“It’s just a bit o’ banter, innit?” – Why “That’s so GAY!” still needs to be challenged

Jonathan Charlesworth is the Executive Director of the charity Educational Action Challenging Homophobia (EACH), UK, and author of That’s So Gay! - Challenging Homophobic Bullying. He has over thirty years’ teaching and training experience and regularly delivers training and consultancy on homophobic bullying, harassment and crime to schools, colleges, universities, and the police service. In this post he explains why homophobic name-calling is still a problem, and one we must work together to challenge.

“Got your little clarinet, have you? You’re so flippin’ gay, you are!” I heard this one sneered at a pupil in a corridor not so long ago. This is a fairly straightforward one with which to deal. Our ‘perpetrator’ had targeted her insult directly at another pupil and called him gay. Presumably those dishing out homophobic name-calling, perceive it to be okay for a girl to be seen carrying a clarinet but not a boy, so one must assume effeminacy equates to ‘being a girl’ with the two seen as interchangeable? There is always interesting work to be done here around sexism and gender with all our pupils and youth group attendees.

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That’s So Gay! – Challenging Homophobic Bullying, by Jonathan Charlesworth

It’s certainly easy here for a member of staff to recognise that one pupil has denigrated another and this requires an intervention or sanction. What’s harder to challenge for staff in schools or informal youth settings is the ‘victim-less crime’ of something being called ‘gay’ like homework, or a pop band (who aren’t – or can’t all be), or something intangible like the cold as in “Oh, God, this weather is so gay!”

How often have you spoken to your son or daughter about ‘calling things gay’ and they retort with, “But it’s just banter!” Or you’ve spoken to a young person if you’re a teacher or someone who works in children’s services and they fob it off as being just a ‘joke’ whilst someone who is the target of homophobic bullying and who is really worrying you misguidedly dismisses their abuse simply as ‘a bit of a drama’.

Many schools will be indicating consistently that homophobic bullying is wrong and pupils will recognise that it is unacceptable to treat someone differently because they are gay or are thought to be. Where schools often struggle is with the use of homophobic language and phrases such as ‘That’s so gay’. In these cases pupils will often not see that their actions have a direct consequence for anyone. As a result it will often be perceived as ‘harmless banter’.

Any of us who work with young people will recognise that homophobic language is frequently used without its perpetrator’s thinking and is often overlooked or even ignored because it can be difficult to know how to respond without awareness-raising or appropriate training.

I recently explained to a Deputy Headteacher in a secondary school that we were soon to see the publication of my book to help schools challenge homophobic name-calling and bullying: That’s So Gay!. “Oh, yes!” she exclaimed. “But they don’t mean anything by that, do they? They say it all the time and it more often than not has nothing to do with sexuality!” I did my best to explain diplomatically why it is important to take homophobic name-calling as seriously as racist or disablist, but by this point she was smiling at me with that look of someone who is thinking about something else and has ‘checked out’. It may come as no surprise to learn that the pupil whom I’d come to support and discuss left the school a few weeks later because of homophobia and cites being much happier in their new school.

This is just one localised example of how homophobic name-calling is regularly brushed off as ‘harmless banter’ and not thought to be particularly hurtful. Its use, and homophobia in schools in general, does need to be challenged because ignoring it absolutely allows homophobic bullying to gain a foothold, continue, then escalate.

To be borne in mind however is that a lot of pupils will be reluctant to admit that they are upset by the homophobic abuse whilst the desire not to be seen as weak or a victim can make pupils equally reluctant to report any form of bullying.

If you’re being bullied because you’re, for instance, black, Asian or Jewish in all likelihood your parents will have had several conversations in front of and with you about faith-based or racist bullying and harassment. There’s comfort at home provided by understanding, compassion and shared experience. With disability often comes the sense that it’s ‘not their fault’ and despite the ‘retard’ and ‘spaz’ insults, which have so charmingly resurfaced in recent years, pretty much every pupil acknowledges disabilist name-calling and bullying as a taboo.

Sexual orientation meanwhile is too often considered by both young people and adults alike to be a ‘choice’ rendering the gay person a legitimate ‘victim’ of their bigotry and disapproval. Gay or lesbian young people invariably also don’t have the luxury of someone at home who shares their sexuality and who can empathise with feelings of awkwardness or ‘get’ what their ostracism ‘feels like’. If you’re being bullied because you’re heterosexual but your ‘Mums’ are lesbians this can present its own set of problems.

Although young people who hold on to stereotypes may not wish to withhold equal rights from gay people they may well have their sense of who gay men and women ‘are’ skewed by television depictions and not see it as a priority or empathise with the issue.

The belief that being gay is inferior to being heterosexual leads to subtle behaviours such as jokes and vocabulary that can be very damaging to gay young people. One of the most obvious examples is the pejorative use of the word ‘gay’ among young people to describe something as worthless, wrong, dull, stupid or inferior.

Way too often pupils in school believe that reporting their bullying looks like taking it too seriously which will simply attract more abuse. We also know that too often, pupils are  not confident in the mechanisms schools put in place to respond to bullying. Similarly too many feel that their teachers will not take the problem seriously. They can also be unsure how to report if homophobic bullying is not specifically cited as unacceptable within school policies and practice.

Pupils regularly tell me and my colleagues at Educational Action Challenging Homophobia (EACH – www.each.education) about a lack of clear and consistent sanctions in school when responding to bullying. Many fear that by reporting bullying they themselves will be excluded from activities in order to avoid being targeted by their perpetrator(s). EACH regularly hears stories of targeted pupils being asked to change separately for sports lessons, physical education, or leave lessons early in order to avoid running into their tormentors.

When so much legislative progress has been made for lesbian, gay and bisexual equality, pupils might question whether co-opting the word ‘gay’ as an insult really matters. Language changes all the time and many young people will argue that calling their homework gay has nothing to do with their opinions on same-sex relationships. In fact young people who themselves identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual will use ‘That’s so gay’ in this context. For these pupils the word can have several meanings which they think has no connection to their attitudes towards themselves and other gay people. Education about historical oppression and the tremendous battle fought for equality evidently needs to be for all. There is also a chance pro-behaviour is at play here. This is when someone who is conscious of feeling ‘outside’ of society’s ‘mainstream’ deploys self-deprecating humour to divert attention away from their, for example, disability, ethnicity or sexuality. It sometimes works but to those who can see what is happening it is more often embarrassing.

If a pupil or a young person in your care uses homophobic language we should all point out the effect their language is having on other people: remembering that phrases such as ‘That’s so gay’ are not harmless banter but part of wider homophobia whether the pupil appreciates this or not. This is not just an Ofsted requirement but a moral responsibility we share collectively as part of our Duty of Care.

This article has been adapted from Jonathan Charlesworth’s That’s So Gay! – Challenging Homophobic Bullying.

Educational Action Challenging Homophobia (EACH) is the multi-award winning registered charity providing training, resources and support to affirm representations of gay and transgender people, challenge homophobia and reduce discrimination experienced because of sexual orientation or gender identity. (www.each.education)
• EACH’s National Homophobic Bullying Actionline: 0808 1000 143

Supporting young people suffering with self-harm and eating disorders – three key lessons

Pooky Knightsmith is a specialist in student mental health and emotional well-being, and author of Self-Harm and Eating Disorders in Schools. Through her company In Our Hands Ltd, Pooky works with schools, parents and organisations to promote awareness of and provide training on topics related to mental health. She is also the Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing Advisor for the PSHE Association in the UK and a trustee for Beat, the eating disorder charity. She has personal experiences of the issues she teaches and writes about, having personally overcome eating disorders and self-harm herself.
Here she shares her top tips for supporting young people suffering with self-harm and eating disorders, gathered through years of research and training.

“How on earth have you ended up doing what you do?” A colleague questioned me today “Teaching people about self-harm and eating disorders is not exactly the kind of job you dream about when you’re 14 is it?”Knightsmith

And he was right.  I didn’t dream about doing my current job when I was 14.  In fact, I didn’t dream about anything in my future when I was 14.  All I really wanted was to be dead, but I lacked the motivation to make my ‘dream’ a reality.  I was living a half-life, walking around each day in the shadows of anorexia and self-harm.  So in answer to my colleague, I suppose that I started down the path I’m currently traversing in order to try and stop other children feeling the way I felt.

Fortunately, things have moved on somewhat from my own school days.  We have a far better understanding of self-harm and eating disorders – unfortunately that’s at least in part due to a huge increase in prevalence in both conditions which has forced us to learn, fast, and taught us some difficult lessons along the way.

I feel we’re currently at the tipping point, with schools and agencies ready, willing and increasingly able to offer support to the young people who need it most.  But what are the key lessons that we should bear in mind when offering support to young people in our care?  If I had to boil down many years of research on the topic into three key learning points (and anyone who’s attended one of my training sessions will know how keen I am on having three take home points!) it would be these:

We need to enable young people to feel in control of their own recovery

A desire to take control of one aspect of their lives is a key reason young people cite for the development of self-harming and eating disordered behaviours.  Bearing this in mind, we need to ensure that in our keenness to support young people’s recovery, that we don’t take this process straight out of their control.  Contributing to their sense of lack of control is likely to exacerbate rather than alleviate their harmful behaviours.  We can help young people to feel in control of their own recovery by employing truly person-centred practice where the young person is the key initiator in recovery goals and all information and meetings are designed to be accessible to the young person concerned.

We are stronger when we work as a team

When school staff, sufferers, parents and any external agencies involved come together and work as a team to support the recovery process with unified goals; progress is both more rapid and longer lasting.  This type of team working can be difficult to implement but it reaps dividends in terms of positive impact for the young person trying to overcome their self-harming or eating disordered behaviours.

Recovery doesn’t stop when someone looks healed

Finally, we need to ensure that support doesn’t drop off the moment someone looks physically better.  When a healthy weight has been restored or cuts or burns have healed then it’s normal for support to drop away.  Tight health budgets often mean that therapeutic or psychiatric support may dwindle at this point and parents, friends and school staff can often begin to step away feeling that the worst is over.  For the young person concerned though, this can be the most difficult phase of all as they are probably still working to overcome the underlying difficulties that drove them to their unhealthy behaviours, but they no longer have these behaviours to turn to as a means of coping.  Whilst underlying issues are being resolved and new, healthy coping mechanisms are still being embedded, young people are very vulnerable to relapse.  To minimise the likelihood of relapse, we need to ensure we extend our support, care and guidance into the weeks and months following physical recovery.

Things are looking up.  More than ever I find myself welcomed with open arms when I go to teach colleagues about how best to support the young people in their care who are facing self-harm and eating disorders.  A few short years ago there would have been no market for the book I’ve spent so long researching and writing and there would be no place for my training sessions; so taboo and under-recognised were these topics.  We’re opening our eyes to the problem and our approaches are evolving fast.  I’m hopeful that soon I’ll be able to reflect that a lot less young people are feeling like I did when I was 14.

I certainly hope so.

You can download one of Pooky’s PDF handouts, which gives alternatives to self-harm suggested by former self-harmers themselves, here

Find out more about Pooky’s book Self-Harm and Eating Disorders in Schools, read reviews or order your copy here

Call for Comic and Graphic novel submissions

Jessica Kingsley Publishers and Singing Dragon (an imprint of JKP) have recently started developing an exciting new line of comics and graphics novels and we are now open for submissions.

At JKP we are committed to publishing books that make a difference. Our range of subjects includes autism, dementia, social work, art therapies, mental health, counselling, palliative care and practical theology. Have a look on www.jkp.com for our full range of titles.

Singing Dragon publishes authoritative books on all aspects of Chinese medicine, yoga therapy, aromatherapy, massage, Qigong and complementary and alternative health more generally, as well as Oriental martial arts. Find out more on www.singingdragon.com

If you have an idea that you think would work well as a graphic book, or are an artist interested in working with us, here is what we are looking for:

Graphic novel or comic – Long form

We are looking for book proposals that are between 100 and 200 pages, black and white or colour, and explore the topics listed above or another subject that would fit into the JKP/Singing Dragon list. Specifically we are hoping to develop more personal autobiographical stories.

Here are the guidelines for submission:

  1. A one-page written synopsis detailing the plot/outline of the book, as well as short bios of all the creators involved.
  2. Character sketches of the main characters with descriptions.
  3. Solo artist/writers or writer and artist teams should submit 5 to 10 completed pages to allow us to get a sense of the pace, art style and writing.
  4. Solo writers will need to submit 10 to 20 pages of script as well as the one-page synopsis from point 1.

Comic – Short form

We have some shorter comic projects underway and are looking to expand the range of topics covered. These books can run from 20 to 40 pages, black and white or colour, with dimensions of 170x230mm. We are mainly looking for comics that provide ideas and information for both professionals and general readers.

For example, the first in this series, published by Singing Dragon, is a book exploring the latest developments in chronic pain research.

Here are the guidelines for submission:

  1. A one-page written synopsis detailing the narrative style and subject matter to be explored in the book. Also include short bios of all the creators involved.
  2. Solo artist/writers or writer and artist teams should submit 3 to 5 completed pages to allow us to get a sense of the pace, art style and writing.
  3. Solo writers will need to submit 5 to 10 pages of script as well as the one-page synopsis from point 1.

When submitting please provide low-res images and send them, along with everything else, to Mike Medaglia at mike.medaglia@jkp.com

If you have any other ideas that don’t directly relate to the subjects described above but you feel might still fit into the JKP or Singing Dragon list, please feel free to get in touch with ideas and enquiries on the email above.

‘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

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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.

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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.

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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 

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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

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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

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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.

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 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.

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 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