‘Contact with Nature can be immensely healing.’

Caroline Jay founded and runs the Seeds of Hope Children’s Garden, a national charity which aims to promote the use of nature in helping children manage loss. For twelve years she ran a SAND (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity) group, supporting families after the death of a baby. We spoke to Caroline about using life cycles to teach children about change, how nature can help us come to terms with loss, and how her own experiences inspired her to write her new book, Seeds of Hope Bereavement and Loss Activity Book.

What inspired you to write the book?Jay_Seeds-of-Hope-B_978-1-84905-546-8_colourjpg-print

A love of Nature and of being outside in the sun and air has been my inspiration for the Seeds of Hope Activity Book – that and the realisation that so much in Nature echoes the changes that happen in life.  None of us can live life without change.  All change implies loss and new beginnings  – and this is a pattern ever present in Nature.

In your book, you use life cycles in Nature as a means of explaining death.  Why did you choose that particular method?

Mainly because life cycles are fun!  How amazing to see frogspawn turn into tadpoles that then turn into frogs!  Or a grub become a caterpillar that disappears into a chrysalis out of which bursts a butterfly!  Also because looking at the lifecycles that happen all the time in Nature can help us understand that change and loss are part of a natural order.  “Death is a part of life is a part of death is a part of life is …” and so on as the circle turns.  A seed becomes a plant that becomes a flower that becomes a fruit that contains the seed from which a new plant will grow.  A baby becomes a child who becomes an adult who becomes an old person who will eventually die as new babies are born.  The 4 stages of the life cycle in Nature reflect the 4 stages of a human life.  The pattern continues: there are 4 seasons in the year, 4 weeks in the month, 4 quarters in the year.

Have you found yourself applying the methods you describe in the book in your own personal life?  Have they been helpful?

When my first child, Laura was stillborn, I found myself completely out of balance.  My hospital notes said I was a mother but I had no child.  The world around me seemed suddenly full of babies and heavily pregnant women.  The pain of grief was palpable.  I took long walks in the woods.  I found contact with Nature and the outside world to be immensely healing and grounding at a time when my world had been turned upside down.  Grief for most people can be a very dark place.  Planting seeds or plants and watching them grow in the Spring after the darkness of Winter can be uplifting and provide some hope of brighter times to come.

Does the grieving process for children and adults differ greatly?

The huge range of emotions we may feel when grieving – sadness, anger, shock, disbelief, fear, guilt, numbness to name a few – are generally speaking the same for children and adults.  One difference is that children are usually only able to stay with their feelings for short periods of time – a bit like jumping in and out of a puddle, they may be very sad one minute and want to go out and play the next.  Adults will generally have easier and clearer access to the information surrounding a death or a loss whereas children will generally be dependent on the adults around them to tell them the facts.  It is a natural instinct to want to protect children from painful life experiences but, in the case of a death, this can lead to confusion.  Children fare better when they are given honest information.

What has your experience with SAND and the Seeds of Hope Children’s Garden taught you about how people deal with loss?

Everybody responds to loss and bereavement in different ways.  There is no right and wrong way to travel the road and there are no shortcuts.  Very generally speaking men and women tend to grieve differently in that women are inclined to want to talk about their feelings for longer while men are more inclined to want to take action to restore the status quo.  Partners, whether male or female, often grieve in different ways and at different speeds.  In the case of a child’s death, the loss is equal and therefore no one person is better able to support the other.  Some seek out a support group while others prefer to grieve privately.

How do you hope your book will make a difference?

The activities in the book serve to provide structure for and clarify the grief process for a child allowing them to see the natural process of the cycle of life in Nature.  The images encourage exploration and observation of creatures, plants, and seasons.  The way in which a child’s journey through grief is handled will fundamentally determine how they manage all future losses in adulthood.  I hope the Seeds of Hope Activity Book will empower children to explore their feelings in ways they can understand – by drawing, playing, exploring and having fun.

You can find our more about Caroline’s book, read reviews or order your copy here.

Learning about Sexuality and Safety with Tom

 Learning about Sexuality and Safety with Tom

Autism---Tom-Books--white

The idea for storybooks about sexuality and safety came from being the single mother of a boy with severe autism and the worries I had about his future independence. As he matured physically he was going to want and need to do things for himself and there were going to be certain situations when it was inappropriate for me to be involved. It was becoming less appropriate for me to take him into the women’s public lavatories when the disabled toilets were unavailable (unfortunately a pretty common event) as small children and ladies would gawp at him unless he was jumping and arm-flapping. Without a male role model I realised it would be down to me to teach him how to do things such as use a public toilet on his own. I had no idea of the social etiquette for males (why would I?) so this led me to have a lengthy discussion with my brother, who was able to educate me in the ways of male lavatories. It was after this discussion that I started to think about all the difficult subjects that parents of children with autism encounter as they grow up.

What's-happening-to-Tom---Mirror

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of having a child with autism (or a related condition) is their exposure to adult sexuality and how this can make them vulnerable to sexual abuse. Writing the book Sexuality and Severe Autism helped me realise that equipping our children with knowledge and skills makes them more robust and less likely to become victims. Unlike typically developing children, those with autism do not learn from their peers by ‘osmosis’ and may not ask appropriate questions – they need to be taught explicitly how to be safe and physically appropriate. With this in mind I enlisted the skills of illustrator Jonathon Powell and we set about producing a series of storybooks to give the parents of autistic children a means of educating their offspring about puberty, sexuality and social etiquette.

tom-likes

The first three storybooks are for boys and young men and feature the character, Tom. They are written in explicit language using ‘proper’ terms for sexual parts of the body and are illustrated with anatomically correct pictures, so that our children and young people can identify what kind of contact is appropriate and report accurately if sexual abuse occurs. The idea is that these books are read alongside generic reading material, rather than being a sex education lesson.

 

  • Things Tom Likes examines masturbation and sexuality and helps boys and young men understand what behaviours are public and private.
  • What’s Happening to Tom? is about puberty and enables readers to learn about developmental changes that they find challenging.
  • Tom Needs To Go refers back to that conversation I had with my brother about what is appropriate behaviour in public toilets and how our young men can be safe in such a space.

 

My hope is that these books will help ease the worries that parents and carers of young boys on the spectrum face as they grow up and will give them the opportunity to communicate about these difficult subjects.

 

Early in 2015 I will be able to introduce you to Ellie who will feature in similar books aimed at girls and young women.

 

Kate E. Reynolds is the author of What is Happening to Tom? Tom Needs To Go, Things Tom Likes and Sexuality and Severe Autism all of which are available through Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

How using colour coded visuals can reduce anxiety when a child with autism starts school.

For many teachers coming to the end of the summer holidays now is the time to start preparing for the new academic year. With that in mind we turn to author and teacher Adele Devine who in this brand new blog demonstrates how developing a colour coding system can make for a more comfortable learning environment, especially for early learners with Autism.

Through the classroom door 

Fig 10.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transitioning into class can be a big hurdle for a child with autism. They have no idea what will happen beyond that door and the ‘unknown’ triggers alarm bells. We must also factor in some of the sensory issues, which often partner autism.

Turn up the volume of everything so that it is way above ‘uncomfortable’. Unfamiliar voices echo and what is that tidal wave sound?  Is there a toilet flushing? The lighting seems drastically different – flickering as it does in horror scenes, building a frightening atmosphere. Clothing that felt fine before has become itchy, sticky and hot. The child may not be able communicate or make sense of these nightmare feelings. They realise there is no going back, but moving forwards suddenly seems overwhelming.

 

Show them the way

Preparing visuals to explain our expectations can help make everyday transitions seem more achievable. We must try to avoid the child reaching that overwhelmed state by paving each step with a visual support. Matching photos and symbols can give the child a task to focus on. The visual clarifies our expectations and reduces the need for complex language.

Visuals help the child feel safer and more in control.

 

Provide individual schedules

Darcy01

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The child enters the classroom with a clear idea of what they should do first. They match their photo to the one at the top of their personal schedule.

We must make sure schedules are placed somewhere prominent within the child’s reach.

Next the child removes the first symbol from their schedule.

We teach the child to do this by gently guiding them and providing hand over hand support.

For example, they might first remove the blue table symbol and if so they will transition to the blue table from the top of their schedule.

 

Using transition boards

darcy7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the blue table there is a transition board with other ‘blue table’ symbols. The child places their symbol on the board.
There is a photo on the back of the chair indicating where the child could sit. They may not choose to sit. That is okay. They can learn to sit later… Right now we want them to feel safe, in control and that they are on the right track.

At the blue table you can set up an activity for the child to do, this should have a clear structure so the child knows the expectation. They should be given hand over hand help with learning a new task so that it does not frustrate or overwhelm them. Showing the child will be more helpful than a verbal explanation. Do not do the task for the child over and over, instead reduce your support each time and allow them to build their independence.

When the blue table activity is ‘finished’ the child is given their photo. They return to the schedule to match it and check what is next.

Using symbols, schedules and transition boards reduces the need for too many verbal instructions, helps the child transition and promotes independence.

 

A visual link can be created through colour. The individual schedule is purple, the symbols and the transition board are outlined in purple. The class timetable is also backed in purple. The hope is that the child may start to make a connection between their individual schedule and the class timetable.

banner1

 

 The class timetable

 

 

A child may use a ‘Now and Next’ or ‘First and Then’ schedule to break down the expectations. These schedules are also backed in purple.

now and next2

 

 

 

 

 Now and Next schedule

 

 

Using a colour code for schedules, timetables, now and next boards and transition boards helps create a category. Children with autism are often very good at sorting by category, tuning into colours, shapes and patterns, but they can have difficulty generalising.

The colour purple creates a category for schedules. When the child wants to know ‘what we are going to do next’ they look for purple. We use the child’s strengths for categorising to create a stepping stone towards generalising.

 

Visual structure can bring order to chaos and help set the child with autism up to succeed.

 

Adele Devine is the author of Colour Coding for Learners with Autism available through Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Listening skills for busy school staff – An interview with Nick Luxmoore

Nick Luxmoore is a school counsellor, trainer, teacher, youth worker and UKCP registered Psychodrama psychotherapist. He has over 35 years’ experience of work with young people and with the professionals who support them. We caught up with him to talk about his work, his latest book: Essential Listening Skills for Busy School Staff, and his top tips on listening for teachers and other school staff.

You’ve worked with young people and with the professionals who support them for over 35 years. What do you enjoy most about your work?

I enjoy helping to build a culture, especially in a place like a school, where everyone feels appreciated and so feels able to appreciate others. I know that sounds extremely trite but I also know that it’s possible to do this in schools, making that tangible difference. Potentially, schools can be very therapeutic places.
I also enjoy the anger of young people. That might sound like an odd thing to say, but people only get angry because they care and I love the fact that young people care passionately about so many things that are unfair or, at least, seem to them to be unfair!

What’s the most challenging aspect of your work?

It’s difficult living with the fact that you can only do what you can do; that people will go away and make their mistakes. Some will thrive but others will have really tough lives. And there’s nothing more that you can do about it. It’s a lesson that every therapist has to learn and a lesson that everyone who works in a school has to learn as, year after year, they say goodbye to the people about whom they’ve really cared.

What inspired you to write ‘Essential Listening Skills for Busy School Staff’?Luxmoore_Essential-Liste_978-1-84905-565-9_colourjpg-print

I used to be a teacher and, for years, I’ve been running all sorts of trainings for school staff. So I understand what it’s like to feel as if you’re never doing a good enough job, to feel that there’s never time to listen and to feel resentful of those people who seem to be getting all the attention and praise. This book comes out of all that experience and is informed by the questions people ask like, “This is all very well, Nick, but when are we supposed to find the time to do this listening? And what are we meant say to someone who’s depressed or cutting themselves?”

I’m passionate about this book because I think there’s a tendency in schools to refer children and young people on to someone else, often to someone from outside the school itself. People like counsellors and mental health professionals (keen to show how invaluable they are) sometimes give school staff the message that other people’s distress is far too disturbing and complicated for a mere member of staff to tackle. And nine times out of ten that’s just not true! Schools are about human beings supporting other human beings. A bit of guidance is always useful and my book provides that guidance for staff because most people want to talk to the person they know: not to some stranger they’ve never met before. I want staff in schools to feel able and confident to listen and support their fellow human beings, knowing that a little can be a lot and that you don’t need a professional qualification in how to be a supportive human being!

I also feel passionately that teachers aren’t the only people who listen in schools. In fact, it’s often non-teaching staff who find themselves besieged by needy people. So this book is as much for them as it is for the teachers. And it’s about listening, not only to children and young people, but to colleagues and parents. An upset member of staff is potentially just as disruptive as any upset student! And the extent to which we feel able to support other people will often depend on the extent to which we feel supported ourselves. So the quality of relationships in the staffroom matters just as much as in the classroom.

Can you think of an example where you’ve been able to help a student or colleague just through listening?

With students…. a baby develops a sense that it exists and is worth something because of the calm, interested attention that it gets from its parents and other people. So with young people it’s sometimes enough to listen and be interested. Our experiences of someone paying attention and finding us interesting are the building blocks on which everything else is built: our confidence, our self-belief, our sense of worth.

With colleagues…. I’ve listened to lots of colleagues who have ranted or wept buckets and there’s been nothing to say because life really can be that bad and sometimes it’s helpful when someone acknowledges this with us. People usually have good reasons to be ranting or weeping.

If you were going to give one tip to busy school staff to help them improve their listening skills, what would it be?

Listen to the feelings. Don’t worry about giving advice. Just listen to the feelings, especially the shittiest, angriest, saddest, most hopeless feelings. I’ll bet that the best listening experiences you ever had yourself were the ones when someone did just that for you. They didn’t patronise you. They didn’t offer you cheap advice. They just listened. And of course, when someone listens to our feelings expressed as words, we don’t have to enact those feelings!

 You can find out more about Nick’s book here. You can also find more of Nick’s books on working with young people here.

Change Happens… Teaching a child with autism to handle a ‘whoops!’


whoops Adele Devine image

 

Teaching a child with autism to handle a ‘whoops!’

It’s raining and that lovely day at the beach that’s been on the calendar ‘FOREVER’ suddenly isn’t happening.

A change of plan seems logical, but may be difficult for the child to accept. They like to know and expect you to stick to the plan.  Why can’t we go to the beach in the pouring rain? Beach is on the calendar.

We use visuals such as calendars, schedules and ‘now and next’ boards because knowing what’s ahead creates a sense of order and allows the child time to process.
On the flipside changing set plans can create mistrust and anxiety, leading to shut downs or meltdowns.

So what do we do?

We know the potential reaction so we try to avoid the situation, but then change happens…

The day comes when we need to collect a sibling who’s poorly when we were about to watch a DVD or there’s a phone call we must take.

 

Preparation is everything!

  • Be more aware of your own routines and try to mix them up a bit. Do not sit in the same place every meal time or lay out the clothes in the exact same order.
  • Avoid always going the same route, as this creates the idea that there is only one right way.
  • Read a social story(TM) about when the phone rings or the traffic lights are broken and role play good reactions.
  • If a scheduled activity relies on dry weather then show on the calendar that rain will mean a change of plan. It’s on the calendar so it’s ‘okay’.

 

A Whoops! 

Holding up a ‘whoops!’ symbol (shown above and downloadable here) alerts the child that change is in the air. It allows them time to process and prepare to control reactions.

Choose a time to test out using the ‘whoops!’ symbol.

“Whoops! We have no vanilla ice cream. We only have chocolate.” Change is easier to cope with when it is good change.

Have another adult or sibling model a good reaction,

“Oh dear! I am sad that there is no vanilla ice cream. I was looking forward to it. Oh well, I will have chocolate instead.” Praise the ‘model’ for their good reaction. The child with autism will be watching and learning.

Next time try a less rewarding ‘whoops!’ Ask a friend to stage that unexpected call or visit. By role playing a change situation we create a stepping stone. Practicing when the situation is not ‘real’ removes the pressure.

 

Change Toolkit.

  • A whiteboard and dry wipe pen to write or draw the new schedule.
  • A visual timer such as a time tracker or egg timer.
  • A motivating activity (colouring, books, Lego, play dough) or fidget toy.
  • Some sort of food (cereal or raisins) and a drink.
  • A set of social stories(TM) (when the phone rings Mummy needs to speak, when a visitor comes to the house, when we have to go out in the car, when we have to take a different route)
  • An emergency occupier – iPad, or android tablet or game (make sure it’s charged).
  • A visual of a reward for after – (going to the shop or park, baking a cake) and a token board (if used).
  • Symbols for ‘whoops!’ ‘good waiting’, ‘good sitting’, ‘good listening’, ‘good looking’ and ‘good standing in line’.
  • A visual volume control.
  • Bundles of praise, patience and empathy.

 

Adele Devine is the author of Colour Coding for Learners With Autism available from Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Summer Holiday activites for younger children with Autism and other learning difficulties (Day 5).

This one probably requires a trip to the local arts store but will provide hours of possibilities and fun once it’s mixed together.

GLOWING WATER

In just a few steps we can turn basic tap water into buckets of fluorescent fun.glowing_water_by_plmethvin-d37fq3m

Here’s all you need

  • Water
  • A container
  • NON-TOXIC fluorescent paint
  • Backlight bulb

GO!
1. Add a few tablespoons of fluorescent paint in any color into very warm or hot water:

2. stir until completely mixed

3. add as much water as you’d like to increase the volume, stopping before the glow is too diluted.

 

You’ve got the base for glow-in-the-dark water balloons.

And that’s IT! Now get glowing!

 

Taken from The Asperkid’s Game Plan by Jennifer Cook O’Toole

Attachment, schools and vulnerable children: An interview with Nicola Marshall.

Nicola Marshall is a certified coach, adoptive parent of three, and author of the newly published The Teacher’s Introduction to Attachment. We spoke to her about why she wanted to write a book on attachment for teachers, what she’s learned since starting her own training company for teachers and other school staff, and she shares her number one tip for educators working with vulnerable children. 

1) How did you become interested in attachment?

My husband and I adopted three children 6 years ago now and I became interested in attachment as a result of trying to understand the impact my children’s early years experience has had on them. Throughout the adoption journey Attachment was mentioned and it fascinated me to know that so much of what we do in our adult lives is a result of our early experiences. I’ve always believed this actually, as someone who has always been interested in people and how they tick, to know that how we build relationships comes from much of our early experiences made sense.

Since looking into attachment I can see how important all our relationships are and it’s a constant journey of discovery.

2) Why did you decide to write a book on attachment for teachers?Marshall_Teachers-Introd_978-1-84905-550-5_colourjpg-print

There are many books available on Attachment and I’ve read quite a few of them. They are brilliant in lots of ways but I also have found that they can be quite heavy and time intensive. If you are really interested in the subject, as I am, then there are brilliant books to further your understanding such as Bruce Perry or Dan Hughes books.

However whilst doing training for schools and other people working with children I have found that there’s a reluctance to read some of the more academic books on the subject. As a parent and a down to earth person myself I felt there was a gap in the market for a book that was accessible to all teaching staff, whether they are time pressured or just not that interested in the subject. This book is an easy to read, practical and very accessible and my desire is that anyone and everyone working with children of any description would read this and find it helpful.

 3) You run training programmes to help educate teachers and other school staff about attachment – what have you learned whilst doing this?

I have loved training educators over the last three years in this subject. The people who attend the courses are so dedicated and committed to the children they serve that it has been an inspiration to me. I have seen that many are under immense pressure to get children to learn who are just not ready to learn. The pressures on resources, funding and time are creating a system that seems to be a hindrance to vulnerable children out there who need patience, time and nurture given to them in order that they can learn.

Through the workshops and onsite training I’ve run and the hundreds of educators I’ve spoken to I can see that this is a vocation – you have to have a calling to be an educator as what you want to do and what you’re allowed to do many times don’t match up. I wish our educational system was more flexible as I know it’s not for want of trying on the front-line staffs side – they understand that we need a different approach with some children, that we need to be their parent, carer, therapist and social worker sometimes as the adults they meet at school may be all they have.

4) Can you think of a case study or example of having school staff educated in attachment, which has led to direct benefits for a child or group of children?

I can think of many schools and particularly children who have benefited from more of an awareness of Attachment. A few spring to mind. One child who is from a very small, rural school – his teacher came on my workshop a few years ago, the training impacted her and it helped her to understand his behaviours. However it didn’t seem enough. So this year I was asked to go and observe the child in school and to give some recommendations on what practical strategies they could use to help him. After two days we sat down with the parent of this child and discussed what had been observed. It was great to see that for that parent it was so important to know that someone could see the anxieties and fears her child was desperately trying to hide. We talked about practical ways to build relationships with him and to help him feel safe. As a result I am sure he will flourish in that very nurturing and caring school.

More locally to me, a High School have taken on the challenge of really trying to understand a complex child in year 8 who has an ambivalent attachment. Many of the schools sanctions do not work for this child and in fact send her on a spiral of negative behaviours as a result. With training and talking with the parents the school are using different strategies to try and help her feel safe and to take control of her regulation, so that she can settle to learn. The result of this for the child is that she can start to learn in school instead of just surviving but also the staff members are happier as they don’t have to keep enforcing sanctions that do not work. Finally, this child is not distracting the other children in the class, so they can learn too.

5) What would be your number one tip for teachers or other staff working with vulnerable children?

Look beneath the behaviours to the root. All behaviour communicates something. For children who have experienced early trauma their behaviours very often are how they express themselves. They are not ‘naughty’ children trying to manipulate. They are frightened, anxious children who will use any means at their disposal to feel safe and get their needs met. When you can see that and truly appreciate that then you can begin to meet their needs and the behaviour will change in time.

 You can find out more about Nicola’s book here.  You can also find out more about her training company, BraveHeart Education, and the work they do training educators in attachment and its implications for the classroom, here 

Summer Holiday activites for younger children with Autism and other learning difficulties (Day 4).

We want to highlight activities that you can do without having to spend any (or that much) money in order to have fun. This game is a perfect example of ‘no-money fun’ that you can have just using everyday household items and a little bit of imagination.Toes

MONKEY TOES

Primary learning focus

  • Balance, motor planning, crossing the midline.

Materials needed

  • Unbreakable bowl, bucket or tote bag.
  • Cotton balls, pompoms, or other small, soft objects.

Description
Scatter the cotton balls or other objects around a small area, and then have the child remove shoes and socks and collect the objects to place in the container using only his/her feet. If a cotton ball is too far away, have the child retrieve it and then hop on one foot to get to the container.

Variations

  • Use different size or colour pompoms, and have the child collect items according to size. Colour or pattern.
  • Have the child sit on his/her bottom, and use two feet together to pick up objects.
  • Have the child trap a beanbag between both feet, then jump on two feet to get the container without losing the beanbag.
  • Challenge balance skills by doing this activity with arms held over the head, hands in pockets or behind the back, or on a slightly unstable surface (for example, sofa cushions or air mattress).

 

As featured in Simple Low-Cost Games and Activities for Sensorimotor Learning by Lisa A. Kurtz

 

Summer Holiday activites for younger children with Autism and other learning difficulties (Day 3).

For day 3 we turn to those little coloured bricks that are an endless source of fascination for a lot of children on the spectrum.

LEGO MY CREATION

This one is for parents with two children of a similar age range and here communication is the key.

LEGO

Here’s what you will need

  • Two small containers each holding an identical assortment of “parts – Lego Bricks (but could also be figures, building blocks, pipe cleaners – anything works as long as both containers contain the same objects.

Sit your two contestants back-to-back and give each one a container that has the items in it which are identical to their partner’s.

Player 1 has 3 minutes to construct whatever they want out of the pieces – the only rule is that they have to use ALL of them (oh and no peaking from player 2)

When the time is up player 1 must explain to player 2 what he/she has made, the aim here is to make player 2 see what player 1 sees. Player 2 has to repeat back the instructions that they can remember a section at a time giving player 1 a chance to clarify and redirect if they didn’t get it right the first time. Each direction has to be as specific as possible and player 1 might need some coaching to help him/her paint a clear enough ‘word picture’.

If player 2 is quite verbose and asking lots of questions for clarification it is good to remind them about the importance of communication, that it goes two ways and when we don’t allow others the time they need to think and process we deny our teammates the chance to improve their skills and lower their sense of accomplishment.

The aim of the game is for player 2 to have exactly the same Lego creation as player 1.

You can adjust the complexity of the game by the number and size of pieces involved.

 

Taken from The Asperkid’s Game Plan by Jennifer Cook O’Toole

 

Special Educational Needs and Pastoral Education Autumn 2014

Browse our latest collection of titles in special educational needs and pastoral education. For more information on any of the books inside, simply click the title or cover image to view the full book page.