concerned in case he lost confidence going from one teacher who knew him very well to 10 or 12 teachers, but the continuity helped - the core work was the same from primary to secondary - and made it smoother for him. Because the subject matter linked through in all the classes, he could concentrate on orientating himself around the building and making friends.”

Jane Niven’s son Mark is her first child in secondary school. “I thought it was going to be a bit scary,” she admits, “but it’s been absolutely excellent. Mark has been in a class with only one other pupil from his school. Everywhere they went, they were being helped to work together and everybody was having an input. It was a good way to make friends and he’s settled in brilliantly.”

Lesley Munro, the head at Earlston and Gordon primaries, says the transition into Earlston High has always been seen as an example of good practice, “but this gave it a context and much more meaning for the children”. She points to the collaboration between P7 and high school staff. “The teachers were doing it themselves rather than it being at management level, but Beverley has been the driver of the whole thing.”

Primary pupils are used to working in a themed way, she says. “Primaries can lose them a little for the last two weeks, but they had preparatory work to do and there was real continuity across the schools.

“Developmentally, expertise has been shared both ways. It’s been such a positive experience for the kids. It’s given them the fun element and alleviated any fears they they would have about the formality of high school.”

Natasha McLaren, the P5-7 teacher at Channelkirk Primary in Oxton, agrees. “I found it great that we could collaborate, and the children felt confident that they were going up with a bit of knowledge of what they would be doing. Coming from a small village school, they can get a bit apprehensive.”

S1 pupil Mary Hall endorses this. She was “apprehensive but excited - especially in English. We did group work, so it was easy to make friends.”

“It wasn’t like staring into a textbook,” adds Rhona Callow. “I think they did it really well. I’ve made lots of friends quite easily.”

For Captain Strong, the greatest thing has been the “buzz” among pupils and teachers. “Staff were allowed autonomy. The cross-sector working and the whole atmosphere has been incredibly positive. It helped students settle more quickly than they have done in the past.”

Finance, she says, is a “biggie” for any head. “This is evidence that you can be creative and transform things without investment. Right across Scotland there is this apprehension about Curriculum for Excellence. This project allowed teachers to take risks. It’s brought learning alive.”

And it’s been a smooth take-off for all, adds Miss Clark. “You’re not going to get wads of cash thrown at you, so let’s use the skills we have as individuals. We need people to try things and support them in trying them. Learning doesn’t have to be dry.”

Colleges are doing a largely good job in their work with students who have profound and complex needs, according to HMIE

The quality of programmes was generally of a high standard, there was a wide range of school-link arrangements, teaching staff were highly committed and skilled, and accommodation was appropriate.

But, after 30 teaching sessions in nine colleges, the inspectors concluded that practice was not always perfect. Although they paid tribute to staff, their report said it was often the enthusiasm and expertise of one or two individuals who made the difference, and this was often difficult to replace when these staff left.

Colleges also needed to do more to set out the entry criteria spelling out the skills required of learners, most of whose needs are variable and who suffer from sensory loss, physical disabilities, autism and disruptive behaviour.

While these students had specialised learning and support plans, few colleges developed them and targets for progress were often too long-term. The inspection noted, too, that “some colleges were not clear how their programmes should be structured to develop learners’ educational needs as opposed to their social needs”.

The HMIE report urges colleges to communicate more effectively with parents and carers. Managing the relationships with external agencies also proved to be a challenge, with concerns being expressed in colleges about transport, personal care and individual learning support needs. Supported employment opportunities were often lacking.

Graham Donaldson, the senior chief inspector of education, commented: “This challenging area of work is vital to the role of Scotland’s colleges in serving their communities

.Three authorities ‘named and shamed’ by charity as cutting assistance to families of children with additional support needs

A charity which helps parents of autistic children has accused Scottish councils of cutting support. It claims youngsters have been sent home because of schools’ diminishing resources.

The picture painted by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers to the Scottish Parliament’s education committee’s inquiry into autism is bleak. Budget cuts meant additional support needs (ASN) teachers were being forced back into mainstream to save money, leaving vulnerable children to flounder, said the trust.

The evidence against the authorities was anecdotal but compelling, said Lynn Williams, the charity’s policy officer. “I’m aware of two cases where children have been sent home because there were no pupil support assistants to support them. If you have a child with additional needs, you are already worried about what their life is going to be like and whether they will find a job. But if they have no education in the first place, where does that leave them?” she said.

Three authorities were “named and shamed” by the charity: Aberdeen, East Renfrewshire and Glasgow. Aberdeen City Council was cutting spending to the detriment of “vulnerable children”, said the trust.

“Further ‘efficiency’ cuts will, among other things, result in fewer teachers supporting pupils in Aberdeen City’s MICAS bases (specialist units for children with autism in mainstream schools). I also believe that schools were encouraged, by the council, to move support for learning teachers back to their subjects rather than having a full-time support role for children with additional needs in mainstream education,” said Ms Williams.

A spokesman for the council said that two years ago, the authority had reviewed its formulae for primary and secondary teaching staffing to include learning support, deprivation and behaviour support, linked to roll change. “The council values the role of all staff in supporting children and young people with additional support needs and continues to allocate resources appropriately and review on an ongoing basis to ensure best value,” he added.

In East Renfrewshire, parents have told the trust that there are not enough pupil support assistants for children in schools. They also fear that the next financial year will bring further cuts to pupil support staff. “These parents rightly question the benefit of their children being in mainstream education where not all will have access to additional classroom support,” said Ms Williams.

But a spokesman for East Renfrewshire Council said: “It is grossly unfair to present this as the norm in East Renfrewshire when at best it may represent one particular person’s viewpoint. There is a range of support mechanisms in place in schools and in our education service to support pupils with autism and each child is assessed individually.”

In Glasgow, parents have complained that school staff lack understanding of autism, there are not enough inclusive activities and their children are bullied in school.

Jonathan Findlay, executive member for education in Glasgow, countered: “Ms Williams’s comments are unjust and do not reflect the vast amount of work in the last year alone Glasgow has carried out to support children with autistic spectrum disorders.”

Councils face a reduction in funding of some 12 per cent over the next three years. The first draft budgets to be published by councils appear to confirm Ms Williams’s fears:

- North Lanarkshire Council, which is facing a £75m deficit, plans to cut three additional support needs teaching posts, a saving of £80,000 - one of a number of measures;

- Moray Council plans to cut its allocation of additional support assistants and teachers by 5 per cent to save £340,000; the council acknowledges in its budget consultation document that cuts would have a “severely detrimental impact” on children with ASN.

Children’s Minister Adam Ingram told the committee last week that, if councils were cutting down on classroom support, this was “short-sighted”. He announced the setting- up of a working group to “identify, share and disseminate” best practice in working with autistic children and adults.

Following the meeting, however, Labour MSP Ken Macintosh accused Mr Ingram of burying his head in the sand. Support for ASN children in his own constituency - East Renfrewshire - had worsened over the past year, he said.

Children with autism find their right place with peer passports

A support service in the Borders has led to better communication and integration

Alex is six years old and likes playing in the sand, with beads, eating and running around. He doesn’t like sitting for long periods, or big groups of people.

Without his peer passport, it’s unlikely Alex’s P2 classmates would have known these rudimentary facts about him, for Alex is severely autistic and, while he can speak, he rarely uses the right words at the right time and has no functional communication. He spends some of the week at his primary, St Peter’s in Galashiels, and the rest in a specialist unit at Wilton Primary in Hawick.

Children with communication problems often carry a passport which is used to introduce them to professionals - teaching or support staff, for instance. But in the Borders, it is used to introduce autistic children to other pupils in their class and contains short, age-appropriate explanations of what autism is.

The local Autism Spectrum Support team’s work in this area was recently flagged up as a good example by Learning and Teaching Scotland. Sarah Fitch, the manager of the spectrum support service and head of the authority’s complex needs team, says: “If, for the majority of the week, a child is not in the class, that can sometimes be puzzling for the others, and they may not know a lot about them because they can’t communicate adequately.”

Armed with a bit more information, however, children have proved to be understanding and inclusive, she says. “A lot of the time, inclusion can be tokenistic; the child with additional support needs just happens to be there. But you’ve got to make sure there is value in them being in mainstream. It’s about developing relationships, rather than ‘this child comes into the class, full stop’.”

All 17 children with significant autism, learning difficulties and challenging behaviour who attend spectrum support are on shared placements, spending at least a couple of afternoons a week at their primary and the rest of their time at a specialist unit. P1-3s, like Alex, attend the unit at Wilton, while children in upper primary go to St Ronan’s Primary in Innerleithen.

Now that they have been formally introduced to their mainstream classmates, thanks to the peer passports, the team is looking to take things even further.

In the Borders, autistic children communicate with staff using the Picture Exchange Communication System, by visually picking out symbols in books. Now they are being encouraged to use it with their peers in “communication groups” which consist of the autistic child and mainstream pupils.

“Children naturally communicate with others,” says Ms Fitch. “They don’t tend to spend all their time interacting with adults. In the communication groups, they come round a table and each child is given a motivational toy. The autistic child is then asked which toy they would like a turn with, which requires them to use PECS, and it goes from there.”

The authority has now launched inclusion groups for autistic children in upper primary, as well as communication groups. According to Ms Fitch, school becomes increasingly irrelevant for the youngsters as they get older and the language becomes more abstract. So they have organised regular activities such as games, dancing and sport, involving the autistic child and two or three classmates. “It helps maintain inclusion.”

A mix of specialist provision and mainstream is ideal for children with severe autism, Ms Fitch believes. Experts with a deep understanding of the disorder are vital, but so is the community where the children grow up and will, in all likelihood, continue to live. “It’s important we educate people in the community, as much as the children on the spectrum,” she concludes.

Steep learning curve

Borders Council’s Autism Spectrum Support started in 1995 with six boys at Denholm Primary in Hawick. But just 14 years ago, autism was something of a mystery to Scottish education, explains Sarah Fitch, the teacher brought in to run the service.

“It’s hard to believe now, but autism was just not something that was talked about then,” she says.

It was “a steep learning curve”, admits Ms Fitch, who is now the council’s team leader for complex needs. But a service that caters well for autistic children’s needs was established and in 2006 received a very positive report from HMIE. More recently its work was flagged up as an example of good practice by Learning and Teaching Scotland.

“Kicking, biting, screaming, shouting - you name it, we’ve probably had it. But you have to look at why that happens and try to make sure the environment is appropriate so these things don’t happen,” she says.

“A lot of children have sleep difficulties and a lot have extreme sensory difficulties - they are very sensitive to light, sound, taste and touch. One child we work with can hear an aeroplane coming long before we do and that causes challenging behaviour in him.”

The journey has not been without its challenges - one of the most recent being a fire at Denholm Primary, just months after inspectors left, which rendered them homeless.

“We lost everything - not through the fire, but through asbestos contamination,” explains Ms Fitch.

Since then, the early primary unit has been through a few stressful moves, but now is at Wilton Primary in Hawick, with upper primary at St Ronan’s Primary in Innerleithen.

Today, teachers are far better informed about autism, with a wealth of training on offer, says Ms Fitch. They also have access to the Scottish Government’s autism toolkit, which she describes as a “fantastic resource”, although she questions how many are aware of it.

Article as Mentioned in ADHD/ASD Courses

Reprimand for YouTube stripper who got shirty

Supply teacher also boasted to class that he would throw pupil from window

A suffolk teacher has been reprimanded after stripping half-naked in front of his class - an act that was videoed and posted on the internet - and threatening to throw a pupil out of a window.

Pupils used their mobile phones to film Martin Rouse when he took off his shirt during a lesson. Last week he was found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct by the General Teaching Council (GTC) and issued with a warning.

He has been banned from Sudbury Upper School and Arts College by headteacher David Forrest, as well all other Suffolk secondaries.

The online video was viewed almost 800 times, but has now been removed.

Mr Rouse, 59, told a local newspaper he was in a "state of shock" and "totally stunned" at being ordered out of the school.

He revealed he had a heart condition and diabetes, and has suffered from depression. Childen had nicknamed him "Gimli", after a dwarf character in Lord of the Rings.

Mr Rouse has been a teacher since 1976 and chose supply work because he was unable to work full-time because of his ill-health.

He had been teaching at Sudbury Upper School and Arts College for a week before the incident in April 2008. While teaching a class of Year 9s, including some disruptive pupils, he joked that he was strong enough to throw one pupil out of the window because he had been using chest expanders.

"I thought 'should I do this?', but I wanted to be cool because that is my rapport with the pupils," Mr Rouse told the local Suffolk Free Press. "I tried to roll up my sleeve, but couldn't so I took off my shirt quickly and then put it back on. It was a spur of the moment thing.

"It wasn't a chaotic lesson. It wasn't a wise thing to have done. I was just responding to the situation and getting students to co-operate and enjoy the lesson."

The GTC panel said it accepted that Mr Rouse had been trying to use humour to "engage" pupils when he threatened to throw one out of the window. "Nevertheless, the words used were capable of and may have been viewed as a threat by some of the pupils," the panel said.

"Mr Rouse's actions could have led to the class becoming dangerously out of control. In addition, some pupils may have felt intimidated by the words used.

"Mr Rouse removed his shirt in the classroom which was a clear breach of the standards of propriety expected of the profession.

"The video of the incident became publicly available and Mr Rouse's actions were seriously detrimental to the standing of the profession.

"As far we are aware these were isolated incidents which resulted from an ill-considered attempt to control the class. Mr Rouse has demonstrated some insight into his failings.

"As far as we can ascertain, Mr Rouse has a previous good history and this is supported by a reference from a supply agency for whom he worked successfully for two years."

Could do better

Teachers behaving badly

- When head of Willoughton Primary in Lincolnshire, Malcolm Beresford referred to female staff members as a "harem" and nicknamed a governor "posh pants". He also referred to a member of the governing body as "vindaloo". He is yet to be sentenced.

- Patricia Ann Baynes, head of Bordesley Green East Nursery School in Birmingham, "force-fed" children in her care and left them in soiled underwear. In September, the GTC banned her for three years.

- When head of Beaconsfield Primary in Southall, west London, Kanta Riley shook pupils, ordered them to go without shoes and threatened to wash their mouths out with soap. She was found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Social Stories Training

If anybody is interested in Social Story training please can you contact us. You will need a minimum of four delegates.

Toddlers with autism may benefit from early treatment

Intensive early treatment and education can improve the abilities of toddlers with autism to communicate and raise their IQ, new research suggests. The study is the first of its kind to look properly at treatment for children this young.

What do we know already?
Autism affects the way a child develops, communicates, and learns about the world. It tends to be picked up when a child is around 18 months of age, if the child doesn't meet the usual developmental milestones of smiling, following when people point, and speaking a few words. But some people say they knew there was something different about their baby right from birth.

Some research has suggested that early teaching and treatment, from both parents and therapists, started before a child begins school, can be helpful. But little research has been done into ways of helping very young children.

This new study looked at what happened to a group of 48 children aged 18 months to two and a half years, who'd been diagnosed with autism or pervasive developmental disorder (a condition similar to autism, but where the child doesn't meet all the autism criteria). Half were given intensive treatment using a programme called the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), while half were referred for the usual care available locally. The children were tested after one and two years of treatment.

What does the new study say?
Children who'd had the intensive treatment programme had improved IQ scores, were able to communicate better, and got on better in everyday life.

The children's IQ scores went up fastest in the first year of treatment, then stabilised. Their scores on questionnaires measuring 'adaptive behaviour' (how they communicate and manage in everyday life) stayed stable for their age-group during the study. This means they were keeping up with the changes in behaviour expected as children get older.

The adaptive behaviour scores of children who'd not had intensive treatment got worse. They had a small improvement in IQ, but much less than the children with intensive treatment.

Seven of the 24 children who'd had intensive treatment improved to the point that they were no longer categorised as having autism by the end of the study (although they still had pervasive developmental disorder). Only one of the children not given intensive treatment was recategorised in this way.

How reliable are the findings?
This was a well-designed study (a randomised controlled trial) which is the best type of study for finding out whether a treatment works. The children were tested by independent assessors, using questionnaires and tests that have been shown before to be reliable.

The only potential problem is that the tests of 'adaptive behaviour' involved questioning the parents about how the children were doing. The parents who had been involved in the intensive treatments might have answered more positively, because they'd put so much effort into the treatment themselves, that they were very alert for any signs of improvement. This might make the treatment seem better than it is.

Where does the study come from?
The study was carried out by doctors and researchers from several universities in the US. It was published in the medical journal Pediatrics. It was funded by a grant from the US government's National Institute of Mental Health.

What does this mean for me?
If your child has been diagnosed with autism, you'll be interested in any treatment that can make a difference to how they grow up and develop. This particular treatment (ESDM) may not be available where you live. But it used techniques from a system called 'applied behavioural analysis' (also called Lovaas therapy, after the doctor who developed it) which is sometimes used in the UK.

These types of treatment ask a great deal of the family. For two years, the children had two hours of treatment, twice a day, five days a week, by a therapist coming to the home. And parents spent on average 16 hours a week using these techniques with their children themselves. That's a lot of time to devote to treatment. It's also unlikely that this intensity of treatment will be available freely on the NHS. And it would be very expensive to pay for it privately.

BMJ Group, Wednesday 2 December 2009 00.00 GMT Article history

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Important Information Dyslexia

Due to popular demand we will now be running our dyslexia events again. These events will follow a very similar format to the ADHD and ASD day courses and will be run both as advertised day courses and full and half day insets.
Watch this space or email for further details.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Autism Christmas strategy

Christmas can be a very difficult time for many children on the Autistic Spectrum. The sheer chaos that ensues from changes in routine added to the growing anticipation could be a recipe for stress and behaviour problems. Strategies that help the child visualise the period may be helpful for some.

Helping children to cope by using visual images.

Make a timetable – maybe for weeks to begin with and then into days nearer the event.

Use photographs and cut outs from magazines to explain what is happening (stores stocked with cards, presents and such things).

Obtain dates of events from schools and clubs and insert these into the timetable.

Use specific dates for putting up the tree and decorations or baking the cake.

Mark off, on the calendar, events as they happen – so the child can progress visually through the time. Some children prefer an actual ‘washing line’ with events pegged on and taken off on completion.

SOCIAL STORIES could be used to help the child understand the WHY behind some activities – WHY do the shops start selling Christmas items in September??? (There is no other commercial event between summer and Christmas – also they have so many things to sell the shops start early – the shop hopes if you will buy from there and not from another shop.)

Christmas Fayres happen early to enable people to buy gifts in good time before the shops get far too busy – with too many people rushing around.

Build into the timetable details of the removal of Christmas decorations – tree and so on to prepare the child for a return to ‘normal’. Photographs of previous years may help – a kind of before and after shot – to remind the child what the house looks like decorated and a reminder of the home in its usual state.

Some children need structure in the holiday break from school and a timetable with activities on may help. Many children may need to be reminded of schoolwork with reminders of how to do certain schoolwork tasks before returning to class.

For some, the extra noise, sights and smells of this time of year are just too much –so maybe consider NOT taking the child shopping at this time and allow times every day for the child to ‘chill out’ and be alone and quiet.

Receiving presents can also be problematic. Many do not like surprises and so it can be best to pre-warn the child of what his/her gifts are going to be – relatives may have to be told what to buy. Practice the art of ‘accepting’ an unwanted gift – Give the child some idea of stock replies to use at this time – ‘Thank You’ - ‘That’s nice’

It may help you to know that many children on the autistic spectrum find this time of year very difficult to understand – you are not alone!

Told You So!!!

Broken yesterday, the story that Michael Jackson had his body scanned back in the '90s presents a number of interesting possibilities, particularly since there's a big push for 3D video tech right now. Still, let's not get too excited. We don't know exactly what these images include, but it seems unlikely that they're anything like concert footage that's shot specifically for 3D. As reported, the images were meant to help create some kind of "virtual double" of Jackson, much the same way that special effects for movies like Spider-Man were created. Creating some kind of 3D concert video from that would be a big leap.

Still, for an artist as popular as Jackson was, it's not hard to imagine someone dedicating the resources to make that leap. With some progress in holographic tech, and even more intriguing idea would be to recreate a real-live Jackson concert with a Jackson hologram as the main attraction. Given how much lip-synching goes on in today's pop, would a full-on virtual performer be much of a stretch? Or just too macabre in this case? Whatever happens, you can bet the images won't end up in a green screen challenge (though we can hope).

Via The Telegraph

Inclusion and the Net

Many autistic children prefer interacting with computers, rather than humans. Computers are more reliable, their reactions are more consistent

Professor Arun Mehta
Blind campaigner, Gerry Ellis, says that "it's becoming more difficult than ever for the disabled to get access to information" as more and more of it goes online.

There are not enough programmes for the blind and deaf, many websites are too complicated for people with disabilities to navigate.

The IGF, through the Dynamic Coalition for Accessibility and Disability, is calling on companies to do more.

It also makes the good point that if they simplify their web pages, that will help all users, not just the disabled.

Another expert in the field, Professor Arun Mehta is also using computer technology to help children with autism. He's spent a large part of his life developing software which helps those with disabilities.

His Special Kids project (SKIDS) help autistic children to improve their education by recognising pictures and naming the objects which are featured on the computer.

" Many autistic children prefer interacting with computers, rather than humans," he says. "Computers are more reliable, their reactions are more consistent."

It is just one of a myriad of applications which are now being developed with the emphasis on access for the millions who don't currently have it.

Overall, the mood amongst the delegates in Sharm el-Sheikh is optimistic.

The internet is alive and well and as dynamic as ever. Ask anyone here, though, what it will look like in five years ' time and you'll get as many different answers as there are participants in this forum.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Landmark Autism Bill Passed

The Autism Bill passed its final stage in the House of Lords on 22 October 2009 to become England’s first ever disability-specific law. Once it receives Royal Assent, the Bill will officially become the Autism Act, under which the Government’s forthcoming adult autism strategy will be legally enforceable and must be published within the next six months.

Under the new law, the NHS and local authorities will have to provide diagnostic services for adults with autism and better training for health and social care staff, and they could face legal action if they fail to provide appropriate support for people with autism.

The bill was drafted by the The National Autistic Society (NAS) and steered through Parliament, as a Private Members' Bill with cross party support, by Conservative MP Cheryl Gillan. NAS chief executive, Mark Lever, said; “Thousands of adults with autism told us they were experiencing serious mental health difficulties due to a lack of support. After a year of lobbying, this is the watershed moment they have been waiting for - this law could literally transform lives”.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Important Announcement Liverpool

Please note our ASD event in Liverpool on the 1st December is now full. However, we are repeating the same event the following day (2nd December) at the same venue and there are places available. If you would like to book on please visit the website by clicking the sunflower to your right.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

A Special Thanks to Innkeeper's Lodge Northampton Round Spinney

Sometimes life is like that isn't it?
Well, a couple of weeks ago life was like that for me. Disaster upon disaster befell our meeting. However, we were lucky enough to have the team at Innkeeper's Lodge Round Spinney on our side; particularly Andy and Sarah. As a result of their support the day was a blinding succes.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Help us beat the postal strikes.

Dear Colleagues,

I’m sure you’re aware of the recent postal strikes happening in London and other parts of the country. Communication and Workers Union (CWU) members have now voted in favour of national strike action so we thought it important that we contact you.

If you don’t already and have the facility, why not pay us by BACS (bank transfer) and help us to beat the post strikes? Payment will reach us guaranteed within 3 working days or same day if your bank offers the new faster payments.

If cheque payment is the only option for you then rest assured that we are processing cheques on the same day we receive them to try and ensure there is little or no disruption to your accounting systems.

Please see your invoice or contact us for banking details.

If you don’t pay the bills please forward this information to whoever has that unenviable task.

Confused? Need some help? Just give us a call on 01427 667 556 / 0794 383 8819.

Thanks for your help,

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Trick or Treating Guidelines

Preparing Children for Trick or Treating
Dressing up to go trick or treating is very exciting for children and it creates lasting memories for both children and parents. Help children prepare for trick or treating with these five strategies.
1. Select a Costume – Help children select a costume that fits properly and is safe. Children may be uncomfortable with anything on their face especially make up. Some children may not like masks because of sensory issues or limited vision. Keep these factors in mind when selecting an outfit. For children who have difficulties with masks, holding a mask rather than wearing it or not using one at all may make the evening more enjoyable.
2. Set Costume Guidelines – Children often want to wear their costume other times than trick or treating. Let them know if/when they can wear it besides trick or treating. Be sure to tell them this before they buy the costume and after it is purchased. Explain why they can wear the costume only at certain times. For example, “You can put it on in the evening for a few minutes to see how you
look, but you can only wear it for a little while so it doesn’t get dirty before Halloween.”
3. Practice Going to People’s Doors – Role play going to someone’s door, saying “Trick or treat,” holding a bag out, and saying “Thank you.” Remind children to be polite, wait their turn, and take only one piece of candy when they are asked to select something. It is tempting to rush to a door and take a handful of things when offered a basket or bowl to select from so multiple opportunities for review are important. Be sure to practice other things that may happen such as someone not
being home or someone complimenting them on their costume.
4. Establish Guidelines in Advance – Prepare children for factors such as: What time trick or treating starts and ends; How they know when it ends; Where they can trick or treat (e.g. only houses with lights on, only people the child knows, only homes in a four block radius, etc.); and What the rules are such as staying with a sibling or parent. Be sure to review these guidelines days in advance with a story, visual cards, or written rules. Before trick or treating, review them again so children clearly understand expectations.
5. Set Candy Guidelines– Children become very excited about getting candy and other treats while trick or treating. Set rules in advance about eating candy. Let children know before trick or treating that they need to bring all of the candy back for you to check before they can eat it. Make sure children have dinner before trick or treating so they are not hungry. Have guidelines about the number of pieces they can eat per day and create a schedule for when they can eat their candy. Display the candy plan where they can easily look if they have questions.
From: Sandbox Learning

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Twitter on the Blog

"What?" I hear you say!
Well it's not as geeky or complicated as it sounds. Purely a way to save looking at two web pages at once. Those of you who visit our site regularly will know that we use twitter to share resources which we feel may be useful. Well, now you don't need to open twitter for the latest updates because if you look to your right, you'll see they are here on the blog.

And to get back to the main website...
Just click on the 'Good Teaching Practice' logo on the right.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

The ADHD Triad of Impairments

Forward Thinking Practice in Sheffield

School to allow use in class while union rages at ‘potentially offensive weapons’#

Mobile phones: 'untapped learning resource'

Original paper headline: Say hi to mobile phones, the ‘untapped learning resource’

Pupils at a school in Sheffield could soon be allowed to use their mobile phones in the classroom, despite one teaching union describing them as “offensive weapons”.

The radical move is being proposed at Notre Dame High School by assistant headteacher Paul Haigh, who believes pupils’ phones are a huge “untapped resource” for teaching and learning and an important cost-saving measure.

“We realise as a comprehensive state school we could never afford to buy every student all the IT and mobile devices we would like them to have. We already have 800-plus computers and, much like adding lanes to the M25, when we buy more we use them all,” Mr Haigh said.

“It would be great if students could have access to a range of tools, PDAs, cameras, voice recorders, laptops and netbooks, but it would be very expensive and wasteful to maintain and upgrade all the equipment. Most students own many of them anyway - they’re just hidden away in their school bags.”

He added: “What’s more they are experts in using them, knowing all of the short cuts and characteristics of their own devices as they use them every day.”

But the move has been blasted by the NASUWT, which claims mobile phones give pupils the opportunity to “bully and abuse” teachers by uploading comments on social networking sites.

Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, said: “These sites are fed by pupils’ misuse of mobile phones. The time has come for mobiles in schools to be placed in the category of a potentially offensive weapon and action taken to prevent their use by pupils while on school premises.

But Notre Dame says wants to create a “robust policy” that will enable teachers to dictate when and where mobile devices are used.

Mr Haigh added: “It should be completely at the control of the teacher; if its not the policy isn’t clear. It’s being made plain to students that having a phone out and checking messages throughout lessons is not acceptable and we would still confiscate the phone. If it’s not being used to support learning we don’t want to see it.”

And despite the NASUW’s criticism, a spokesperson for government IT agency Becta said: “It is very encouraging to hear of schools tapping into the technology that is sitting in virtually every student’s pocket.

“Today’s mobile phones are capable of so much more than texting and can - with the right kind of school-student agreements in place - be an excellent tool for learning.

“Students can download their homework, do research on the internet as well as collaborate with other classmates.”

From TES 9th October

Friday, 9 October 2009

Warning on liquorice in pregnancy

Pregnant women who eat large amounts of liquorice could negatively affect their child's intelligence and behaviour, according to research.

Experts from Edinburgh and Helsinki universities studied eight-year-olds born in Finland, where consumption of liquorice among young women is common.

The children of women who ate a lot of liquorice when pregnant did not perform as well as other youngsters in tests.

Researchers said a component in liquorice may impair the placenta.

They said the component - glycyrrhizin - may allow stress hormones to cross from the mother to the baby.
High levels of such hormones, known as glucocorticoids, are thought to affect foetal brain development and have been linked to behavioural disorders in children in previous studies.

Of the children who took part in the Finnish study, 64 were exposed to high levels of glycyrrhizin in liquorice, 46 to moderate levels and 211 to low levels.

They were tested on a range of cognitive functions including vocabulary, memory and spatial awareness.

Behaviour was assessed using an in-depth questionnaire completed by the mother.

Shorter pregnancies

The results suggested that women who ate more than 500mg of glycyrrhizin per week - found in the equivalent of 100g of pure liquorice - were more likely to have children with lower intelligence levels and more behavioural problems.

The eight-year-olds were more likely to have poor attention spans and show disruptive behaviour such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the researchers said.

Professor Jonathan Seckl, from Edinburgh University's centre for cardiovascular science, said: "This shows that eating liquorice during pregnancy may affect a child's behaviour or IQ and suggests the importance of the placenta in preventing stress hormones that may affect cognitive development getting through to the baby."

The research comes after a study which suggested that liquorice consumption was also linked to shorter pregnancies.

The results of the study are published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

A Little Bit of Knowledge???

Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom 'suffers from Asperger's'

The Phantom of the Opera's tormented leading character suffers from Asperger's syndrome, according to the stage actor who plays him.

Ramin Karimloo said he believed the Phantom showed clear signs of the condition, which is a form of autism. Sufferers often have difficulties with communication and social relationships.

According to Karimloo, who joined the West End production two years ago, the syndrome would explain the Phantom's eccentric traits, his musical talents and an inability to interact with others which led him to hide away beneath the Paris Opera House.

Daily Telegraph

Thursday, 8 October 2009

New ASD Dates

New ASD dates now online at:

In addition, we also will be in:

Cambridge 13th January 2010
Winchester 21st January 2010
Blandford 22nd January 2010
Darwen 2nd March 2010
Chippenham 4th March 2010

Get in touch for further details

Sounding Familiar?

Vaccines will ship in single doses and multidose vials.

By Rick Rouan

The vaccine preservative that some groups have claimed causes autism will be optional in the coming batch of H1N1 vaccines, the county’s health director said.

The injectable vaccines will ship in both single doses, which are thimerosal-free, and the multidose vials that contain the preservative, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Thimerosal is a preservative that contains microscopic portions of mercury and is used in multidose vials of vaccines, said Dr. John Venglarcik, the Mahoning County Board of Health medical director.

Autism-awareness groups have tried to identify the preservative as a cause of autism in young children, but the medical director pointed out that there is no scientific evidence to support that theory.

“There’s really no evidence that this is harmful in any way, shape or form,” he said. “Quite honestly, you get more mercury eating fish.”

Although no scientific evidence has proved that thimerosal causes autism, the preservative was taken out of pediatric vaccines about five years ago, Venglarcik said.

“The fact of the matter is that since this has been taken out of all pediatric vaccines, there’s been no change in the instances of autism,” he said.

The Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety supports Venglarcik’s stance. In 2006, the committee concluded that there was no scientific support for concerns about thimerosal. The committee was established by the World Health Organization to provide a scientific assessment of vaccine safety.

The mercury in thimerosal, according to the committee, is ethyl mercury, which stays in the blood for less than a week and is excreted. The more harmful methyl mercury stays in the blood for about a month and a half and accumulates in the body.

Terry Chapin, president of the local chapter of the Autism Society, said that he has seen anecdotal evidence of increases in autism rates, and if thimerasol was a cause, he would expect to see rates decrease.

“I’ve certainly seen enough e-mail correspondence and various articles that still are saying that it could have been a cause of autism,” Chapin said. “The concern that I have is that you have not seen a decrease in the rates of autism.”

Chapin said that a lot of current research has been done by companies with a stake in the argument. “I think there’s still a little bit more fact-finding that needs to be done to conclusively prove or disprove that one way or the other,” he added.

Venglarcik also said that the risk of getting the disease from the vaccine is “very small.”

The health department is trying to establish what is called “herd immunity,” Venglarcik said.

If the department can get about 80 percent of the population immunized, the vaccines tend to help eradicate the disease. This is the same tactic that was used to eliminate polio, Venglarcik said.

But the key is immunizing children, which “tend to be the vehicle to spread to a community,” Venglarcik said.

“It’s going to be critical that we get the kids. If we get the school-age population immunized, then we can start to get that barrier in the school system,” he said.

The vaccine will be available in a nasal spray form the third week in October, Venglarcik said, and the injectable vaccine will be available the fourth week of October. The department is working with local school districts to organize clinics to distribute the vaccine.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Net addiction linked to ADHD in teens

Children and teens with ADHD, or who are depressed or hostile, may be prone to becoming addicted to using the internet, a new study suggests.

Internet addiction is not an official diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, but some experts consider it a potential problem if it interferes with everyday life, such as harming school performance, family relationships or someone's emotional state.

Signs include:

Spending more time on the internet than intended.
Inability to cut back on usage.
Symptoms of withdrawal such as anxiety or boredom after a few days of refraining from going online.
Researchers in Taiwan looked at the potential link between internet addiction and psychiatric symptoms such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), social phobia and hostility in 2,293 boys and girls from 10 junior high schools in southern Taiwan.

The students' psychiatric symptoms were surveyed using self-reported questionnaires, and internet addiction was assessed when the study began and six, 12 and 24 months later. Scores ranged from 26 to 104 on the researchers' scale, with a score of 64 or higher considered internet addiction.

Of all participants, 233 or 10.8 per cent were classified as having internet addiction and 1,929 (89.2 percent) were classified as not having an internet addiction, the team reported in the October issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

"These results suggest that ADHD, hostility, depression and social phobia should be detected early on and intervention carried out to prevent internet addiction in adolescents," Dr. Chih-Hung Ko of Kaohsiung Medical University Hospital and colleagues concluded.

Previous studies suggest that 1.4 per cent to 17.9 per cent of adolescents are addicted to the internet, with percentages higher in Eastern nations than in Western nations, the researchers noted.

In girls but not boys, depression and social phobia were linked to internet addiction problems.

Boys were at higher risk than girls, and those who used the internet for more than 20 hours a week were also at higher risk, the study found.

Adults over-check email
"Part of the failure to recognize this potential 21st-century epidemic is the simple fact that many of us, BlackBerry in hand, check email more than we would like," Dr. Dimitri Christakis of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development in Seattle, and Dr. Megan Moreno, wrote in an accompanying editorial.

"The inherent difficulties in defining internet addiction and our own need for rectification should not prevent us from recognizing an emerging epidemic."

If all children who are at risk are exposed enough to become addicted, the prevalence of internet addiction in Western countries could approach that of Eastern countries and rank as one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood, the pair said.

"Our intention in raising this concern is not to be alarmist but rather to alert pediatricians to what might become a major public health problem for the United States in the 21st century."

Online safety experts recommend monitoring children and teens' internet use and suggest putting home computers in a public place such as a hallway or family, instead of allowing children to go online in private.

The internet addiction study was funded by the National Science Council of Taiwan.

Source: CBC News

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Important Message Re: confirmations/maps

For those who haven't received their confirmations/maps yet; We need to inform you there is a huge backlog of mail all over the UK due to the on-going strikes Royal Mail are having.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

TES ADHD Article 31 July

Looking at the forums in TES it seems that the article on ADHD (31 July, reprinted below) has caused a number of concerns. We too have received a number of enquiries regarding the possible repurcussions for colleagues. Most concerns seem to focus on the fact that behaviour cannot be pre-empted due to a lack of understanding/training. Here at People First Education we would rather try to minimise situations where this might occur than pre-empt. This can be achieved by providing an in depth knowledge of ADHD and a range of strategies to include learners with ADHD. For more information please visit:

Primary fails in High Court bid to overturn ruling on ADHD exclusion

Primary fails in High Court bid to overturn ruling on ADHD exclusion
News | Published in The TES on 31 July, 2009

Judge upholds tribunal decision that school made no 'reasonable adjustment' for violent pupil with disability

A Cambridgeshire primary school, ordered to apologise for excluding a disabled pupil who assaulted a teacher, has failed in a High Court bid to overturn the ruling.

The governors of the school had mounted a costly legal campaign to overturn a tribunal ruling that they had discriminated against the boy, who suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The special educational needs and disability tribunal said the school had breached the Disability Discrimination Act and ordered an apology to be made to the boy's parents.

Last year, it ruled that the school had "failed to make a reasonable adjustment". It had not, for example, sought specialist advice or support from relevant services before the incident.

This week, the school governors took the case to the High Court in London to appeal against the decision. With the backing of Cambridgeshire County Council, they claimed the school had done all it could to accommodate the boy's needs. His "tendency to physical abuse of other persons" did not amount to a disability, they argued.

The boy, referred to in court as "T", was excluded from the school after he physically assaulted a member of staff.

But Mr Justice Lloyd Jones upheld the tribunal's decision. He told the High Court: "I consider there was here a failure to make a reasonable adjustment in respect of a protected disability." He said ADHD symptoms can include temper tantrums, mood swings, learning problems and aggression.

The boys' parents were backed in court by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the National Autistic Society, which said the school's arguments were "wrong in law and in principle".

The society insisted that the boy's disruptive behaviour was a symptom of his condition. Upholding the school's appeal, it said, would have "profound and widespread detrimental implications for children and adults" who have a disability that involves a tendency to violence.

Mr Justice Lloyd Jones accepted that T was excluded for having assaulted a teacher. But he concluded: "I consider that the tribunal was correct in its conclusion that there had been unlawful discrimination, arising from the failure to take reasonable steps to ensure that T was not placed at a substantial disadvantage, by comparison with pupils who are not disabled."

Andrea Bilbow, of attention-deficit charity ADDISS, says mishandling of the condition is common. "If a child with ADHD assaults a teacher, you always have to ask what it was the teacher did that pushed the child over the edge," she said.

"If you know a child can fly off the handle, you have to plan for it, manage it, and anticipate that something will happen. Children don't do this for no reason. "

Thursday, 13 August 2009

New Resource Section

Many people who attend the ASD and ADHD courses ask to purchase the resources we use. As you can see at the top of this page, we now have a recommended resources section. you can use this to scroll through many (but not all) of the books and DVDs we recommend. If you see one you would like, simply click on it and it will take you through to it's Amazon page. Although at the moment it is exclusively on the blog, keep watching the website, as we will soon have a full SEN bookshop.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Message From Matthew Downie


We are extremely disappointed and angry that today the High Court has ruled that Gary McKinnon, a man with Asperger syndrome accused of hacking into United States Government computer systems, should be extradited to the US.

Autism is a lifelong condition that requires understanding and support and this is a terrible day for Gary and his family. We are collecting your photos and messages to demonstrate the huge level of support they have, so please visit our website and add your voice.

Gary's fight continues, with an application to appeal the decision to extradite him in the UK Supreme Court. I'll be in touch again soon and together we will continue to fight this injustice.

Best wishes,

Matthew Downie
Campaigns Manager

Friday, 3 July 2009

Gary McKinnon Update From National Autistic Society

Today we took a petition, signed by thousands of you, to Downing Street to call on Gordon Brown to take Asperger syndrome into account in the case of Gary McKinnon. Gary has been accused of hacking into US Defense computer systems. There are grave concerns about the effect of extraditing him, or anyone else with Asperger syndrome. Please visit our website for more information about Gary's case.

Thanks to the thousands of you who campaigned with us by signing the petition, we delivered a powerful message to Downing Street. The petition was presented by Gary's mum, Janis, and Trudie Styler, one of a group of celebrities supporting Gary's case, who then met with Sarah Brown, the Prime Minister's wife, to discuss the case.

We've been campaigning to stop Gary's extradition since his diagnosis, and his case is now receiving a lot of media coverage: you may have seen the Daily Mail campaign in support of Gary in today's paper. Both the media interest and the petition are powerful tools for showing the strength of support that Gary has, so thank you for your help.

Best wishes,

Matthew Downie
Campaigns Manager

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Message From the Cued Speech Association

We are delighted to promote a cued speech Foundation Course at Lincoln Bailgate Methodist Church 9th October. The course coordinator is being run by our good friend Emma Smith and the training itself is absolutely inspirational to anybody living or working with the hearing impaired. Anybody interested should contact Emma:
01522 851169
For more information on Cued Speech please go to:

Sunday, 21 June 2009

ASD and ADHD Events Online Now

We now have next terms ASD and ADHD events online at:

To book on one of these courses please go to:

Nothing in your area? Let us know and we'll put something together for you.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

UK Schools Should Take Note of the Following Before Blanket Banning Technology

iPhone applications can help the autistic

Leslie Clark and her husband have been trying to communicate with their autistic 7-year-old son, JW, for years, but until last month, the closest they got was rudimentary sign language.
He's "a little bit of a mini-genius," Clark says, but like many autistic children, JW doesn't speak at all.
Desperate to communicate with him, she considered buying a specialized device like the ones at his elementary school in Lincoln, Neb. But the text-to-speech machines are huge, heavy and expensive; a few go for $8,000 to $10,000.
Then a teacher told her about a new application that a researcher had developed for, of all things, the iPhone and iPod Touch. Clark drove to the local Best Buy and picked up a Touch, then downloaded the "app" from iTunes: Total cost: about $500.
A month later, JW goes everywhere with the slick touch-screen mp3 player strapped to his arm. It lets him touch icons that voice basic comments or questions, such as, "I want Grandma's cookies" or "I'm angry — here's why." He uses his "talker" to communicate with everyone — including his service dog, Roscoe, who listens to voice commands through the tiny speakers.
It's a largely untold story of Apple's popular audio devices.
It is not known how many specialized apps are out there, but Apple touts a handful on iTunes, among them ones that help users do American Sign Language and others like Proloquo2Go, which helps JW speak.
The app also aids children and adults with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and Lou Gehrig's Disease, or ALS — even stroke patients who have lost the ability to speak, says its co-developer, Penn State doctoral student Samuel Sennott.
Using the iPhone and Touch allows developers to democratize a system that has relied on devices that were too expensive or difficult to customize, Sennott says. "I love people being able to get it at Best Buy," he says. "That's just a dream."
He also says that for an autistic child, the ability to whip out an iPhone and talk to friends brings "this very hard-to-quantify cool factor."
Sennott won't give out sales figures for the $149.99 app but says they're "extremely brisk."
Ronald Leaf, director of Autism Partnership, a private California-based agency, says he prefers to help autistic children such as JW learn how to navigate their world without gadgets. "If we could get children to talk without using technology, that would be our preference," he says.
Clark says the app has changed her son's life.
"He's actually communicating," she says. "It's nice to see what's going on in his head." Among the revelations of the past month: She now knows JW's favorite restaurant. "I get to spend at least every other day at the Chinese buffet."
By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY

Saturday, 23 May 2009


Eight Countries Unite to Raise Awareness and to Send a Message of Hope

National Missing Children’s Day has been commemorated in the United States every May 25th since 1983. In recognition of the fact that the issue of missing children is complex, multifaceted, and global, in recent years other countries have begun observing May 25th as a national day for missing children as well. This has led to what has come to be known as International Missing Children’s Day, a special day set aside to encourage the public to think about and remember all the children who have gone missing around the world.

This year, for the first time ever, eight countries from four continents are joining with the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC) to mark International Missing Children’s Day by raising awareness of the issue of missing children and spreading a message of hope and solidarity to parents, family members, and loved ones of missing children. These eight countries – Australia, Brazil, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Romania, South Africa, and the United Kingdom – are all members of ICMEC’s Global Missing Children’s Network, a resource comprised of a central, Internet-based multilingual database featuring information about and photographs of missing children from around the world.

Each of the eight participating countries is commemorating International Missing Children’s Day with national events, including showing a jointly-developed public service announcement and profiling cases of missing children from around the world on balloons in the hopes the children will be recognized and brought home. A similar balloon launch in South Africa in 2007 resulted in the recovery of a missing child.

“It is wonderful to see different countries coming together with ICMEC to build a global movement to help protect those who are the most vulnerable,” stated Nancy Dube, ICMEC Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. “Today is a reaffirmation of the commitment each of these countries has made to keeping children safer and to reuniting missing children with their loved ones. Together, we will find them.”

Participating countries will be displaying and / or releasing balloons displaying missing children photo and details on May 25th in their respective country. An awareness video was produced with the assistance of Australian Federal Police. To view the video please visit our YouTube Channel “Don’t You Forget About Me”.

Caroline Humer

Program Manager


Thursday, 21 May 2009

Please Help Gary McKinnon

Time is running out...

Dear Supporter,

My name is Janis and I am Gary McKinnon's mum. My son has Asperger syndrome and is facing extradition to the United States for hacking into American military computers, where he could be placed in a maximum-security prison for up to 70 years.

Gary's late diagnosis of Asperger syndrome explains much of his unusual behaviour and the irrational fears he has had since he was a child. My son's actions were intended as a voyage of discovery and he had no idea of the possible consequences of this, as no one has ever been extradited for computer misuse. If imprisoned in the United States, I know I would rarely see Gary, if at all, and the strain for him of being away from his family and familiar surroundings would be devastating. As I am in my sixties, it is doubtful if I would live to see my son free. Gary has always been terrified of travelling and as an adult never goes on holiday and has never left the UK. This may be part of the reason that he travelled in cyberspace.

Time is running out so I am urgently appealing to you to please take action with the NAS now by emailing your MP asking them to support my son. I'm not asking for special treatment for Gary, but simply that he has the right to be tried in his own country and - if convicted - be given a sentence proportionate to the crime. Gary needs to be where he can get the support he so desperately needs.

Many thanks and best wishes

Janis Sharp
Gary McKinnon's mum

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Challenging Behaviour

Behaviour: teachers can see the signs of violence

Murder in mind
Features | Published in TES Magazine on 15 May, 2009 | By: Nick Morrison


Teachers are particularly well placed to spot children at risk of becoming violent offenders. But what are the warning signs, and what can be done to halt the decline into criminality?

After his son’s murderer had been convicted, Barry Mizen said he had been struck by a remark made by the killer’s primary school teacher. The teacher, Mr Mizen told a press conference, said he was “not surprised” to hear that Jake Fahri had committed murder.

Tom Crispin feels he has been misquoted. As Fahri’s only male primary teacher, he says the comment must have come from him, although he has no recollection of making it. But he does remember talking about the boy he taught at a south London primary school more than a decade ago.

“I remember Jake Fahri well,” says Mr Crispin. “When people have asked me about him I have recounted the comment of a colleague in the staffroom all those years ago: ‘If you held him under water for 10 minutes, he would still come up smiling’. Such was the arrogance of the boy that no matter what sanction was imposed against him, it would have little or no effect.”

Arrogance, imperviousness to punishment, lack of remorse, all fit the classic description of a sociopath, an individual with little or no social emotions, or conscience. Such an absence can make sociopaths prone to antisocial behaviour, including violence and crime. Even at an early age, many of the signs are visible, so can teachers spot children who may go on to commit violent crime? And if so, can they do anything to stop their pupils turning into criminals?

Barry Mizen certainly feels his son’s killer could have been stopped. Fahri was convicted in March for the murder of 16-year-old Jimmy Mizen, killed during a fight in a bakery when Fahri threw a glass dish at him, which shattered and pierced his neck. For Fahri, the only exceptional aspect of the altercation was the consequences. His life up to then had been punctuated with violence. Any absence of surprise at his fate seems entirely understandable.

After John Ball Primary School in Blackheath, London, Fahri went to Crown Woods School in Eltham, where he is said to have bullied other pupils and attacked them in front of teachers. He was suspended, but by the time he was 16 he had three convictions for violence, although he escaped jail each time. “He could have been identified a long time ago,” Mr Mizen told the press conference.

Professor Sheilagh Hodgins, head of the forensic mental health science department at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, believes teachers are in a particularly good position to identify future offenders. “There is a very small number of individuals who commit between 50 and 70 per cent of all violent crimes, who show an early-onset pattern,” she says. “Teachers are well placed to spot them because they are good observers and they have this large reference group.”

But this doesn’t mean all children with similar behaviour problems become serial offenders. Professor Hodgins says research in this area has pinpointed some temperamental and neurological differences between those who go on to commit violent crimes and those who do not. These only become apparent through extensive testing and also only show likelihood rather than cause and effect. “You can’t pick out a three-year-old and say this is a future persistent offender,” she adds.

It will come as no surprise that the characteristics in question include an inability to follow rules, aggressive behaviour, bullying, disrupting lessons, inability to defer gratification and an extreme reaction when they don’t get what they want. The signs are often visible by reception age, says Professor Hodgins.

She argues there should be a more comprehensive use of tools to help teachers spot children at risk, and cites scoring systems used in some European countries, where children are marked on a range of factors including physical health and behaviour, as one option. “We need to get teachers to identify children with conduct problems as early as possible, and then carry out a more complete assessment of the child and their family,” she says.

Signs of possible future offending are likely to be routinely picked up by teachers, says Kairen Cullen, an educational psychologist based in London. It will usually be apparent when a child’s behaviour is impeding their development. A propensity to break rules is particularly apparent. “Schools are very rule-bound places so they’re an ideal barometer of how well children follow rules,” she says.

But while certain types of behaviour can indicate a propensity for future violence, particularly where there is a family background of criminality, mental health problems or drug use, there is a danger in assuming this will add up to an offender in the making. Classifying a young person as a potential criminal could end up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, as they live up to other people’s low expectations of them.

“It is a challenge for schools not to use this as evidence against a child,” Ms Cullen says. “Obviously they’re more vulnerable, often because some of the adult norms are not available, but there are so many other factors. It is a nonsense to make long-term predictions - it is too complex a situation and there are too many variables.”

She says how a child develops depends on their character traits and environment, and the interaction between the two. “We can’t predict how many opportunities and temptations might be waiting for each individual.”

While many children who become violent criminals fit this stereotype, others do not. Robert Thompson and Jon Venables both had troubled home lives and chequered school careers, but were not considered potentially violent by their teachers, although Venables once tried to choke another boy with a ruler. Thompson was a regular truant, but when he did attend school he was viewed as manipulative rather than a troublemaker. Venables was referred to an educational psychologist after he banged his head against a wall, cut himself with scissors and tore at his own clothing. There was little in their background to suggest the 10-year-olds were capable of serious violence against others, until they abducted and murdered two-year-old James Bulger in Liverpool in 1993.

There will always be exceptions, but many teachers do feel it is possible to spot future criminals nonetheless. “Absolutely you can tell, sometimes from the minute they come into secondary school in Year 7,” says Jo Shuter, headteacher at Quintin Kynaston School in north London.

O ne of the first signs is lack of academic progress, suggesting family or health issues are creating a barrier to learning, as well as disruptive behaviour. “Children aren’t badly behaved for the sake of it,” says Ms Shuter, a former Teaching Awards headteacher of the year. “For most young people, disaffection is a sign of some underlying problem.”

She cites two former pupils who have recently been jailed for violent offences, one for armed robbery, the other for assault. Teachers identified both girls as potentially at risk of committing offences, but both were regular truants, and not in school often enough for any interventions to make much difference. “We knew they might be in trouble with the police. We tried everything, but we couldn’t hang on to them. It is not surprising that both ended up in prison at one time or another.”

James Williams, a lecturer in education at the University of Sussex, recalls a pupil from his days as a science teacher at a north London secondary, whose schooldays were studded by attacks on staff. “It came as no surprise when he was constantly in trouble with police,” he says. “It was not difficult to spot.”

He says some children have certain traits, such as maintaining a lie in the face of overwhelming evidence, challenging authority, and aggressive behaviour, that, while not always translating into criminal behaviour, make it less unexpected.

But if experts believe it is so easy to identify many of the children who will go on to commit violent crime, why can’t teachers do more to intervene? Professor Hodgins says there already exist interventions that have a high success rate; the key is early identification.

Programmes with a proven success rate include mentoring schemes, peer support, group work and one-to-one counselling. A range of schemes address a child’s life outside school, such as parenting classes. “They don’t cure every child, but they have a very positive effect,” she says. “Everything suggests that the earlier you intervene the greater the success.”

Getting children on to these programmes is not always easy, however. “The biggest problem is sometimes not so much dealing with the children, as dealing with the parents,” says Mr Williams.

He says parents can often be obstructive. They may not want to admit that there is anything wrong; they may see such schemes as casting doubt on their ability as a parent; they may have a deep-seated suspicion of social services; they may themselves have had a bad experience at school and are reluctant to co-operate.

Sometimes parents don’t know there is a problem. Robin Wilson, head of a school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, is working with a Year 8 pupil whose mother is unaware of what her son gets up to in the evenings.

“Without some significant intervention he will go down the criminal route and he is likely to be quite violent. Mum thinks there’s never a problem, but there’s never a problem because he is never at home. We’re working with the young man as best we can but we’re struggling because he will just abscond.”

Mr Wilson says lack of co-operation on the part of the parent or the young person is the biggest obstacle to a successful intervention. “There are agencies that can work effectively, but by and large it has got to be done with consent,” he says.

“The services are there, the schools are there and where there is consent there is an opportunity for it to work successfully.” Lack of consent can also be an issue when drugs are involved. If the young person doesn’t want to stop taking drugs, teachers can do little to change their minds.

Mr Wilson has seen the consequences when pupils at his school, Woodlands in Shropshire, fail to take advantage of the support available. A former pupil was recently jailed for pushing a glass into someone’s face, his second conviction for violence. The boy’s school career had given every indication that he would spend time in prison. “He used anger and threats to avoid the consequences of his actions, he was not communicating with his family and he had low self-esteem, which manifested itself as violent conduct,” Mr Wilson says.

A combination of attitudes and social circumstances can be a pretty good predictor of future behaviour, he adds. Predispositions are important, but the influence of the young person’s environment, particularly their home life, but also their involvement with other young people, is crucial. “You can often see when a young person’s prospects can be pretty grim unless there is a significant intervention. You can see them committing crimes, some of which could be quite serious,” he adds.

Where interventions do take place, however, they can prove effective, even if they have to be repeated. The behaviour of one pupil at Woodlands, who has ADHD and is on the autistic spectrum, markedly improved after he went on an anger management course and become involved with youth workers. His parents also went on a parenting programme. Recently his behaviour has started to deteriorate. “It is a case of doing it all again,” says Mr Wilson.

The most important factor in determining whether a particular intervention works is the relationship between the young person and the adult working with them, according to Andy Winton, president of the National Association of Social Workers in Education. “If you have a good relationship with the young person, you will be able to challenge them in a way that makes them think,” he says. “They will only listen to you when they feel they want to listen.”

He says that where children identified as at risk go on to commit serious crimes, it is often because they have not been reached early enough, or the chosen programme did not meet their needs. “It can be difficult to find the right intervention for the child, but where they are delivered well they are very effective.”

We may know what works, but that doesn’t stop new initiatives being put forward, he says. Inevitably, it is the new initiatives that tend to attract the most resources. “We have initiative overload and sometimes you end up saying, ‘This month I can offer this approach’. We already have a lot of brilliant stuff and we need to stop coming up with bright ideas,” Mr Winton adds.

But getting hold of these services is not always straightforward. Mike Welsh, head of Goddard Park Primary in Swindon, says schools often struggle to get specialist support for children, particularly in areas of mental health. “We identify children who might go on to be either victims or aggressors, but we don’t necessarily get appropriate help,” he says.

He suggests that, perversely, there are often more options for children with lower-level difficulties than for those with more serious problems. “We only touch the surface for children who have mental health issues,” he says. “We don’t get specific, targeted support for children at the sharp end.”

Children who do not fit neatly into a particular category can also find it harder to get help, adds Mr Welsh, a member of the national council of the National Association of Head Teachers. “Sometimes a child has clear needs, but if there isn’t a label for them they go into mainstream without adequate support and you are concerned about what will happen to them and to other children.”

Resources are also a key issue for Ms Shuter at Quintin Kynaston. She says schools can only deal with the tip of the iceberg when it comes to children who need help. “If we made the resources available at an early age we could significantly reduce the amount we spend on the prison system,” she says.

Schools are being increasingly expected to bring up children, she says, but scarce resources are forcing them to prioritise. “Often we’re replacing or compensating for parenting, and if we had more resources we could get to more of these young people.”

More resources, more awareness, fewer initiatives getting in the way. It may not be possible to reach every child; not every child may be willing to be reached, but you don’t have to look far to see what happens when we fail to spot the signs.

Astoundingly Outdated Practice

Online social networking sites may well be a lifeline to communication and socialisation for many learners, yet they are banned them from using them in many schools and even some colleges. When are those who judge what is safe/unsafe going to realise that cencorship in this area is damaging to learners? See following article:

People First Can Provide Training for All Educators (including Ofsted) Working with Deaf Learners

Ofsted told it fails deaf children
Published in The TES on 15 May, 2009 | By: Richard Vaughan


Charities angered by news that just four inspectors are trained in hearing impairment

Deaf charities have severely criticised Ofsted after learning that only four of its inspectors have the required training to judge whether a school is providing the best care for hearing-impaired pupils.

The Royal National Institute for Deaf People and the National Deaf Children's Society said the watchdog is not doing enough to improve provision for children with hearing difficulties. They also criticised the inspectorate for giving a an overly positive impression of the standard of special needs provision in schools.

Brian Lamb, the institute's executive director on policy who is conducting a review of special needs in schools for the Government to be published in September, said there were "long-standing concerns" about the role of Ofsted inspectors and the provision for deaf children.

"There is a list of worries when it comes to inspectors who would not be in a good position to give an informed view of specialist provision for deaf children," he said. "There have been instances where they have said provision is good, but this does not match up with the parents' view, which is a major worry."

Mr Lamb said Ofsted had become more aware of the issue, but it needed to employ more inspectors with the appropriate training.

Brian Gale, director of policy and campaigns at the NDCS, said his society had examples that showed Ofsted was not conducting inspections with "rigour and awareness". He echoed Mr Lamb's concerns that the watchdog was giving the wrong impression.

"Four inspectors is a very low number," he said. "We want to know that when an inspection is being carried out, does the inspector have the knowledge and experience to know what best practice is? We have evidence of an inspector giving a school a 'good' rating for its deaf provision only for the headteacher having to intervene because she felt it did not provide an accurate picture to prospective parents."

The institute cited a 2008 Ofsted report on a London primary which stated that children in the school's unit for deaf pupils "progress well" because they are supported by "highly experienced staff". But an independent investigation showed the unit did not have anyone in charge qualified to deal with deaf pupils, or who was even a teacher.

According to the institute, the inadequacy of the unit was known to the local authority and came to light in a subsequent tribunal.

The society said the skewed picture of SEN provision added to the gap in attainment between deaf children and those without special needs. It also said deaf children are 42 per cent less likely to achieve the Government's benchmark of five high grades at GCSE.

A spokesperson for Ofsted said: "Whenever Ofsted schedules an inspection, it arranges with the inspection contractor to ensure that the team of additional inspectors has the specialism appropriate for the school concerned, drawing from a pool of nearly 2,000 available inspectors. These include inspectors skilled in a variety of special educational needs, including working with the deaf. There are 200 HMIs employed directly by Ofsted, of whom four are particularly skilled in issues relating to the education of deaf children."

How they fare

- Three babies are born deaf every day: 90 per cent of deaf children are born to hearing parents with little experience of deafness.

- Of 35,000 deaf children in the UK, 80 per cent attend mainstream schools.

- There are 22 special schools for deaf children in England - NDCS

12 per cent of deaf children attend special schools (more than 4,200 pupils in total). School Census 2007.

- In 2007, deaf children in England were 42 per cent less likely to achieve five high-grade GCSEs than their hearing contemporaries. Only 33 per cent of deaf children achieved this benchmark compared with 57 per cent of 16-year-olds nationally. - DCSF.

On the Other Hand, People First Education SEN training events are established, flexible, informed, regular and relevant.

The following article appeared in the TES on Friday:

Is standard training for Sencos stumbling on the starting block?

Courses for SEN specialists begin in September, but there are already signs of trouble. Kerra Maddern reports

It has been more than 30 years since pupils with special needs began to be widely accepted in mainstream classrooms, yet the role of Sencos has long been hard to pin down.

In recent years, there have been signs that this is set to change, with proposals for new qualifications to formalise precisely what Sencos should know and do.

But the courses, which are due to get under way this September and will be compulsory for all new Sencos, are far from settled and are even troubled.

The courses have been set up to address serious concerns about the perceived "low status" of Sencos and to raise the profile of special needs and disabilities in schools.

Many issues are still to be resolved, including who will run them - for example, course and contact details will not be distributed until June, a very late stage in the school year. This tight timescale means Sencos in some areas will not be able to begin the course until January, or even September 2010.

And it will be available free only to newly appointed Sencos. Those experienced in the job who want to study will have to pay the fees themselves, and there is only enough funding to provide 10 days' cover for participants. The economic downturn and its effect on public finances mean it is unlikely that the money will be found to make the course free for more teachers.

The role of Sencos was only formally established in 1994. While the idea of standardised training was first mooted by a Commons education and skills select committee in 2006, draft proposals for the new course were completed only last summer. Even the Training and Development Agency for Schools, which is developing the course, says there are concerns about the speed of its introduction.

Phil Snell, responsible for the agency's SEN and disabilities programmes, said: "We know there are significant issues in respect of timing. Ministers were keen for it to start this September, but there are concerns about this providing enough time for schools. We also know there are concerns about the training being restricted to those new in the role."

Speaking at a Senco conference, Mr Snell said he hoped the extra training would help Sencos to lead others rather than taking on extra tasks themselves.

The course will be held online and is meant to take a year part-time. Modules will earn students credits that can be used in masters courses.

"What's important is there is maximum flexibility of access and that accreditation doesn't take teachers away from the classroom, and some schools have applied to be training providers," Mr Snell said.

"But rigorous quality assurance must be met because we want consistency."

Training providers will face regular inspections by both the TDA and Ofsted.

Mr Snell wants the new generation of Sencos to challenge other staff who do not recognise their responsibilities towards children with special needs, and to monitor pupils' progress more closely.

The Government will agree funding arrangements this autumn and the deadline for bids from prospective training providers was last week.

The select committee's July 2006 report also recommended that all Sencos should be qualified teachers, in a senior management position and appropriately trained. If the Senco is not a headteacher, assistant or deputy head, another member of the senior management team should be made a "champion" of SEN and disability issues.

Until the Education and Inspections Act 2006, there was no legal requirement for schools to have a Senco, nor for the co-ordinators to be trained teachers.

The first Senco training run by universities began in 1997-98 when six were given permission by the then Teacher Training Agency to run the courses.

It has proven popular, but many Sencos have been unable to train because of the cost and time involved. Sir Alan Steer, the Government's behaviour "tsar" has recommended better SEN training for teachers.

Pearl Barnes, vice-president of NASEN, the national special needs organisation, said she hoped the training would help to improve the variable provision for SEN pupils across the country.

"You have a lot of good schools and local authorities and some who aren't so good, and we hope this will universally improve the quality of teaching for children with special educational needs," she said.

"According to a study by Leeds University, 50 per cent of Sencos are due to retire soon, so although this training is only mandatory for those new to the post, in the long term it will make a big difference.

"We can't understand why the introduction of this training has taken so long. It was recommended when the code of practice for SEN was revised in 2001, and nothing had been done in 2004."

Lecturers at Northampton University, which runs Senco modules as part of its MA in education, will bid to run the new nationally accredited training.

Barry Groom, who teaches the courses, said he hoped they would serve to "underpin" the importance of Sencos' role in schools.

"We hope it will bring their work into sharper focus, especially now when 20 per cent of pupils have SEN and the skills and knowledge required by teachers becomes ever more specialist," he said.

Mr Groom, a former special school head and SEN adviser, runs the classes at the university and in the surrounding areas of Milton Keynes and Bedfordshire to make it easier for teachers to attend.

"The feedback from teachers is that it helps their confidence and I think the fact that legislation will give a boost to these kind of courses is fantastic," he said.

"Many people come on the courses because they hope to become Sencos in the future. It's a really tough job, but at the moment Sencos are usually only allowed on courses when it fits in with the school's development. They often can't spare the time out of the classroom either."

Mr Groom says he is likely to adjust his existing course so it meets the TDA criteria.

Most people recognise, however, that the problems of Sencos are broader than of training. For example, a recent survey by NASEN showed that most Sencos devote up to 12 hours a week to their role, while 60 per cent said they had a much lower budget for their work than they needed.

It is far from clear whether the new qualification will be able to resolve these problems. In fact, it may just make them worse.