Category Archives: Special Educational Needs

Inclusion in the Preschool Classroom

What is an inclusive preschool?

An inclusive preschool educates children with disabilities in the same environment as typically developing peers, so all children can participate in the same activities and routines.

An inclusive preschool ensures an accessible learning environment, offering multiple ways to access materials, engage with materials and to express themselves. An environment where learning is individualised and adapted to meet the needs of all students, so they can seamlessly become a participant of the group.

In preschool, this is founded in play. Play is in its essence supportive of inclusion. Play’s open-ended nature, encourages, choice, naturally caters to different learning styles and supports teachable moments as they occur.  Inclusion is an attitude, a set of values rather than a set of practicalities.  

In this room the children engage in sensory play. They work together on a painting, mixing colours. The children have choice as to which materials they add to the sand or water and all the boxes are at child height. Aprons are provided and the children independently take them and put them on. The dustpan and brush is at child height. The children are encouraged to clean up as they go.

Why should preschool classrooms support inclusion?

Social and emotional learning

  •  No studies comparing the social impact of segregation and inclusive settings have shown segregation to be superior.
  • Social and emotional learning is at the heart of preschool and is a core component of the Early Years Foundation Stage in England, at the heart of the Australian Early Years curriculum and many others around the World.
  •  Inclusive preschools give more opportunities for children with disabilities to build friendships. Through these friendships, engagement is maximized, the friends look out for their interests, are encouraging and help them explore and learn new things.
  • Building friendships in the early years has shown benefits for later life in academic achievement, independent living, and adult mental health

… The single best childhood predictor of adult adaptation is not school grades, and not classroom behavior, but rather, the adequacy with which the child gets along with other children. Children who are generally disliked, who are aggressive and disruptive, who are unable to sustain close relationships with other children, and who cannot establish a place for themselves in the peer culture are seriously at risk.’ (Hartup, 1992,)

The teacher uses visual hand signals to guide the children in this musical activity. The children also have an opportunity to learn from their peers.
  • Inclusion gives children a sense of belonging and shows that they are valued for their abilities and potential
  • Inclusion encourages acceptance and support from typically developing peers that are the foundations of an inclusive society. Studies indicate inclusive settings provide typically developing children with opportunities to learn skills, values, and attitudes related to human differences (Farrell, 2000), including learning how to be friends with people who are different from themselves ( Rafferty et al., 2001) and to assist classmates who may be experiencing difficulty (Burnstein et al., 2004)
  • Typically developing children are also likely to show increases in self-esteem, confidence, autonomy and leadership skills (Fuchs, Fuchs, & Burish, 2000).

Language, communication and learning

  •  Rafferty, Piscitelliand Boetthcher (2003) found improved language in children with severedisabilities in inclusive settings and no difference between settings inchildren with less severe disabilities
  • In an inclusive preschool, children with disabilities have a more varied and stimulating experience, opportunities to interact and observe typically developing peers; they get encouragement from other children and learn directly from others.
children of different abilities work on an art project. The teacher helps the child to understand the directions and holds the paper to help him cut.
  • Typically developing children make similar developmental gains in regular and inclusive preschools (Odom, DeKlyen, & Jenkins, 1984, Strain & Bovey, 2011)
  • Some typically developing children spontaneouslycommunicate by alternative means in order to be able to communicate with theirpeers with disabilities.

Why inclusion is particularly well-suited to the preschool classroom

  • Inclusion is particularly suited to the preschool classroom because of the flexibility of the curriculum and ability to respond to a range of learning styles through play.
  • In early education, observation and assessment is an integral part of the learning cycle. Teachers are used to observing children in their play, and using their observations to enhance the learning and create next steps.  Teachers are also used to working in teams who reflect together on the learning to create a purposeful, engaging environment.

Below are some examples of planning and assessmentmaterials I have used. These could also be developed with individual children’sIEP goals to focus observations and assessments. Ask yourselves – am I doingit? Does it work? How could I change it? How can I encourage interests to bemore complex or appear in different contexts?

 At preschool there are multiple opportunities to embed learning throughout the day. IEP goals can be worked on in the natural setting ,for example, communication goals can be worked on during play and during routines such as snack. Think about how your daily routines can provide opportunities to practice goals.

What does an inclusive preschool look like?

  • A preschool learning environment considers the indoor environment, the outdoor play provision and the emotional environment.

The indoor environment

A space for quiet. The child has a book of photographs of things that are meaningful to him. These are used to initiate conversations.
  • In the indoor environment you will see a range of materials and activities to ensure independence for the lowest functioning and challenge for the highest functioning. This will often involve open ended materials such as clay, paint, blocks or pretend play.
  • Materials will be accessible and children will know where to go to obtain and return them. This can include placing toys on child height shelves labelled with a pictures and words, storing toys in clear boxes without lids and having clearly designated areas for different activities.
The home corner is organised so everything has its place. The plates and cups are stored in colour groups and the pans in size order. The environment is organised, inviting and promotes interaction
  • If necessary modify toys so they are accessible to all. These resources from Youngstar give useful examples of how to modify toys for different needs.

Adapting Toys

Adapting Toys and Play Materials

The Outdoor Environment

  • There should be opportunities for all children to engage in the outdoor environment. Outdoor play should include opportunities for physical activity, sensory play and peace and relaxation.
  • Play Scotland have some excellent resources on inclusive outdoor play with a number of links to other useful resources with activities and tools to evaluate your provision

The Emotional Environment

  • The learning environment should support participation,be nurturing and promote friendship and respect
  • The environment should be structured  to support interaction and accomplish goals
  • There should be collaboration with other professionals
  • Activities should build on children’s interests andextend learning
  • Teachers should demonstrate flexible thinking
  • Routines should be predictable. This includes aregular timetable for the day but also predictable routines withinroutines  for example, keeping  the same routine for circle time and withinthat there might be a predictable routine for calendar
  • It should be inclusive all day long. All teachersshould interact and share interactions and teaching of all students, sharingexpertise and providing instructional generalization. IEP’s are addressed everyday and all day long
  • Teachers should be reflective and work together todiscuss strategies to support the learning of individuals and the group,frequently monitoring outcomes and implementing them into the programme.Collect data on how practice is delivered and the effects and meet regularly asa team to review and plan. Always be flexible and ready to change.
boxes are at child height, are clearly labelled and are open so the children can see what is inside. The adults support the children in making choices, finding resources and how to use them.
  • There should be a strong partnership with parents, building on the belief of the parent as the child’s first educator.

Other useful resources

Inclusion Development Programme Resources.  Guidance for teachers in supporting children with EBD, Autism and speech language and communication needs in the Early Years Foundation Stage.

Assistive Technology for Young Children –

This resource has lots of really useful links on topics inclusion in the early years

Preschool inclusion for children on the autistic spectrum

A short article on inclusive early education and care

Autism Awareness Month: Parenting a Child on the Autistic Spectrum # Story 3: The Wilkins Family–A Step Parent’s Story.

188974_210144349012735_4390559_nThe Wilkins family; Kirsty, Mark and Connor(4). Kirsty separated from Connor’s father when he was small. Kirsty and Mark lived in Local Authority housing and were expecting a child together. Connor received a diagnosis of autism at the age of 3 years 2 months. A home tutor visited the home for 2 sessions per week focusing largely on behaviour and communication.  Connor attended full time nursery in a specialist nursery school with a support worker.

Causes of Stress

Kirsty had no experience of parenting a child without ASD thus it was difficult to say whether or not it was more or less stressful.  Parenting any child was difficult but when she compared him to other children his behaviour was better.

“I wouldn’t change him for the world, it (autism) is part of him, part of his characteristics.”

The only aspect that she found more difficult than parenting a ‘normal’ child is that he required more supervision because he had no sense of danger.

1. Communication/Understanding

The majority of Connor’s difficult behaviours stemmed from communication problems. Connor understood simple sentences and commands and spoke in short phrases, though some of it was difficult to understand. Kirsty found it frustrating that he didn’t understand what she was saying and that she couldn’t always understand him. His language improved since attending nursery full time and having input from speech therapists, a play worker and tutor but Kirsty still found it difficult.

Connor’s lack of understanding meant he would do things that were not allowed but had no concept of why it was wrong.  He would take food from the fridge just before mealtimes or play with the toilet and bathroom products.

They couldn’t ask him what he was doing because he was unable to answer; they had to go into the room to check what he was doing.

“With a ‘normal’ child you can say don’t touch that and they will say ‘why?’. With Connor you say it is hot and he has to touch it to find out what hot means”

As Connor’s understanding improved and he was able to ask for things he became a much happier child and therefore family stress reduced.

2. Disobedience

Mark didn’t find Connor’s behaviour stressful, but the effect that this had on Kirsty was.   Kirsty felt that there were a number of behaviours that Connor only displayed for her,

“He is like any kid, he will play up for his mum”.

This included running away and when Kirsty said ‘no’ to him he treated it as a game,

“Sometimes I feel like I am always yelling at him, I know it’s not his fault but then I feel stressed because I feel guilty for yelling at him….it’s a no win situation”.

Kirsty also acknowledged that if Connor started the day badly this affected her stress levels all day. If she began the day badly, small things caused her stress that wouldn’t usually.

Mark and Kirsty felt that Kirsty’s family had a tendency to give in to Connor and allowed him to do things that they wouldn’t normally allow. They feel that because of this it was difficult to set boundaries for his behaviour.

3. Going to Public Places

Going anywhere outside of the house was particularly stressful for Kirsty. She didn’t drive and anytime she walked Connor anywhere he would run away and has no road sense.  Kirsty avoided going places on her own. Kirsty’s mum would take Connor out because she had a car and often had Kirsty’s sister to help.  His behaviour improved, he stopped wearing reins and would walk around shops without running. The difficulty for Kirsty was getting him to the shops in the first instance.

4. Concerns about the New Baby

Kirsty worried that when the new baby was born Connor would regress. He liked to imitate babies and animals therefore the family worried that he would want to wear nappies or have a dummy like the baby. The family prepared him for the baby by talking to him, involving Connor in shopping for the baby and decorating the baby’s room. Nursery,his tutor and play worker also encouraged  imaginative play using baby dolls.

Coping Strategies and Support
1. Support from Professionals

Kirsty felt that all professionals were extremely supportive. Since Connor attended full time nursery his understanding and behaviour improved significantly. He developed many good habits such as eating different foods and sitting still for a period of time. Having a tutor and play worker come to the home  helped Connor to cope with new people. In the past he was frightened of people outside of the family but he became more sociable. Kirsty also found the tutor valuable as a source of information. Mark felt that if Connor continued to progress at the same rate as he had in the last 6 months then they would not have any significant worries about his future.

2. Support from Parents

Kirsty felt able to turn to her mum for advice and as a primary school teacher she often had useful strategies. Kirsty’s mother looked after Connor overnight every Wednesday; this gave Kirsty a regular break, which she found particularly helpful.

A Wish List for the Future

Kirsty and Mark couldn’t recommend any further/ different support as they valued all the help they got from professionals. The only thing that might help slightly would be for Kirsty to be on her own less so that when she was feeling stressed she could take a few minutes to calm down without being in the heat of the situation.

Story 2 is a Single Parent’s Perspective and Story 1 Taking Time off Work

Disclaimer: all names are pseudonyms.

Autism Awareness Month: Parenting a Child on the Autistic Spectrum # Story 2 : The Simpson Family–A Single Parent’s Perspective

autism awareness monthThe Simpson family are Leanne, Chloe (age 6) and Robert (age 3). Leanne separated from the children’s father before Robert was born. Robert received a diagnosis of autism when he was 2 years 4 months. The main concerns at this time were communication and social interaction. Leanne also felt that she needed a lot of information because she knew very little about autism. Robert attended pre-school for 5 mornings per week supported by a tutor, a tutor also visited at home.

Causes of Stress

Leanne felt that parenting a child with ASD wasn’t significantly more stressful than parenting any other child but different things caused her stress. The knowledge that he would always be autistic in particular changed the way she thought about things.  Once she knew that he was autistic she felt unable to allow him to be content to do his own thing, there was pressure  to ‘get him to do things’ so that he would reach his full potential’.

  1. Smearing

Robert as a very tactile child  often sought sensory stimulation, including tickling, walking on bricks and exploring paint, water and sand with his hands. Often, when he had dirtied his nappy he would play with the contents and smear it over the room. This usually only occurred when he was on his own. At night Robert wore an all in one pyjama suit with the fastenings sewn together so that he couldn’t  get his hands in his nappy. This worked well,  and Robert stopped smearing every night. Leanne felt that bathing him after an incident was offering him a reward because he enjoyed baths. Leanne avoided  this and instead made minimal fuss and put Robert in the shower (which he disliked).

The most stressful aspect of this behaviour was that it had to be dealt with alone. Leanne felt that school would help with other things, like communication but this was primarily a home problem.

2. Communication

On the whole the most stressful aspect of parenting a child with ASD was communication.

“Smearing is the most stressful thing day by day but communication is the most stressful thing on the whole”

Robert’s inability to communicate was less stressful than his inability to understand. It was often possible to guess what Robert wanted or offer alternatives.

Robert’s communication improved significantly since his home tutor first became involved. Initially Robert’s only form of communication was to push Leanne towards desired objects.   A picture exchange system (PECS) was introduced to enable Robert to exchange a picture for a desired object. Initially this was very difficult for Robert to grasp and although he was able to pass one card to an adult he could not make a choice between 2 or more. Eventually Leanne discovered that he was interested in fridge magnets, the pictures were mounted on magnetic strips and placed on the fridge. Desired objects were placed out of Robert’s reach and each time he would reach for something Leanne would ask ‘What does Robert want?’ whilst signalling to the pictures. Robert quickly learned to pass the correct picture spontaneously. Robert developed a wide range of vocal sounds and used some words in context including ‘go’ and ‘again’.

3. Going to Public Places

There were 2 difficulties when taking Robert to public places: –

  1. Throwing himself on the floor and refusing to walk .
  2. Grabbing things from shop shelves.

Robert had a large pushchair that was generally used when Robert went out. This enabled Leanne to visit a variety of places that would not otherwise be possible. However, Leanne was anxious that as he got older it would be less appropriate to take him out in a pushchair. When Robert was expected to walk even short distances (e.g. from the car to his sister’s school) he would drop to the floor and refuse to move. Leanne’s main strategy for dealing with this was to walk away and wave good-bye, Robert usually responded by following. When this didn’t work Leanne tried to make it into a game. Robert enjoyed playing ready, steady go games and running on the word ‘go’. The game was used to encourage him to walk.

4. Impact on Siblings

Chloe was old enough to be aware that Robert was autistic but Leanne found  it difficult to explain things to her in a comprehensive manner,

“Only the other day she said ‘if I was autistic Robert wouldn’t be’, which is quite hard.”

As a single parent it was also difficult to go to places that Chloe would like to visit. Leanne found it difficult to cater for both of their needs.

5. Diagnosis

The diagnostic process in itself was not stressful but Leanne felt that her health visitor/doctor did not prepare her for a diagnosis of autism,

“When they were asking me questions that I know now was to do with autism, nobody mentioned to me at all; it could be this, which meant that when I did go to the paediatrician and they said it probably was autism it shocked me”.

Leanne would have liked to have been prepared for the possibility so that she could have found more information.

6. Nursery and Schooling

Finding the right nursery place for Robert was stressful for Leanne. Robert was offered a place at a specialist nursery from September but in the meantime Leanne felt it would be valuable to attend a local pre-school to see how he would interact with other children. Many of the pre-schools she visited didn’t feel right, as it seemed they had no experience of autism and were less than enthusiastic about taking him. On the contrary Hawthorn’s pre-school had experience of autism and appeared very flexible in their approach.

After a few weeks at the pre-school Leanne became worried because nursery workers gave comments that they were unhappy about Robert attending without a support worker,

“Hawthorn’s was a complete nightmare that really did stress me out…knowing what I do now I wouldn’t have put him in that school”.

With time and negotiation Leanne felt more comfortable about Hawthorn’s but feels that it was an unnecessary burden.

Leanne was also worried about choosing the right school for Robert; she felt that ultimately it was her decision but that it was a huge weight on her shoulders,

“If you get the right school and the right help then wherever he goes in life that will help him get to the highest potential, because that will be the majority of his learning.”

Coping Strategies and Support

1. Professional Support and Information

The Support Leanne had from professionals was particularly valuable, the most notable of these being his home tutor and the Early Bird course. These helped share information about autism and suggested strategies for dealing with problem behaviour.

Leanne had a particularly good experience with her Early Bird group. The group of parent’s bonded particularly well and they continued to support one another and meet socially both with and without their children.

The most important contribution from the home tutor was the introduction of PECS. Leanne felt that she needed to be taught from scratch how to communicate with Robert and the regular contact with the tutor helped. They also helped Leanne to see what Robert was capable of,

“Before I used to say he is never going to do that, it’s taught me not to think that way”

Having someone to talk to on a regular basis, particularly someone with knowledge of autism and experience with other children was invaluable. The flexibility of the early intervention programme and informal relationship with the tutor meant that there was no pressure,

“You feel like you aren’t on your own”.

2. Support from Friends

Leanne’s close friend Helen had a child slightly older than Robert who was also autistic. They spent a lot of time together both with and without the children. Leanne often telephoned Helen when she was having a particularly stressful time. Helen had first hand experience of autism and the practical advice she gave was refreshing,

“I don’t want to hear ‘aah’, I want to hear ‘yes I’ve been through that as well’ ”.

A Wish List for the Future

Leanne would like to continue having someone help her develop strategies for dealing with Robert’s behaviour.

If Leanne could have any additional help the most useful thing would be to have a regular break.  Someone looking after the children for one night per week would give Leanne something to look forward to.  It would be important that she could trust the person caring for her children, being sure they were safe would help her relax.  Leanne felt  support of this kind was lacking, her parent’s would baby-sit but never have the children overnight.

“ If you don’t have anything to look forward to it is a constant thing. If you’re having a bad week, which you do, and your child’s having a bad week as well you can see no end to it.”

As a single parent this is particularly important. Single parents are more likely to require  respite care and support from other families.

Story 1 : Taking Time off Work Story 3: The Step Parent’s Perspective

Disclaimer: all names are pseudonyms.

Autism Awareness Month: Parenting an Autistic Child # Story 1:The Evans Family.

autism awareness ribbonBefore I had my own children I had a really rewarding job, working with families with pre-school children on the Autistic spectrum. As a parent myself, I now appreciate even more how challenging life was for these families and how valuable it must have been to have someone regularly visit their home to offer respite, problem solve together and help the children develop.   My Masters dissertation  investigated stress and early intervention in families of pre-school children with Autistic Spectrum disorder. The following stories are taken from case studies used in my dissertation.This is the first of 3 posts telling different families’ stories of the stresses they encountered and strategies for coping.

The Evans Family

The Evans Family are James, Rebecca, Charlotte (aged 8) and Alex (aged 4).  Rebecca hadn’t worked since Alex’s birth and James was taking 9 months unpaid leave with the intention of returning  when Alex started school. Alex received a diagnosis of Autism at the age of 2.

Causes of Stress


The most prominent and on-going issue for the Evans family was sleep. When Alex was first diagnosed, he slept for between 2-5 hours per night and would wander around being quite destructive during the time that he was awake. Medication (melatonin)  helped tackle his sleep problems. It took a while to get the dosage right but eventually the correct level was maintained.   Before this point, stress levels at bedtime were extremely high. James didn’t feel able to go out for an evening until Alex was asleep, which meant that he rarely did. Alex’s sleep improved with medication but was still very disturbed and unpredictable,

“For example he can still get up between 12-1am/2am/3am and be awake for anything between 30 minutes – 4 hours”

Charlotte was never a good sleeper, and just as she was beginning to sleep through the night Alex was born. Rebecca hadn’t had a full nights sleep for many years and this took its toll on her health.

Randall and Parker (1999)  found that the most common cause of anxiety and the most severe problem for parents of children with ASD was sleep. Parent’s also reported that many other stresses were associated with lack of sleep.


The most stressful aspect of parenting a child with ASD for Rebecca and James was the unpredictable nature of everyday and the inability to be spontaneous.  With most challenges there were helpful strategies, for example using pictures to communicate but very little could be done to help unpredictability. If a routine needed to be broken, like needing his hair washed in the morning when he normally had a bath in the evening, it was extremely stressful.

Social Isolation

Social isolation is a major cause of anxiety for parents of children with ASD (Bristol 1984).

“You feel like you are on your own with the problem…. in a bubble……… .Most people know nothing about autism so you don’t have that thing where you talk about what your child has done….there is no reference point”.

Other people were interested in hearing about Alex’s history but talking about it was depressing for Rebecca and James. Meeting children of the same age as Alex was upsetting. Not only did they ask questions about Alex’s inability to do things but seeing children do the things that Alex was unable to was difficult..

As Alex got older, social situations  became more difficult.People began to question why he couldn’t talk and explaining to people all the time was tiring. Doing things as a whole family was difficult therefore they would often do things individually with Charlotte so that she was not left out.

Socially there was a marked difference between the 2 children. Charlotte would have friends to stay and then they would return the favour but this never happened with Alex, the lack of respite was an added stress.

The Educational Statementing Process

This was a significant source of stress to the Evans family, however they felt that their experience was not nearly as bad as other parent’s they had talked to. They disliked that the child was viewed in monetary terms and when the statement was explained, the  LEA reiterated the monetary figure. Rebecca and James felt that explanations of the actual support available would be more valuable.

Coping Strategies and Support

Structure and Visual Prompts

Having a clear structure to each week helped with Alex’s behaviour, ensuring he knew where he was  going each day and keeping routines the same. A structured visual timetable depicted what would happen, using pictures and photographs of the places and people he would visit. It was also used for main parts of his daily routine such as bath time and bedtime helping Alex to understand what would happen next.

Information and Learning from Experience

The family’s experience of stress changed over time. A number of behaviours that were particularly difficult when Alex was younger stopped as he grew older, for example screaming and head butting. The change in behaviour was partly attributed to growing up  but also as time went on the family understood  the things that affected Alex’s behaviour. For example, in the past Alex’s parents were inclined to coax Alex to eat food or wear clothes that he did not want to but have learned that this achieves nothing. Rebecca learned through reading literature about autism that certain textures of clothing could feel like sandpaper on the skin. She quickly recognised that wearing an item of uncomfortable clothing could be a trigger for a bad day,

“Now if he scratches even a little bit when he puts his clothes on, I take it off straight away.”


Learning to be patient was a huge asset to the Evans family.  They built up Alex’s confidence before pushing him a little harder,  using visual and verbal prompts and waiting for a response before the information was given for a second time. James and Rebecca acknowledged that being patient was much easier when they didn’t need to be anywhere important.

 Reducing Work Commitments

James decided to take a break from work to help with the family; this would not be an option for many families but it had a huge impact on the life of the Evans family.  Life became more settled for Charlotte as  she could regularly be collected from school by the same parent. In the past this had been difficult because of Alex’s unpredictable behaviour. For Rebecca the biggest relief was sharing the responsibility of attending meetings and completing paperwork. It also meant that when paperwork needed to be done Rebecca could focus her attention on this whilst James dealt with everyday routines.

From James’ point of view, of all the support and coping strategies employed this reduced stress levels more than anything else,

“Often I would have to go out leaving Rebecca with Alex knowing that she was really ill and he was being in a right state” James found it difficult having to explain at work what was happening. There was a financial impact for the family but this was significantly outweighed by the benefits.

Support from professionals and friends

The most valuable professional support came from the people at the top (e.g. consultants) and those that worked with Alex on a regular basis (e.g. early intervention tutor, nursery staff). The consultants were particularly good at helping Rebecca and James get in touch with services and moving things along quickly. The NAS Early Bird programme helped provide initial information about autism. They felt that some professionals (mostly those that saw Alex less regularly) would not be missed if they no longer had contact with the family.

Friends were an important source of support and it helped to go out without having to talk about autism. Meeting other parents of children with Autism meant experiences could be shared without the need for explanation.

Focusing on the present

Rebecca stressed the importance of dealing with short-term problems and not worrying about the long term. This took some adjustment for Rebecca as a natural forward planner. She felt there was little point in focusing too much on the future because they couldn’t know what would happen or what Alex would be like.

A Wish List for the Future

Rebecca and James had elderly parents so felt it was unfair to ask them to babysit, this meant there was very little respite.They would love to have a number of options for respite e.g. in the home or in another venue. They felt that respite was not offered; but was available only on request. The options of what is available were unclear,  and they felt it would be helpful if a certain amount of funds were allocated and a number of options presented for consideration. Finding babysitters for an autistic child was very difficult, his support tutor was invaluable as when she baby sat they could go out knowing that she knew Alex well and would be in control.

Rebecca and James would like additional input from a speech and language therapist. As Alex had no spoken language they assumed that he would get maximum input from a speech and language therapist. They felt  the  level of involvement was insufficient and that children with some language got more hours than those with no language at all.

For her own sanity Rebecca was really keen to return to work full time once Alex was settled at school.  However, she couldn’t see how this would work unless James wasn’t working. As part of the conditions for James’ leave, he was obliged to return.  Returning to work in a new position would be particularly difficult; in an old post there would be more understanding of the family situation and therefore negotiation for flexibility. In a new post Rebecca felt it would be very difficult to have time off for meetings etc.

Story 2: The Single Parent’s Perspective Story 3: The Step Parent’s Perspective

Disclaimer: All names are pseudonyms.

CBeebies – Magic Hands: Translating Poetry into British Sign Language

cbeebiesOften as parents we are unsure about  introducing  children to poetry, fearing that it is difficult to understand. My children however love poetry and will often choose to read it rather than prose. A new CBeebies programme Magic Hands launching soon will make poetry even more accessible to children.
CBeebies Magic Hands  is a brand new and groundbreaking series for the channel featuring poetry translated into British Sign Language.

A co-commission with BBC Learning, Magic Hands  presents modern and classic poetry for children in a way that has never been seen before. Across the series, the Magic Hands presenting team – Ashley, Donna, Aimee and Simon – perform some of the best children’s poetry entirely in British Sign Language (BSL).

From Robert Louis Stephenson to Roger Stevens and Michaela Morgan, the programmes are fun, five-minute packages that mix sign language, the spoken word, music and vibrant animation to bring the poems to life and capture the imaginations of both deaf and hearing children.

The series is made for CBeebies by Remark Ltd, a company that is owned, staffed and run by people who are deaf.

Series producer, Judith Bunting, says: “Translating modern and traditional poems for children into BSL on such a scale is a first. There are deaf poets and deaf theatre companies but no national television company has ever tried translating children’s poetry into BSL.

The Magic Hands presenters are all new to television and have been profoundly deaf since birth. On set they worked with professional interpreters along with the series’ artistic director, Jean St Clair, and both deaf and hearing production crew.

Each episode of Magic Hands is based around a single verse, interpreted for children. The selection comes from poets including Christina Rossetti, Kenn Nesbit, Gareth Lancaster, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Katharine Pyle, Charles Kingsley, James Carter, Sarah Coleridge, Maya Angelou, Rabindranath Tagore and Grace Andreacchi as well as Shakespeare.

Controller of CBeebies, Kay Benbow, says: “We are delighted to bring Magic Hands to CBeebies. The mix of sign language, music and lively animation creates spellbinding poetry that we are sure all our young viewers will enjoy.”

Magic Hands will be broadcast in the Spring.

Up and Away: A BBC Newsround Special – Helping Children to Understand Those With Additional Needs

I used to work with children on the autistic spectrum.  My children often ask me about the children with whom I worked and autism in general. This is difficult to explain to young children.  ‘Up and Away’ I hope will address some of their questions and help them to see the world from a different perspective.

Up and Away: A Newsround Special airing on CBBC on Friday September 7th at 5pm  – hears the moving and often inspirational stories of children who have additional needs and have made the big step up to High School.

Presented by 14-year-old Royal Television Society award-winner Rosie King, the programme combines moving testimony from incredible characters with carefully crafted animation to illustrate that the big move up can be as liberating as it is scary.  Rosie has
Autism, and so has direct experience of the subject matter as she explains:
“I was born into a family with special needs and I didn’t really think it was
that big a deal until you realize that not everybody lives with these
disabilities. This programme shows how that huge moment that you might have been
dreading can be the best thing ever.”

Rosie hears the remarkable stories of Daniel who was picked on at Primary
School for having restricted growth and feared it would happen again at
Secondary School; Iyar who has Cerebral Palsy and faced the challenge of moving
up to High School from a Special School; and Callum whose visual impairment left
him vulnerable to bullying.

Daniel, Iyar and Callum’s have all faced up to their individual challenges.
Their inspirational stories show that while life in Secondary School can be
tough, most problems, even for those children who are different, disappear in a
few days.

I recently got back in touch with one of the families I worked with.  I worked with Tom who was autistic when he was 3 and 4 years old.  He was very good with numbers and letters and could read complex words by the time he went to school.  His comprehension however, was limited and his speech and social skills didn’t match his peer group. Tom is now 13 years old  and I wondered how he had coped in the school system.  His Mum said that academically he had always done well but they had worried that he wouldn’t fit in with the other children.  Tom was saved by being a skilled sportsmen, he is very popular at school and is having a positive experience.

I am looking forward to watching the Newsround Special and hope it will be an inspiration to children with additional needs and help all children understand the thoughts and feelings of children who are ‘different’.




CBeebies -Tree Fu Tom (raising awareness of dyspraxia)

We have been  previewing a new CBeebies programme this week and we are very excited.  Not only because the wonderful David Tennant is voicing one of the main characters but also because it is well researched  and encourages children to actively participate in the story.

Former Doctor Who stars David Tennant and Sophie Aldred voice the lead characters Tom (Aldred) and Twigs (Tennant) in the new multi-platform fantasy action adventure series, Tree Fu Tom coming to CBeebies in March. Twigs is a wonderful character, beautifully animated, incredibly cute and full of vibrant energy.twigs


Aimed at four to six year olds, Tree Fu Tom is set in an enchanted world where movement creates magic. Tom appears to be a normal eight-year-old boy but putting on his magic belt and performing a special sequence of magic action-movements (known as Tree Fu) transforms him into a tiny but mighty magical super-hero.
All of the Tree Fu magic moves that children are encouraged to copy are developed from therapeutic techniques that are used to help children with movement disorders like dyspraxia, but are designed to assist and enhance the development of all participating children at a crucial time in their growth.

Magic is an essential part of Tree Fu Tom and children are encouraged to participate in the movement-based Tree Fu spells to affect the outcome of each episode. Dyspraxia Foundation movement specialists Sally Payne and Dr Lynda Foulder-Hughes worked closely with the series choreographer Nick Kellington to develop unique spell movement sequences that reflect the narrative of each story-line and which have a “cool” martial-arts type feel (which is particularly engaging for boys). However the programme is equally appealing to girls with its beautiful animation, captivating any girl who is interested in fairies and elves.

My girls loved it (it even drew my 7 year old away from CBBC for a moment).  I asked my 3 year old what she liked about it

 I likeded the bit where he did magic – he crouchded down and jumpded like frogs and it went magic.

Participation in the magic spells was clearly a hit with her.  The nature of the programme also lends itself perfectly to becoming a Kinect game, imagine how magical it would be to copy Tree Fu Tom’s movements, creating your own spells and going on a personal, fantastical journey.

Tree Fu Tom has his own online section which includes 6 action packed games  developed in consultation with a Senior Educational Psychologist.  There will also be further support in the CBeebies Grown Ups Section.

Tree Fu Tom and Dyspraxia
Dyspraxia and coordination difficulties are common, life-long conditions that affect up to 10 per cent of school-aged children (two per cent severely). It is an impairment of the organisation of movement and is the result of an immaturity in the development of the nervous system. This means that nerve signals are not transmitted effectively from the brain to muscles, affecting a person’s ability to perform movements in a smooth, coordinated way.
Understanding of the underlying causes of dyspraxia (also known as Developmental Coordination Disorder) is limited but children who are born early, who have a low birth weight or who have a family history of dyspraxia are more likely to have the condition.
Sally adds: “Awareness of dyspraxia remains low in comparison to other common developmental disorders. Tree Fu Tom offers a unique opportunity to raise the profile of this much missed and misunderstood condition.”
Children with dyspraxia have difficulty developing the movement skills that come naturally to their peers. They often have poor balance and postural stability; find it difficult to move their arms and legs in a coordinated manner; and struggle to use both sides of their body together. Without these foundation skills it is hard for them to carry out everyday activities such as walking up stairs without tripping, bending down to pull on socks, making marks with a crayon and using a knife and fork.
Their difficulties with movement skills can often lead to children with dyspraxia falling behind at school (despite, often, having above average IQs) and having additional social challenges at school – this is especially apparent for boys whose early social interactions tend to involve physical skill-based activities such as sports.

Having worked with children with Dyspraxia in the past, I see this as a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness and support children with the condition.

Tree Fu Tom starts on Monday 5th March on CBeebies .

How to Encourage your Child to Wear an Eye Patch

child with eye patchMy 3 year old has been wearing glasses for a couple of months.  She is long sighted and has a turn.  We were told some time ago that she may have to wear an eye patch and at our latest hospital appointment this was confirmed.

Since we were aware that she may have to wear a patch, we have been preparing her by reading the book The Pirate of Kindergarten (Richard Jackson Books (Atheneum Hardcover))

In the book the main character Ginny wears a cool, black Pirate eye patch.  My daughter has taken this book to pre-school and the childminder and liked the idea of being  a Pirate.  When the ophthalmologist put a patch on her eye it wasn’t like this at all, it was white, adhesive backed and she has to wear it under her glasses.

She has to wear it for 2 hours a day but was very scared when I  first tried to encourage her to wear it.

But I don’t like it.  I won’t be able to see properly if I wear an eye patch.

On the first day we managed 15 minutes with a lot of encouragement.  First port of call bribery,

If you wear it for a whole week I will buy you a special treat.

This helped us through the first hurdle of getting it on.

Secondly, reassurance; we sat together watching her favourite programme and had cuddles whilst I told her how brave she was.  After 15 minutes we removed it.

I have a friend whose daughter wears an eye patch, I asked her advice.  She said that she always reinforced the idea that by wearing the eye patch the other eye would get really strong.

I tried this and lo and behold it worked.  On day 2 she managed to wear it for an hour. When she removed it she said

My eye is really strong now.

Other tips 

  • Use a timer or set the duration of an activity or television programme as the point at which the patch is removed.
  • Do something that the child really enjoys when wearing the eye patch.  We have watched favourite programmes whilst having a cuddle, read stories and made a farm from cardboard boxes.  I ask ‘what would you like to do when you have your eye patch on?’
  • Decorate the patch.  The ophthalmologist gave us a book that featured children wearing patterned patches. Our patches are not patterned but they include stickers to decorate them .  Some of these are white for the children to colour in. I suggested my daughter decorate the patch with felt pens when she was colouring the sticker. Next time we are shopping I am going to let her choose stickers for the patch, some sparkly gemstones might go down well.
  • Keep reinforcing how brave they are, we all give her lots of attention when she is wearing it which she loves and constantly remind her that she is making the other eye really strong.
  • Let them choose when they want to wear it.

By day 3 she kept it on for 3 hours and wore it to her friend’s house.  On day 4 she woke up and said

Shall I put my eye patch on?

Do you want to?


She decorated her patch put it on before the school run and kept it on all morning which included a visit to softplay.  She isn’t worried about other children’s reactions (possibly helped by the book) and hasn’t had a negative reaction yet. I think if we customise it to the limit other children might even be jealous.

Books about Children Wearing Glasses – The Pirate of Kindergarten

My 3 year old wears glasses. She has been getting on really well with them and feels quite special and unique.  She wears them because she has a turn and is long sighted.  The ophthalmologist thinks that her glasses will correct the turn, but there is a chance that she will have to have an eye patch.

When we were told she would have to wear glasses, I searched for picture books about children wearing glasses.  I bought the Charlie and Lola book ‘I Really Absolutely Must Have Glasses’.  This didn’t really fit the bill because although it is about going for an eye test and really wanting glasses, Lola doesn’t actually need glasses.

I gave up looking for a while until by  a stroke of fate I came across The Pirate of Kindergarten in a list of top 10 books for Special Educational Needs.  This hit the nail right on the head .  The story is about a little girl who is clumsy and sees in double vision unless she closes one eye.  After attending an eye test they tell her that most children don’t see in this way and  give her glasses and a cool eye patch .  She becomes the Pirate of Kindergarten.

My 3 year old is incredibly clumsy and often falls over and crashes into things.  I asked her if she ever saw 2 of things like the girl and she replied ‘sometimes’.  I don’t know whether she sees in this way, but the book gave me a valuable insight into what the world might be like through her eyes.

This is a lovely book for  a child who wears glasses and for a nursery, pre-school or childminder who is looking to increase their inclusive books. The illustrations are beautiful, the subject matter is handled sensitively and is told in a simple and sympathetic manner that young children can understand.

This post is a personal recommendation, no payment or product was received for writing this review.

‘I’m Not Going Cross Eyed Now’ – Children Wearing Glasses.

My 3 year old has just been given glasses.

Firstly how would you know that a 3 year old is struggling to see properly? The simple answer is I didn’t.

A while ago I noticed that my daughter could go cross-eyed. I’ve never been able to do this so just thought that she had discovered a new skill. However this became more and more frequent and it became clear that it wasn’t intentional. I decided to take her for an eye test.

How do you test a 3 year olds eyes?  Firstly the optician projected pictures onto the wall. The pictures were butterflies, rabbits, planes and fish. The optician asked her what she could see. The only one that she mentioned with any conviction was the butterfly but I couldn’t be sure whether she couldn’t see what they were or was simply being shy. For checking how well she could see close up, the optician had cards with hidden pictures on and she asked my daughter what she could see. She gave her glasses with inter-changeable lenses and shone a light into her eyes. It was quite a long and thorough process and it turns out that she is long-sighted and that wearing glasses should correct the turn in her eye.

We had fun trying on lots of different glasses and eventually chose a Little Miss Sunshine pair.  We picked up the glasses last week and so far I have been surprised at how well she has adjusted.  She is happy to wear them and rarely takes them off.  I have given her a special place on her dressing table to keep the case and when she takes them off she is always careful to put them back in the right place.  We have talked about the importance of not touching the glass as it makes them dirty and she won’t be able to see properly.  She enjoys using the cloth to help me clean them.

We have made a big fuss about how lovely she looks in them and I think her big sister is a little envious as she keeps asking if she can have her eyes tested.  It’s certainly a far cry from the stigma of wearing glasses when I was a child.

We read the Charlie and Lola book about getting glasses, although I was a little disappointed to find that Lola doesn’t end up having glasses in the book. I’m still on the lookout for others.  If anyone has any suggestions for good children’s books about wearing glasses please add a comment. Or perhaps I should write one….