Ciaran teaches in a primary school in Ireland. He qualified three years ago. He tells the story of one of his pupils whose behaviour is particularly challenging:
“Last year I had a class of nine and ten year olds. One of the boys, Niall, had cerebral palsy. That was tricky enough to deal with, as I had never really come across anyone with that before, and we had learnt nothing about it during my teacher training. There just wasn’t time as I did a one year postgrad course. Anyway, I quickly learnt that Niall was very bright but was also very cheeky and manipulative.
He was very quick to make nasty comments to his peers and even tripped up one of the other boys in his class as he went past. I found this really hard to deal with. I think I expected Niall to be the victim of bullying in the class, but in this case he was actually the perpetrator. I felt that I was tiptoeing aroung Niall a lot at the start because I didn’t want to be accused of picking on him. That would have been taken very badly. So for the first few weeks of the year, I did very little to tackle his behaviour, to be honest with you. After half-term, though, there was an incident when Niall said some pretty nasty things to one of the boys who would be very weak academically. You know, calling him “stupid” and “thick” and so on. I knew I needed to act, and so I did…”
Questions for reflection:
- What makes Ciaran’s experience particularly challenging?
- What insight does this give into the nature of bullying in schools, especially in relation to special educational needs/disabilities?
- What would you have done in Ciaran’s situation? Why?
If you have a pupil in your class who has medical needs then it is important that you have a thorough knowledge of the school’s policy on administration of medicines or aid. Adherence to this is vital. You might like to take your Union’s advice on this.
Even if the school policy does not normally allow teachers to administer medical aid, there may be occasions, either emergencies or on outings etc. when you may have to be responsible for a pupil’s medical needs.
If you are required to administer medical aid of any kind it is important to talk to parents and get full written details of dosage, procedure etc.
Some emergencies you might have to deal with:
People with Noonan Syndrome are often characterised by short stature and as having heart problems. Children with the condition are likely to have mental, physical and behavioural problems. Sometimes they don’t like noise and can easily get disturbed by large crowds .There can be a tendency to irrational outbursts when he/she can turn very white and can be physically violent even in extreme cases where physical restraint is necessary.
We have probably all known or heard of children falling asleep in class. This has often resulted in jokes and sarcasm by teachers and others but some children may genuinely not be able to stop themselves. Narcolepsy is a disorder of the sleeping/waking mechanism in the brain.
When the pupil falls asleep the priority is to ensure his safety. This may involve moving him if he has fallen asleep in a corridor etc. Where possible he should not be wakened but if the ‘nap’ goes on for a very long time, e.g. more than an hour, then it may be necessary to get medical help. For safety reasons it may be necessary to disapply pupil from swimming.
NHS Choices – Narcolepsy
A Guide for Understanding
This condition can be so severe that some pupils can miss up to a few years of schooling. Their return is likely to be on a part-time basis and there is always concern about how they can be helped to adapt to school life again and how to cope with the curriculum, particularly if they are facing national exams.
If coursework is required it may be possible for the pupils to use a tape recorder to dictate ideas which could be typed up by a parent, classroom assistant or other appropriate adult. A speech to text program could also be used or if the pupil is able a word processor with a predictive text option which would cut down the number of key strokes necessary. It might also be possible to provide writing frames using a piece of software such as Clicker or wordbar.
This is a condition which causes fingers, feet, noses or ears to go blue when a person is cold or emotionally upset. It can be quite difficult to accomodate the needs of the person with Raynauds within a school environment when there are other pupils who may feel too hot. Things to consider are the seating placement of the pupil; ensure that he or she does not sit near an open window. In winter it may even be necessary to provide a portable heater which can provide a near source of heat for a pupil who may need it.
It may be necessary for the pupil to carry a note explaining the need for him/her to be seated near to a radiator. It may be necessary to adjust the school uniform regulations to allow him or her to wear gloves or thick socks.
- Accept the student “as is.” The tic is not deliberate nor an attempt to get attention or disrupt the class. Similarly, other behaviour that is not related should not be excused.
- Observe and record behaviour on both a short and long term basis.
- If it is acceptable to parents and the student, explain to the class what Tourette’s syndrome is.
- Maintain the same expectations for the student as for the rest of the class. A student with Tourette syndrome may sometimes need extra time for assignments or a separate room for tests. The student may have a compulsive ritual, such as setting out materials in a certain order, before beginning an assignment.
- Use the “buddy” system to help the student overcome difficulties as they arise. A “buddy” is a responsible student who may assist with copying notes, reading, etc.
- help the student through stressful experiences. Explain in advance what is expected, particularly in timed activities.
- Give instruction in stages. Too many items to be remembered at one time cause extra stress.
- Use tape recorders, typewriters or computers for reading and writing problems and untimed exams, in a private room if vocal tics are a problem
- Allow the student to leave the room whenever the tic becomes overwhelming. If possible provide a “safe place” where the expression of the tic will be less noticeable
- Give positive and immediate feedback for a task well done or a social situation handled well. With so much of their behaviour socially unacceptable, these students need to know when they are doing well
- Seat the student, with mutual understanding and agreement, near the back of the room. Older students should seat themselves wherever they feel most comfortable. This not only allows for leaving if necessary, but is less disruptive
- Establish a classroom atmosphere which is tolerant and accepting. It is important that the teacher serve as a role model for the students in promoting understanding
Explaining Tourette’s Syndrome – an idea
- Do not leave pupils with epilepsy out of any activity unless they have been medically restricted – even non-educational activities are covered by the Disability Discrimination Act.
- Although a very small minority of pupils with epilepsy are photosensitive and might be affected by computer screens, this is not a reason to exclude all pupils with epilepsy from computer use.
- Some children with epilepsy can be more susceptible to fits if they encounter flashing/flickering lights – for this reason make sure they do not sit too close to the television.
- If a child with epilepsy is swimming he/she should be kept under close supervision from the side and a qualified First Aider should be present.
- Pupils with epilepsy may be more likely to have difficulties with mathematics and reading and extra help may be required.
- A buddy system is a great help especially with older children. All staff should know what to do. Most older pupils usually know seizure is about to happen, so they should immediately be excused from class and with 2 buddies gets to First Aider or First Aid room with bed. Buddies make pupil safe and one will inform First Aider, who will come and be present, ring Mum if medication is necessary because pupil will not come out of seizure, and ambulance if seizure continues. Buddies are great because they remind the teacher what to do if teacher has never encountered it before. In the event of seizure coming unexpectedly, staff should offer pupil privacy of cupboard, store room or side of classroom and move other pupils away.
- With a young child make sure all adults who are in contact with him/her know that she/he should not be eating flour products. It might be a good idea for schools only to allow eating in certain supervised areas.
- Have some gluten-free biscuits handy in case he/she forgets his break.
- Use science and other aspects of the curriculum to teach pupils to look at the labels of food packages. Discuss what each type of food does to your body and your health.
- Use cartoons/videos/websites to explain to class what coeliac disease is.
- Have a cake making session where you use gluten-free products. Include a visit to the supermarket to find suitable products.
- If you’re on a school trip/residential where meals are to be provided, let the caterers know in advance of pupils with special requirements. If necessary, ask parents to send a written list of foods not suitable.
Although there is considerable variation among individual children, the most common educational implications for children with Down’s Syndrome are as follows:
- Strong visual awareness and visual learning skills
- Desire and ability to learn from peers
- Delayed gross and fine motor skills (with subsequent difficulty with writing, using scissors etc)
- Hearing and visual impairment is common
- Speech and Language delay affecting comprehension and expression
- Poor short term auditory memory
- Short attention span.
Strategies for working with children with Down’s Syndrome
- Create an inclusive school/classroom climate. Given the growing number of children with Down’s Syndrome now in mainstream schools, it is fundamentally important that there is a positive attitude towards Down’s Syndrome and other special educational needs throughout the school community. Recent research has stressed that inclusion should be less about the physical location of the child (whether in mainstream or special education) and more about the degree to which the child is socially integrated in their educational context. As Warnock herself noted in 2005, for many children with special educational needs, inclusion is too often experienced as a “painful form of exclusion”.
- Liaise closely with parents. Many special schools operate a home/school diary system where parents and teachers are able to note down information and report on progress on a daily basis. This is less frequently seen in mainstream schools but represents a valuable and very convenient way of sharing information regularly with those who know the children best.
- Refer closely to the child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP). All children with Down’s Syndrome will have an IEP and it is a teacher’s responsibility to be aware of the targets set for the individual child and to adapt their teaching to reduce the barriers to learning experienced by the child. The IEP should be reviewed on a regular basis and the classroom teacher should be given every opportunity to take part in the review of any targets set.
- Use classroom assistants effectively. Too often classroom assistants are under-utilised by busy classroom teachers. The classroom assistant should act as the bridge between the child and the curriculum but also between the child and the teacher through liaison and regular communication. With the support of a classroom assistant a child with Down’s Syndrome should be able to learn alongside their peers, and should be given every opportunity to form meaningful friendships with peers, free (where possible) of adult interference. The aim of the work of the classroom assistant should be to promote an appropriate level of working independence for the child with Down’s Syndrome.
- Promote language development. Often children with Down’s Syndrome will struggle especially in this area. Teachers should therefore place the child near the front of the classroom, speak directly and clearly to the pupil, and use simplified language accompanied by visual reinforcement where possible. Children with Down’s Syndrome will often enjoy reading but will struggle with writing due to their weak fine motor skills and low muscle tone.
- Don’t give up on numeracy. Children with Down’s Syndrome will often find the acquisition of numeracy skills particularly challenging and will be slow to acquire basic mathematical concepts such as same/different, classification, cardinal/ordinal and conservation. It is important to make lessons short and appealing, with an emphasis on numeracy in everyday contexts (such as using money). It is also important to consolidate and reinforce previous learning, with a concentration on basic skills and an understanding of basic mathematical language.
- Reinforce positive behaviour. The most common form of misbehaviour among children with Down’s Syndrome is behaviour which aims at gaining attention. There may however also be frustration arising from their inability to cope with the level of the work given to them in class. As a teacher, ensure that you give attention only when the child’s behaviour is appropriate and ensure too that the work planned for the child is at an appropriate level. Always have high behavioural expectations for the child with Down’s Syndrome (as per any child) and provide opportunities for the child to interact and develop friendships with peers, teaching them to share and take turns. There is often a degree of social immaturity but teachers should reinforce basic rules, especially at the start of the year when habits are formed.
Question for Cross-Border Discussion Forum.
What have been your experiences to date of working with children/young people with Down’s Syndrome in schools? What have been the challenges… and the opportunities?