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Podcast Episode 45. Successful sustainable employment opportunities for young people with additional needs comes when support is provided for not just the young person but also for their employer too. Continue reading
Do you have a favorite story? Mine is The Magic Pudding, an Australian tale of … you guessed it … a magic pudding that no matter how much someone eats of him, he simply grows back again. I’m sure there are many of us who would love a Magic Cake on hand. I’m not sure why this is my favorite story, maybe there are deeper reasons related to coming back no matter what happens, but maybe it’s much simpler – I liked the story. Why this analysis of my childhood reading habits? Well, partly, because my latest podcast Using Storytelling To Build Self Worth with Diane King was all about storytelling, and its importance in all our lives. Diane has also written a children’s book Ruby Red which is about a young girl with additional needs and how she navigates through her life.
My daughter had a favorite story called, How To Catch A Star. From early on, though, we tried to use stories to help her understand her world better. There was a series of books we used with titles like, How Hattie Hated Kindness and A Pea Called Mildred. These books were designed to encourage children to think about why they felt a certain way. So, for example, Hattie thought she was rubbish and the book was all about making her understand that she was as important as everyone else. A pretty important message I think for young children with additional needs who have started to wonder why they are different.
I didn’t realize it then, but we were trying to teach our daughter in a way Diane described as caught learning, not taught learning. The message was delivered in a way which didn’t seem about the teaching. I don’t think my daughter would have understood if I simply sat her down and told her you’re great (which she obviously is). But these books helped her see that she wasn’t the only one with these types of feelings. These books aren’t just for children with additional needs, but we found them a way to reach her and show her feelings like this are normal.
Don’t get me wrong I love these books, but I do wonder now if they were too heavy on the message and maybe missed something in the story and the rhyme and alliteration. After working with speech and language Diane became aware of the important link between rhyme and alliteration, and its role in helping children communicate. This led her to write her book Ruby Redas a rhyming adventure. Looking back at both my daughter’s favorite books, I realize now how much she preferred books with rhyme. Another of her favorites series was Hairy McClary, especially any stories where Schnitzel von Krumm featured.
I’m not going to lecture anyone on the importance of reading for our children, particularly if a child struggles to read, but it is an important part of how we discover our world. And, as Diane talked about, it’s a place to express emotions, to be scared, to laugh, feel empathy and feel all the kinds of things my daughter found quite difficult when younger, and to be honest still struggles with today. All this immersive interaction with the story allows our children to experience different emotions in a safe and controlled environment.
But I think we need more books like Ruby Red and Josh Has Dyspraxia, whose author Christine Draper I talked to in Episode 41 of the podcast. These books serve two purposes: firstly, to help our children understand they are not alone; secondly, more importantly, to educate other children in a non-lecturing way what it means to have additional needs. Both Diane and Christine have written fantastic books. Stories change the world, so maybe these types of stories can help change perceptions.
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Sometimes the world doesn’t make sense. Sometimes the world is illogical. Sometimes it’s necessary to ignore logic and go with the flow – things are the way they are even if they don’t make sense. But sometimes our loved ones with additional needs cannot adapt quite so easily to the confusing logic that we might term the ‘norm’. So part of my job as a parent is to help my daughter make sense of all this and make sure she has the confidence to simply be herself.
These are thoughts I had after I interviewed Soli Lazarus recently. Soli is a qualified teacher with over 30 years of experience. She is an Assistant SENCO in a large Primary School; specialising in inclusion for children with additional needs. Her son has ADHD and so she knows what it’s like to struggle and feel isolated. She battled for years to get much needed support in school and to get the right help for her son. She is also a coach and trainer at Yellow Sun where she delivers support and advice to parents of children with additional needs and challenging behaviour.
Self-esteem and how teachers can help
Soli believes one of the biggest issues for children with additional needs is that they suffer from low self-esteem due to society pressuring them from a young age to conform to the ‘norm’. We, as parents, know that our children often struggle with conforming to what everyone expects of them – the ‘norm’ is not always the same for them.
Soli argues that because children might interrupt, might be disorganised, might be inattentive and are unable to sit down for 20 minutes; from an early age they are branded as naughty and constantly being told off. This leads to their self-esteem plummeting. To counter this Soli argues that instead of telling children with additional needs off, teachers should find their abilities and give them some responsibility based on what they can do.
The role of parents in boosting self esteem
Soli talked to me about how important it is to provide our children with routine, whilst also giving them responsibilities so that they can be rewarded and praised. She emphasised how important it is to give children the freedom to make decisions when at home because school can often be a very rigid place with little room to manoeuvre for children to make independent choices. By giving them the choice and the power, they’re going to feel listened to and safe. She suggests that to boost self-esteem we need to let children have their say. Often it’s just about giving them a voice and helping them to feel in control (when it’s appropriate!). This can make such a difference to their self-esteem.
How to manage sibling expectations
I asked Soli her thoughts around the impact on siblings of giving your child with additional needs more choice and more of a voice. As she said siblings can sometimes feel neglected, jealous and even guilty. She suggests the key to moving forward is having open and honest discussions about how each of the siblings’ lives differ. It’s then a conversation about how you need to work together to achieve a happy, calm family life. It’s very important to make time for siblings though, so Soli suggests taking them for days out and praising them for being who they are.
Dealing with behavioural issues at home
Soli hears countless stories of how children’s behaviour at home worsens after time in school. This can often be because they keep their emotions and feelings at school inside, but then when they’re in the safety of the family home, they erupt, and parents can be left feeling exhausted.
This needs to be addressed at school and at home. Soli’s tips are:
1. Make sure the school is dealing with the problems that your child faces in the classroom so they’re not having to bottle things up and feel anxious
2. At home, make sure you as a parent create an atmosphere where they are listened to, they feel safe and they feel they get some element of control
Getting away from the ‘one size fits all’ mentality
One big issue for Soli is the content of the current UK national curriculum. She argues that things like times tables are outdated and instead we should be focusing on technology solutions to allow for children to express their emotions in an easier way. She explains how children with additional needs often feel comfortable online and this is a great way to counteract the difficulties surrounding making face-to-face social networks. Soli spoke about how the online world is a wonderful way for children to gain interaction skills, as long as parents are aware of their responsibility to properly monitor and ensure it’s a safe environment.
Soli is passionate about the need for parents to be involved in children’s online worlds as they get older and how we as parents need to train children and teenagers to understand the risks involved. Soli feels that using online chats can help to develop social skills and move them to a point where they feel and can say they have friends.
For Soli, it’s about sending messages to our children about how we can be strong and say no. Build up their self-esteem so if they fail, they can move on and try something else without the experience being a huge setback.
Where to find Soli
The first place to hear more from Soli Lazarus is on the Journey Skills podcast Having A Sense Of Control.
You can find out much more about Soli by visiting her website. You will also find information there about her Facebook group and the live Q&A she does every Wednesday. She also provides some free online training and is the author of a book “Five Reasons Why Most Schools Fail Your Child With Special Needs’.
Podcast Episode 32. The best way to boost the self-esteem of our children is to let them have their say, give them a voice and help them to feel a sense of control, Continue reading