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Anger Management Behaviour Management Inclusion parenting

4 Key Questions Before Using Break Cards

Using break cards can be a fantastic strategy if a child is having a true meltdown when faced with work or a situation that they feel is challenging, new or too demanding. The Break Card is a simple, easy-to-use strategy that allows a child to opt-out of a task for a short time before reengaging with the situation afterwards.

Although the concept sounds simple, I have made numerous mistakes over the years trying to implement it successfully. It is easy to fall into the trap of designing an attractive card, laminating and displaying it without ever really putting in the groundwork to ensure it is a success.

To avoid the mistakes I made, here are four questions you need to answer clearly before using a Break Card successfully:

Who will supervise their break?

A fundamental principle of a break card is that the teacher has to honour it as soon as the child asks for it. If the child is opting to take a break, the teacher cannot tell them to wait for five minutes or that they “may” get it later when someone returns to take them. The teacher cannot decide that the child does not need it. Ensure that a break is granted instantly if you are implementing this strategy. If you do not have an extra pair of hands in the room, create an area inside the classroom for taking a break.

What will they do on their break?

Distractions techniques work best as a break. This can be engaging with one of their special interests. It can be breathwork. Their break can entail some light or intense exercise. The idea of the break card is that it is a true break. Make it engaging and take their mind off the task that was agitating them so when they return, they have rid themselves of any negative emotions.

What changes after their break?

This is an area that needs attention also. The work that was presented before the break was a trigger. It will still be a trigger after the break so teachers need to make a change. We can reduce the difficulty of the task. We can reduce the quantity of work. We can change how it is presented. Perhaps a worksheet could be changed to a similar task on an iPad? We can make it look less scary. A good rule to keep in mind is the 80/20 rule for children who find task completion difficult. Keep the first 80% of the task easy and achievable before having the final 20% as the challenge.

How will I implement the Break Card?

Take the time to explicitly teach how to deal with a task or situation that is new, challenging or too demanding. Teach them to:

  1. Try a little.
  2. Ask to watch someone else do it or ask for help.
  3. Take a break.
  4. Try again.
  5. Make a deal or negotiate how much has to be done.

We need to teach this repeatedly. Remind the child of it. Before assigning them a task, ask them how they are going to try it. Reward them when they follow the steps. It is so important to teach this skillset and then constantly remind them and reinforce it before they become stressed at a task. We do not let them tantrum to get their break. We ensure they ask for it calmly. Constantly reinforcing them for attempting difficult tasks despite whether they get the right or wrong answers will help them overcome their trigger point. The break card can be a key step in this process if harnessed correctly.

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anxiety Inclusion parenting Special Education

Help Children With Autism Return to School

Anyone who sifts through social media will see an abundance of quotes and inspirational photos. I love the area of personal development and can’t get enough of podcasts, videos, articles and anything related to the area. One common thread running through all of them now is;

Control the controllables.”

Its a phrase that looks slick and is easy-to-remember. But what does it mean? How can we apply it at this very moment?

Children with autism are likely to be struggling with all the changes in routine and uncertainty of this pandemic. I wrote an article about the 9 essential questions that children with ASD like to know and as hard as we may have tried, it is impossible to give definitive answers to them as we ourselves can’t predict the future.

One thing we do know, however, is we will return to school. We don’t know when but we know we will. Talking to parents of children with autism, a common concern they have is about trying to get their children to return to school after the long lay off. How we try to smooth this transition is a definite controllable.

I suggest that schools prepare small stories for their children with autism (or any child they feel may struggle with a return to school) and aim to answer as many of the nine questions as possible. These include:

  1. Where do I have to be?
  2. Who will I be with?
  3. Where exactly in the place will I be?
  4. What will be happening there?
  5. How much will I have to do there?
  6. How will I know when I have finished?
  7. What will I be doing next?
  8. What is the expected behaviour?
  9. What if? (questions guided by the child and their concerns)

It should be relatively easy to find out where their classroom will be and who the teacher will be in the next few weeks. Their favourite school activities can be included. The month (or date) of return can be included. The times that school starts at and finishes at can be included. The story can be made in conjunction with the parents to answer questions worrying them and start a conversation about returning to school. With this made and distributed to parents, they can start to read it with their child in the weeks leading up to a return. Each page should contain photographs of the information to increase the impact. This is a controllable.

Although we can’t predict the future, we can prepare for it. This is a strategy to promote inclusion and hopefully, prevent issues arising before they have a chance and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

If you’re a teacher, you can begin this process now and have it ready in lots of time. If you’re a parent or know someone that would benefit from this strategy, you might consider suggesting it to the appropriate person.

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Inclusion Special Education

9 Essential Questions for Children with Autism

Children with autism need extra support to be included in day-to-day life. The social cues, rules and routines that neurotypical children pick up without explicit teaching do not come as easily to a child with ASD. Without the appropriate support, these children may look to be “misbehaving” or “difficult” when really, they just require a helping hand to get involved and be included.

There are nine key questions when preparing a child with autism for a new event or skill:

  1. Where do I have to be?
  2. Who will I be with?
  3. Where exactly in the place will I be?
  4. What will be happening there?
  5. How much will I have to do there?
  6. How will I know when I have finished?
  7. What will I be doing next?
  8. What is the expected behaviour?
  9. What if? (questions guided by the child and their concerns)

If you are going to a school assembly later in the day, an adult should sit down with the child and move through the nine questions to ensure that the child knows exactly what is going to happen, how it will happen and what is expected of them specifically. This can prevent issues before they arise and prevention is always better than cure.

Visual resources like timetables and social stories benefit children with autism massively as it can reduce their anxieties by providing clarity. Timetables (app recommendation here) are easy to prepare and implement but having every single social story ready is not always possible. A lot of preparation can be required preparing a story about the event or skill you are trying to teach. They are extremely worthwhile but how can you predict every change, social skill and event that will happen in a school year? You can’t and this is where MagnusCards come in.

MagnusCards is an app that has a wealth of scenarios and skills that answer a lot of the generic questions that will occur throughout a school day and home life. 

For example, if you want to teach a child how to come in from lunchtime, there is a 10 picture story on how to do this. Want to teach a child how to engage with pairwork in a class? There is a 7 picture story that can be used.

The events and skills range from school to social skills to personal care and safety along with much more. The pictures and text are not specific to your child’s school or home but the stories are readily accessible at your fingertips if you need them. 

I would recommend this app for three reasons. First of all, having a look through the app will help you predict what stories you could personalise, prepare and print in advance for your child. Secondly, when a change occurs or unforeseen event happens, you have a quick-and-easy visual aid to support the conversation you need to have to support a child with autism. Finally, if you see a child with autism acting inappropriately during lunchtime or somewhere unstructured, you can pull out the app and use a social story to incidentally teach an alternative way to behave in that scenario with clear, visual prompts. MagnusCards is an app that is simple, free and practical. These apps are always welcome in a teacher’s toolkit.

To download MagnusCards:

Android Version here.

Apple Version here.

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Homeschool Inclusion parenting Special Education

How Can We Help Children Missing Occupational Therapy?

Perhaps we are concerned about children who made great progress over the year and are now missing their physical education with their class, their active time on yard and their one-to-one time with a teacher or occupational therapist. We may worry that they may not be progressing and could even be regressing. How can we help maintain this progress and extend them where possible? Enable Ireland can help.

Enable Ireland provide services to children with disabilities and have expert teams that support them and their families through each stage of life.

With the current restrictions, their clinical experts and therapists have made a playlist of 44 videos that can provide a focus for anyone looking to improve movement, balance, core strength, flexibility or motor skills. The full list is available here but here are some popular areas which you can use as a parent or recommend as a teacher:

Wiggly Warm-Up

Lower Limb Stretching: Range Of Motion

Core Exercises For Junior Age Children

Core Strength: Jigsaw Challenge

Squish the Duck Challenge for Balance

Lower Limbs: Strengthening

Balance at Home

Pilates

Movement Regulation

Fine Motor Therapy At Home

Gross Motor Skills: Animal Walks

Wheelchair Exercises

With the great range of resources here, parents and teachers can consider the priority needs, age and personality of the child to select suitable activities that will ensure any progress achieved to this point can be maintained. 

Anyone who finds these resources useful should look at the Enable Ireland website for further guidance around the area of speech and language, social stories and more.

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anxiety Behaviour Management Inclusion parenting

The Difference Between Constructive and Destructive Anxiety Management

I came across some quality content from Dr. Tony Attwood on anxiety management related to children with autism. I love any information that is easy to understand and relay to people and has the potential to make a difference. This content fits the criteria.

Dr. Attwood discusses the two types of anxiety management. Constructive habits succeed in mitigating the potential impact of anxiety whilst destructive habits also does this but to the detriment of relationships with others. Dr. Attwood details three destructive strategies to avoid and promotes six constructive alternatives. If constructive strategies are not being used, a child may naturally fall into using destructive ones.

Three Destructive Anxiety Management Strategies

  1. Excessive Control: When children are feeling anxious, they may seek to exert control through defiance or threats to property, self or people. The impact this has on relationships is clear. Excessive control to manage anxiety may result in a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Is this a reason to move away from labels? (Full article here)
  2. Rituals: An anxious child may insist on sameness and become intolerant and inflexible to any change. They can become over-reliant on rituals and routines when they are too prolonged detracting from their ability to engage in other tasks.
  3. Emotional Explosions: When fight-or-flight reaches a certain point, a child rife with anxiety may release the emotional energy pent up through an outburst which hurts others and damages friendships and relationships. This also takes an emotional toll on themselves in the aftermath.

Six Constructive Anxiety Management Strategies

These six strategies are necessities for anxious children. They are not rewards. The child requires them to engage with day-to-day life successfully. Analyse each one and consider if you are making the best use of each strategy.

  1. Physical Activity: Often underestimated, being physically active has a significant impact on anxiety. This can be through team sports, individual sports, movement breaks or walks. The options are endless and finding the medium that the child enjoys exercising through will aid them in coping with their anxiety.
  2. Relaxation: An anxious child has never relaxed just because they were told to. They have to be taught how to relax. This could be through a meditation app like Mindful Gnats (Android link here and Apple here), teaching the art of journaling, yoga or engaging in a range of activities depending on the child’s personality (Article: 6 strategies to help an anxious child here). A highly anxious child might never have learned to relax so it must be a priority to teach them.
  3. Special Interests: Allowing a stressed or anxious child to engage with their special interest is a powerful tool to relieve building anxiety. Depending on the interest, this can be easily implemented into day-to-day life. Allowing an anxious child with autism to engage with their special interest is not time wasted. It is time-efficient as they will be able to re-engage with activity after a short break.
  4. Favourite Person: An anxious child can experience relief when they are afforded some quality time with their favourite person. If the person is an SNA, teacher or child, this strategy can be utilised without extensive planning. If the person cannot be present, we can use audio messages, phone calls and emails. The child’s favourite person can be a great sense of comfort and relief.
  5. Diet: The benefits of a good diet go beyond the scope of this article. Needless to say that a balanced diet will have a positive impact on a child’s anxiety compared to a diet of junk food, sugar and refined carbohydrates.
  6. Sleep: Much like a healthy diet, we all can appreciate the positive effect of eight to ten hours of sleep on an anxious child. Weighted blankets, avoiding screen time before bed and a consistent nighttime routine can contribute to good sleep hygiene.

When you consider the child, ask yourself which type of strategies are being used to manage their anxiety. Are they destructive or constructive? Can we improve on how we use constructive habits? Which constructive habits can I control if I am a teacher or a parent? Focus on these and lean away from destructive behaviour.

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anxiety Behaviour Management Inclusion

How to build your child’s routine in 30 seconds

In a time of so much unknown, controlling the controllable things can have a huge benefit on our young children. I discussed in a previous article how the deterioration of family functioning can lead to anxiety disorders in children and how parents can mitigate the potential damages of the coronavirus on their children’s mental health (article here). Establishing a stable routine is one strategy that we can use to maintain family functioning and reduce the air of uncertainty in the household. Visually representing this timetable and showing it to your child maximises the benefits but how can we do this if we have no time to sit at a computer or lack a printer and laminator to ensure its pretty?

This is where the app picturepath comes to the rescue. This is a predominantly free app and is extremely quick and easy-to-use. You simply set up an account and input your child’s first name and you start to build their routine with the pre-made most common activities and symbols. If you’re missing an activity, you can create your own and add images or icons from the icon library.

Once you have created the routine, you can switch the app to child mode where they can view the timetable in its totality or a “Now and next” mode. The child can then tick off activities as they are completed and start to work their way through the day.

I would highly recommend this for children with autism or younger children who are missing the structure of school. I am an advocate of the phrase that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and when it comes to behaviour, providing routine and structure is certainly a preventative measure.

For those interested, the links are provided below for both android and apple:

Android Version: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.acorn.picapp&hl=en_IE

Apple Version: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/picturepath/id1339643269

Note: I have no relation to or knowledge of the app developers. I just love things that make life easier and promote positive behaviour. This does both so I’m pumped!

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Homeschool Inclusion Special Education

For the teacher stressed about inclusion

A double-bind message is a message that sends conflicting information. An example would be when a parent tells a fearful child verbally that there is nothing to fear while their facial expression and body language is full of concern. A second example is when a teacher or a parent is told that mental health, calm and happiness is the number one priority while also being given a mountain of work to complete. Two different messages that are very much in conflict with each other.

I do not think education should be ignored right now, I just believe education needs to be streamlined for everyone involved: teacher, parents and students. I have already written about Pareto’s Principle and the idea that 20% of our actions produce 80% of results. This means the other 80% of our actions produce very little and should be stripped away to free up time to practice self-care and care for others.

Anecdotally, I know that stresses on teachers are slowly increasing as schools find their feet and begin to realise what is possible. Just because we can, however, does not mean we should. 

Inclusion and differentiation are, of course, at the forefront of our mind as we look to meet the needs of our students that require it most. Instead of looking for complicated and time-consuming strategies, I suggest we primarily look to UNESCO’s document Learning for All: Guidelines on the Inclusion of learners with disabilities in open and distance learning and Pozzi’s article The Impact of m-Learning in School Contexts: An “Inclusive” Perspective which provides simple ways to include that fall into the 20% of our action achieving 80% of results category.

These two documents suggest we include using the following simple strategies:

  1. Awareness: Find out where the children need help to be included so you can adjust to their exact needs.
  2. Communicate: Facilitate regular contact with parents to see where strengths and needs are arising.
  3. Personalise:
    1. Allow children to complete work at their own pace.
    2. Reduce workload.
    3. Set up online reminders or calendars to begin or complete tasks.
    4. Pre-record explanations so it can be rewatched as necessary.
    5. Send specific positive praise to students to reinforce engagement and effort.

The caveat here is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. I do believe with these simple strategies, however, that we can cast our net around a huge body of students and meet their needs without having any part of the chain bending over backwards. There will be students that need additional support but using the above simple strategies to address the needs of the many will free up teacher’s time to address the needs of the few with the more detailed support they need.

This is a marathon and not a sprint.

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Behaviour Management Inclusion

Why we shouldn’t include.

Inclusion is amazing to watch. Watching true inclusion take place can spark so much joy in people as they watch someone who “shouldn’t” be participating thrive in an environment despite the potential barriers that could exist. People can have a narrow perspective of inclusion and others can have a wider lens.

If you ask someone with a narrow perspective what inclusion is, they might tell you about the importance of including a pupil who is in a wheelchair in physical education or how a child who is deaf can be included in drama. What they might not consider, however, is the wider perspective of including pupils with social, cultural, behavioural or emotional needs.

Inclusion can be considered the right to participate in everyday life. Children with behavioural, emotional and social needs can face challenging and invisible barrier to participate in day-to-day classroom life that might appear self-imposed whilst really deriving from a series of complex issues.

As these are issues which are extremely challenging for teachers and can be the cause of great frustration and upset, these children can be actively excluded through withdrawal, suspension or punishment or passively included where they are present in the room without meaningful engagement.

I have seen many instances of wonderful efforts and time being put into including these children but there are also incidences where these children are not included, and people feel it is either justifiable or are willing to turn a blind eye. Teachers should feel compelled to apply the same creativity and effort to include those with unseen needs as they are compelled to include those with physically visible needs.

Including children with physical disabilities can entail adding resources and removing barriers to ensure they can access and participate. Including children with complex emotional and behavioural needs can entail changing your whole style of teaching and communicating, your normal rules, your timetable and your reward systems along with many more factors.

If someone walked into my PE hall where a child in a wheelchair was sitting out because they couldn’t get involved with the lesson, there would rightly be uproar. Would the same uproar occur if a child with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties was left sitting out because they were unable to access the lesson without a meaningful effort by the teacher to include them?

The question should be framed when planning an activity as to why we shouldn’t include as opposed to why we should. The answers to why not to include may be solved by simple solutions, complex interventions or creativity and a can-do attitude. Maybe there is a valid reason, as there sometimes is. What’s right is the same effort and compulsion be provided for all, whether the need is visible or not.

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Inclusion

What is your Hidden Curriculum?

In every classroom, there is a formal curriculum the teacher teaches. Certain skills are taught, certain processes and certain subjects. Everyone knows what it is, and it is there for all to see and assess. However, what about the hidden curriculum? What are you covertly teaching unbeknownst to yourself? This can be known as the hidden curriculum.

The hidden curriculum is considered the beliefs and attitudes that are taught to children indirectly. Children learn through watching and interacting with their environment and through being present in the classroom and watching the teacher’s actions, words and body language, they can learn this hidden curriculum.

A simple example of this is the relationship between teacher and students. The student learns what the dynamic of this relationship is through watching how the teacher interacts with pupils, what is appropriate to say and when and what is inappropriate. The teacher may not sit down and explicitly teach the children this dynamic, but it is indirectly taught as part of the hidden curriculum.

Where the hidden curriculum becomes particularly important is where we start to tie it in with the concept of inclusion. Here are some questions to consider:

  1. Does the teacher use the correct language and tone when speaking about minority groups? Does their body language demonstrate openness and effort to including children with various needs? 
  2. Does the teacher display pictures on the wall of white “normal” children only or is there a mix of children with physical disabilities, different ethnicities, same-sex parents etc?
  3. How are pupils grouped in the class? Are they streamed according to their literacy ability?
  4. Does the teacher use a different tone of voice when speaking to a child who has a disability?
  5. Does the teacher go the extra mile to include children with differing needs into lessons?

The answer to each of these questions contributes to the hidden curriculum the teacher is teaching whether they like it or not. What is missing can be as important as what is there!

For those interested in creating an inclusive classroom, there are six different elements to contemplate which can contribute to a hidden curriculum any teacher could be proud of. These are:

  1. Classroom Environment
  • Ensure the classroom is suited and adapted to the needs of all children in the class. Children with physical disabilities should be positioned with clear access, for example, or if a child is blind, covering the room with as much brail as writing to create equally print-rich environments. Display pictures of all ethnicities, minorities and abilities around the room to provide balance and normalise them to the students.
  1. Curriculum
  • Differentiate the curriculum to ensure success for all students in the classroom. This can be as simple as adjusting expectations for the children at both ends of the ability spectrum in the room. When teaching physical education to a class who have students with physical disabilities, there can be more preplanning involved but with the internet, there is a wealth of ideas to aid you if you want to be inclusive.
  1. Teaching and Learning Strategies
  • Ensure that a wide variety of teaching methods are used to achieve successful learning objectives. Including choice in how children can respond to stimulus. Perhaps the children can orally give their response to a story on occasion or pictorially? Freeze frames and other drama-based strategies can be great ways to stoke the imaginations and creativity of children and those who have weak literacy skills can thrive.
  1. Student Well-Being
  • Demonstrate care and empathy is a great way to promote well-being. A nice way to do this is by displaying red, yellow, red and blue chart paper on the wall (as per the zones of regulation) and get the children to stick a post-it or clothes peg on the zone they’re in. Red can depict anger or upset. Yellow for excited, silly, frustrated or other slightly heightened states. Green is happy, calm or okay. Blue is sick, tired or sad. It can help you adjust your interactions with the children while also showing the students that there can be lots going on in other’s lives that they may not know about. 
  1. Assessment
  • If you are differentiating your teaching, it can make sense to differentiate your testing. This can be done by giving extra time, resources, fewer questions, more questions or orally answering the questions. Thinking outside the box is key.
  1. Classroom Behaviour
  • As the popular quote goes, fairness is not everybody getting the same but everybody getting what they need. Different children can require different behaviours being tolerated. Children understand this quicker than adults at times and allowing extra wiggle room around rules for the children that need it is a necessity at times to be truly inclusive.

The concept of the hidden curriculum is something that caused me to reflect a lot on my practice in the classroom. What was I teaching indirectly and was this the message I wanted to convey? In lots of ways, I was happy with the answers but there were one or two gaps that I will strive to improve on. Take a few minutes to answer honestly how inclusive you are in your practice, attitudes, behaviour and language around inclusion and your hidden curriculum will start to reveal itself. A truly worthwhile activity.

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