Educational adviser Gareth D Morewood interviews Claire Ryan of ChatterPack, a voluntary-run special education needs and disability online resource, on how best to support SEN pupils during the Covid-19 crisis.
Due to the Coronavirus lockdown in the UK and abroad, many young people are now being educated at home or remotely. This is a particularly challenging period for children with special education needs and their supporters. Claire Ryan, founder of ChatterPack - an amazing online tool for educational resources - spoke to our Educational Adviser Gareth D Morewood about how to turn this potentially stressful and challenging change of circumstance into a positive learning environment.
Gareth: Claire, what would you say is important to think about with regard to young people who have language and communication needs when educating remotely?
Claire: Identifying potential barriers and making reasonable adjustments for all young people with additional needs is a vital part of accessing education, and this process is just as important when educating remotely.
Recent events have caused a huge shift in the processes and methods we use to communicate, particularly in relation to education. Therefore, it is highly likely that any adjustments already in place for young people with language and communication needs will require reviewing and adapting. However, potentially, they could end up being replaced with different adjustments entirely.
The starting point for identifying barriers and adjustments should always begin with the pupils’ individual needs, and, where possible, discussing difficulties and ideas with the pupil and their families. Co-production is always the key to successful and appropriate access for young people with additional needs.
Gareth: How can we make sure that the use of technology enhances and supports pupils rather than provides an additional barrier?
Claire: If the young person struggles with elements of spoken language, they will also struggle with those elements within written texts. Therefore, when using technology in remote education, try thinking about it from the perspective of what works in the school environment. For example, you might rephrase or simplify instructions, or ‘chunk’ information when teaching new topics or explaining complex concepts. Do you provide demonstrations and/or encourage the young person to learn through hands-on/practical methods? How do you check that they have understood what they need to do?
Once you have this information, you could discuss possible adaptions and options for how you might offer similar but adapted support remotely. One idea could be to provide rephrased explanations or ‘chunked’ information through audio recordings. This method would allow the young person to rewind, pause and repeat instructions as often as they needed to, as it is common for young people with a vast range of additional needs to also struggle with auditory memory and retaining information.
Gareth: Some families may thrive on the ability to support routines without external factors having to be considered; others may really struggle. What advice or key elements do you think are important to consider?
Claire: As a parent to a young person with additional needs, I have decided to throw out the rule book, because it does not apply for us during this period. We are embracing the fact that learning can happen everywhere, in all situations, and focusing on our mental health and stress levels. This has helped us to settle and to figure out what our new, unique ‘normal’ is. So, my advice to families is to remember that there are no standard or typical paths to navigate through this period, only individual ones. You do not have to attempt to recreate school at home, unless that is what your child needs. If that is what they need, please remember that no one expects you to become a teacher of multiple subjects overnight. There are lots of online tools that can help you.
We are grateful to Claire for her insights, and for sharing a list of free online resources for anyone who may be struggling with their well-being during this period, parents who are homeschooling their children (with or without special education needs) and ways of beating self-isolation boredom!
List of Free Resources Available on Chatterpack.net
1) Free home learning resources for all ages and for learners with and without special educational needs and disabilities, including resources to support well-being, anxiety, and information and training for families and teachers:
2) Free speech and language, occupational therapy and learning resources for young people with SEND, including accessible resources for well-being, fun online and offline activities, and advice and support for families:
3) Free boredom busting activities for adults isolated at home, including arts/culture, music, learning, literature, virtual tours, well-being, etc:
Read our review of 'ADHD and Me!' by Claire Ryan here, a useful tool for informing children and young people about their diagnosis in a positive way!