Understanding Differentness

This is a superb video that very sensitively helps children (and others) to gain insights in to autism, its impacts on those who have it and in a broader sense helps them to develop their sense of otherness, differentness and empathy. it's only as we develop the ability to step in to another's shoes that we truly can be empathic and welcome differentness.


New Perspective on ADHD?

For quite a few years there have been people ready to at least hint that all might not be healthy around the issue of ADHD. Concerns have arisen about how the condition came in to existence, was recognised formally, how the pharmaceutical industry mad it a point to emphasise that this was a condition meriting long term treatment with powerful medicines and how it came to be diagnosed so readily that in some parts of the US one in eight children have had this label put on them.

When i talk about those who hinted that all was not well, one prominent person who immediately comes to mind is Dr Ken Robinson. For a long time he’s been questioning whether all is well, though prefacing most of his comments with a statement that he’s not qualified to say that ADHD doesn’t exist. People like robinson have to be very careful indeed. many have taken on the vested interests of the pharmaceutical industry and found that they paid a heavy price. For someone like him, discovering that routes to get his messages out about the needs for change in education would be a price too high to pay.

So, it struck me very forcefully when i saw that someone very prominent in the psychology field has now broken ranks and dared to come out and say just that – he doesn’t believe ADHD exists!

Power of Positivity – Harvard Psychologist Reveals ADHD Doesn’t Really Exist
(Click on the link above to read the article)

As you read the article, it’s very clear that Kagan isn’t just making a point about ADHD alone, but about the general pattern of over-diagnosis in the mental health profession that is having a devastating effect on too many people’s lives. Not every symptom is a reason for a diagnosis. He advocates for more time to be spent investigating causes.

In a school environment, I have often seen that it’s way too easy for the professional child carers to look for a simple diagnosis that can be dealt with when that’s what all the parties concerned are looking for. The parents want an answer for why their child is how they are (and why they’re different to other children) and the educators often want the child to comply more with norms so that educating in the classroom is made more consistent). In these circumstances, to explore causes means to unpick and expose all sorts of issues about the family, how they live, the patterns of their days and their interpersonal relationships, their communication, their routines (or lack of), their habits, their diet. Often, this is not what sits comfortably with the parents – with all the implications that they might have to take some responsibility for what’s happening with their child. Inadvertently, or otherwise, their actions may be at the root of their child’s problems. And who wants to be the professional taking parents down that route when the alternative is to tell them their child has a condition, common in their environment, and that it can be dealt with with an appropriate pharmacological solution.

We see in the article that Kagan has already come under attack for daring to speak out, and has been forced on to the defensive. The power of big pharma and entrenched attitudes are powerful indeed. His request that ‘we search a little deeper’ before diagnosing children is a perfectly reasonable one. However, I’m left feeling that as it’s not in the best interests of those concerned – the parents or the professionals, it’s not likely to change any time soon.

Technology Changes for 2016-17

We live in an age with technology change happening at an ever increasing rate. We only need to think how few years it has taken for smart phones to become such an integral part of our daily lives to know that this pace of change is not going to slow down.

In my growing up years (a very long time ago now!) probably the biggest technology changes happening were quite significant, though we didn’t always realise it at the time. Cars became available to a much broader mass market. I’m pretty sure my father was the first person in either his or my mother’s family to own a car. This suddenly brought a whole new level of mobility in to our lives that had never been imagined previously. Second, TV became ‘mass market’. It was black and white, and in England had only three channels. It didn’t broadcast 24 hours a day like it does now, but used to close down at night with the national anthem. I think I’m right that it used to close down for a few hours in the morning and a couple of hours in mid afternoon as well. Nevertheless, it brought enormous changes in how families entertained themselves. The final one that sticks in my mind is the first computer games consols – one game (a simple form of tennis) where you either played against the computer or an opponent. It plugged in to the TV, so as soon as anyone wanted to watch something, you had to stop playing. None of us then knew what all this was the prelude to.

For the children who are growing up now, the technology really defines many of their life experiences both now and in the future. As a result, these things should matter and be of more than passing interest for us as educators. After all, it’s a future that we’ve committed to preparing children and young people for.

I’m always interested in expert predictions of what are going to be the ‘next big things’, especially when they come from people with a good record of past predictions. So, I was very interested to read this article that sets out the likely big tech trends for 2016;

11 Tech Trends That Will Define 2016
(Click on the link above to read the article)

The prediction about use of Artificial Intelligence to support the learning of special needs students is especially fascinating and makes a great deal of sense. It could be enormously powerful.

Inspiring Teaching

This Teacher Gives Compliments to Every Student, Every Morning (WATCH):

Ten minutes a day.  Not the issue, to show we care about children and build their self esteem.

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Diversity Understood

This charismatic young boy, just 9 years old demonstrates such a wonderful, fresh perception about life, about diversity, about what it means to work with what we’ve got and minimise the impact of our shortcomings.

He also shows the wonderful impact of great coaching, teaching and guidance – he didn’t come to think like this by accident !!

Ellen Jumps To Her Feet After Hearing This 9-Year-Old’s Advice. Wow. – InspireMore.

(Click on the link above to open the page and see this highly motivational short video)

Children With Autism and ASDs in School

I have a relative with mild Asperger’s. I’m not sure i can ever really know what that means in terms of how it changes life experiences. Over the last 10 years or so I’ve had a number of occasions when I and colleagues have needed to wrestle with complex issues about whether or not our schools could meet the education needs of a particular child either diagnosed with Autism or an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

It’s always seemed to me that when a child is diagnosed with a learning challenge like ADHD or Dyslexia and the diagnosis suggests ‘mild or mild to moderate’ the prognosis was usually good that we would be able to find the right strategies to provide the child with appropriate support so that they could function, learn and flourish in a mainstream classroom and the day to day hurly-burly of a conventional school environment. However, time after time my experience has been that our ability to meet the needs of children with Autism or ASDs remained disappointing more often than not. This raised difficult questions both about our ability to meet the needs of that child and also the price to be paid by other children.

I recently came across this fascinating insight – 5 youtube videos brought together by Mashable, in which young people with ASDs have attempted to share their experience with a wider audience, to help the rest of us to get some glimmer of understanding about how they experience the world.

Mashable – 5 Autism Simulations

For me, after watching these 5 short videos the experience was quite a disturbing one. Firstly, I felt that anyone (but especially educators) who spends any time in proximity with those with ASDs should experience these videos. It also left me with disturbing questions about whether our conventional schools, as they exist today, can ever be anything other than a place of torture and extreme stress for the person with an ASD.

The conventional school today is a place with rigid time structured activities where all children in a cohort group are to do the same thing, at the same time, in the same place in the same way. There is little scope for real flexibility. Periods of ‘suppression’ and ‘control’ are interspersed with periods when the children’s natural exuberance is allowed full and free expression – meaning they can be very noisy places.

One of the biggest changes in the modern primary classroom over the last 30-40 years is that it’s become much more colourful. There’s an automatic assumption amongst educators that this is a good thing, but after watching these videos one has to conclude it’s almost certainly a bad thing for a child with an ASD. This simply contributes to more sensory overload.

On other change we’ve seen in most Primary Schools is the teachers being more ‘tactile’ with children as part of a more sensitive, nurturing style. However, again I can see that this may not be a good thing for the child with ASD.

In the end, are we to conclude that the school today is a bad place for children living with autism, or do we take this as a wake up call to find the ways to bring changes in to the school/ classroom environment so that they can be more conducive places for such children? Is this practically possible?

Hand in Hand

A well made short film about an Institute in Mumbai doing amazing and inspiring work with the dead and blind deaf, the Helen Keller Institute for Deaf and Deaf Blind.

They are doing really inspiring work;