Is specialist autism training a good idea in ITT?

When I first came into contact with the education system, I made excuses. I hear the exact same excuses being made by other parents when I do my advocacy work. It generally goes along the lines of – ‘schools aren’t really set up for kids like mine’, ‘it’s not their fault, there should be special arrangements/teaching’, ‘they need more funding/support’ etc etc. I’ve since done a complete U-turn. While a few students might require a more therapeutic/nursing environment, these are few and far between. Warnock envisaged about 2%, everyone else should be supported in local schools with a bit of additional help. I have blogged about this before – are parents inadvertently perpetuating this social myth of ‘special’ needing ‘separate’ and schools happily playing their role of ‘not qualified enough’? What school is not ‘qualified enough’ to support a dyslexic student? Or a dyspraxic one? How about ADHD and Aspergers? Surely, all of these ‘conditions’ generally only require the Reasonable Adjustments that should be part of good practice?

Thirty-eight years on from the Warnock Report, I’m not sure we’ve actually got very far, although ASD is now going to feature in Initial Teacher Training (ITT). I’m not sure that’s a very good idea. The more we use labels, the more we perpetuate ‘special & separate’. In any case, what does the label actually tell us? Years ago, I would have been shouting ‘special & separate’ from the rooftops, now I’ve learned more about children’s development and learning and, funnily enough, it’s neither special nor separate. Yes, there’s typical and atypical, but labels are imposed. Typically, children learn to crawl, pull themselves up and then walk. A few, like me and my brother, skipped the crawl phase. My brother just got up & walked, I was a bum-shuffler. We were both atypical, but the outcome was the same as a typical child – we walked. Cognitive functioning isn’t so much different. Even if development is atypical, it doesn’t mean the end destination is also atypical. Where is the dividing line anyway? It may just be that it takes longer, or work-arounds are needed. A bit of wheeling and encircling rather than walking and running.

If I describe some functioning difficulties, can you tell what the label is?

  • Organisation
  • Working memory
  • Slow processing
  • Sequencing
  • Motor skills
  • Auditory/visual processing
  • Literacy (reading/spelling/comprehension/fluency)
  • Distractible

Suggested answers will probably depend on your child’s label – ASD, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia/DCD etc. The professionals often say that these ‘conditions’ overlap and children may acquire more than one label. Some have a whole list of them. Without knowing how a child is affected, the label is pretty much useless. One thing I do know about my students with ASD is that no two are alike. A few years ago I taught a chap who had very poor spelling and little understanding of number (I wasn’t then in a position to teach him these skills, he was, in part, some of the reason why I chose to specialise). Recently I assessed another student with ASD for exam concessions who was well above average for every test I did, but his comprehension just wasn’t there. He scored well in my ‘usual’ assessment of comprehension, but was citing the sentence rather than demonstrating understanding. I had to find an alternative test to show this. The first student was witty and quietly engaging, projecting an air of ability that was, actually, significantly impaired. The second appeared to be intellectually impaired due to his social language issues, but was otherwise highly academically able. So what, exactly, is going to be taught as ‘autism’ in ITT?

Will ASD-specific ITT cover the ‘core’ only, i.e. social communication and restricted/repetitive behaviours, or the whole wide spectrum of difference? Given the overlap with other Specific Learning Difficulties, wouldn’t it be better to teach teachers to organise their classroom practices around the cluster of issues listed above, so that it would not only be a catch-all safety net, but also so it removes the bulk of ‘special & separate’? What classroom could not be made to accommodate these various learning differences as standard? Surely by doing so, it would free up teachers to concentrate on whatever difficulty remains? What school, what teacher cannot do this?

If it is assumed, for example, that all children may find it difficult to copy from the board (for all sorts of reasons), an effective teaching strategy would be to have handouts available to those who need them. I’m a big believer in allowing students to choose for themselves if they need them and leftovers can be re-used for revision/lost books/absentees etc. I’m also a big believer in making my life easier! The more ‘differentiation’ that can be done at whole-class level, the less I need to do for individual students. I can spend more of my time on quality teaching for what difficulty remains. In other words, the bits of teaching that ‘are not of a kind generally made for peers of the same age in … mainstream’. A move to a whole-class approach also removes the need for a substantial number of students to require an EHCP.

It is not only the student with ASD who may need assistance with social use of language, shy students and those with limited English may also benefit from group work in this area. Likewise, a student with ASD and spelling difficulties may also be linked with dyslexic students and English-learners. Of course, it will all depend on age, stage and personalities!

Students with weaker working memories forget key pieces of information which can inhibit their progress. Likewise, those who are prone to distractibility will not learn efficiently in a high-sensory environment. Motor skills issues & visual/motor integration issues will slow a student down, so they run out of time/unable to complete ‘tidy’ work in the timescale available. Knowing these issues exist to various extents in a larger population, and the types of differentiation which may assist, has got to be far more useful than learning a label, surely?!?!

How are we ever going to move forward if we continue to insist on a label-led approach, which does not feature in SEND law?

Research

During a 4 week period from late April to late May I conducted some research into the EHCP process. 218 parents responded to my request to take part in a survey. I am publishing the entire report here (below) and http://www.specialneedsjungle.com/ehcp-process-bren-parent-participatory-research/ has the ‘short version’ if you’d rather read something a tad less dry! Either way, please feel free to share widely. This isn’t published in an academic journal, so it needs to be spread by ‘word-of-mouth’ if we want the powers that be to take notice. This was written by a parent (me) for parents and with parents.

The full version is rather long, so I’ve attached it as a Word document to download. If you have any issues accessing it, please let me know.

Parental reports on the EHCP process

Post Baker Small: What comes next?

Now that Baker Small has lost contracts with LAs (with more to come?), it seems that we have a window of opportunity to effect some real change. Not just in those LAs where Baker Small was commissioned, but in other LAs too. Baker Small aren’t the only solicitors firm on the block.

We could now take a leaf out of the wonderful @sarasiobhan & co’s book and keep up the pressure. Without their tenacity and dogged determination, the Southern Health scandal would have quietly slipped away and even more people will have had their deaths uninvestigated.

With SEND tribunals, we can quietly slip back into the shadows and Baker Small will be quietly replaced by Small Baker or similar, or we keep up the pressure for change. One of the first issues has to be around the Statutory Assessment (SA) process and Refusal to Assess appeals. a whopping 84% are won by parents, why? Put simply, because they are appeals that the LAs should not have allowed to happen in the first place. They are wastes of taxpayers’ money. I’m not, for one moment, suggesting that LAs just waive through everything that parents’ want unchallenged, that would be plain wrong. What I am saying is that LAs need to go back and look at what the law has to say and defend the right appeals for the right reasons.

We, as parents, want good quality assessments, we want a broad range (SEN Reg 6 again) and the reports must identify needs, provision to meet them and the outcomes that provision is to provide. This simply isn’t happening in too many cases (research results to follow). I do have to ask the question though – why has a parent asked for a SA? Is it because, perhaps, the actually want a diagnosis? If it is, the chances are that they ought to be going through their GP, not the LA. ASD (without LD), dyspraxia, ADHD and language difficulties are all high incidence Specific Learning Difficulties that can be explored by the medical profession. Dyslexia, however, isn’t in most cases. For that you do need an Educational Psychologist or a Specialist Teacher. However, it’s not about labels, it’s about provision that is in addition to, or different from, that normally found within mainstream. What a child or young person needs is not affected by their diagnosis. They remain the same person.Whether or not a plan needs writing is based on the outcomes of the assessment, and whether or not they need the legal protection it brings to secure the provision.

There are of course, other reasons parents use tribunal. But what if schools were supported and challenged to do more for the high incidence-low cost SEN/D students? LAs should have published via their Local Offer, exactly what type of support they expect schools to make from their budgets. It’s shouldn’t be waffly, or state ‘see individual school’s offers’, it should be clear. For example, 1 hr per week explicit literacy teaching for pupils who are finding hard to acquire literacy? Why not? Primary schools have phonics teachers, high school are now having to train & ensure they have a Specialist Teacher to assess for exam access arrangements, so in my book, both levels have specialists who can do this – with LA support where necessary.

LAs need to continue to hear our voices, we need to keep up the momentum to stop the slide back into unnecessary and adversarial processes. I’m not suggesting how as such, as, well, I don’t know all the answers. One thought I’ve had is to lobby you LA to hold some open meetings, get involved, co-produce (with or without you parent/carer forum). Someone else on Twitter suggested joint training, where LA officers, school and parents all train together on what the law states. Nice thought, but the training would need to be a) impartial and b) independent. This lobbying could happen in all LAs, not just those using Baker Small, we could keep the momentum of parent-power.

I shall have to pass the mantle on to parents, as I’m now dropping out of the SEN/D system as a parent. I’m still here as an advocate though! Food for thought anyway.

Implosion

A great many Twitter users watched as the strangest of events unfolded on Saturday 11th June. Social media is a funny thing, there you are, sitting quite happily in the comfort of your own armchair, chatting away. Guards are down and you forget those other eyes that can be watching in, you forget that you are typing and not actually talking, you forget that anything put in writing can come back and bite you on the bum.

I’m not sure that having a cosy chat though, was on one solicitor’s mind. What seemed to be on his mind is those occasions where there’s been a big case, a case that’s tested what was actually meant by a specific strand of writing contained in a law. On the one side, there’s a solicitor, working on behalf of a Local Authority, attempting to dilute meaning so as to ‘lessen the financial burden on the LA’. On the other, because important case law might be being established, a parent may be supported by a pro bono solicitor or a legal charity, or maybe they have deep enough pockets themselves to hire a Lawyer. Their legal team will be seeking to strengthen what is meant in law, because it is important for those the law serves. Because of the importance of the clarification, the result is often widely publicised. It may in the favour of the LA, or in favour of children with SEN/D. Last week a judgement was passed in two cases which were heard together, the judgements can be found here: https://www.senexpertsolicitors.co.uk/news/clarity-upper-tribunal-young-people-ehcps/

I don’t know if this was at the back of the LA’s solicitors mind on Saturday, but his posts might indicate that it may have been the case. The judgements found in favour of the parents’ (Lawyers) understanding of what the law meant. The subsequent posts from the LAs solicitor were bizarre and the most unfortunate upshot, to borrow from a Tweet, is that the solicitor concerned may have just become the greatest whistle-blower into the workings of a SEND appeal from a LAs perspective that there has ever been (sorry, I don’t know the original posters name).

First-tier tribunals, just like the Upper Tier described above, should be about clarification. The point of SENDIST is so a parent, who remains in disagreement with an LAs decision, can ask the tribunal to act in the LAs place to decide whether or not their child is legally entitled to what is being requested. Of course, they must provide evidence for what they are seeking, whether it’s an assessment of needs, an hour a week of explicit literacy teaching or speech therapy, or a change of school. By the time that parents reach tribunal, they tend to be tightly coiled and emotionally spent. They may also be financially spent, having had to seek independent reports to support their case. The vast majority of parents will not know the law. They will make emotional appeals based on what they view as a ‘common sense’ approach. Their child might be falling further and further behind, they might not even be in school at all. Minor issues that could have been easily resolved with some early support may now be entrenched mental ill-health. the parents who found themselves in the Upper Tier will have already gone through the First Tier.

So what actually happened on Saturday night? Well, this solicitor, who has contracts with multiple LAs to defend parents’ appeals, decided to publish a taunting post. Not only was he taunting, he may well have exposed who his target family were. Big data protection no-no. It seems that the solicitor was happy that a parent did not know their legal rights and waived away the support that the child should have had, support that the child was entitled to. Yes, that was the upshot. He was happy that a parent was not educated well enough in the law to secure the support that the LA had a duty to provide.

It was suggested that he reflected on the appropriateness of the tweet and off it went. A Twitter storm. He taunted and then blocked angered parents, he also blocked professionals suggesting he ought to desist. A parent did a quickie search to look at contract values, others offered further information. It was estimated that there was over £1million in live contracts. That’s over £1million of taxpayers money being spent so that LAs can oppose amendments to SEN/D children’s support. Over £1million towards ensuring that LAs do not have to comply with their duties. £1million that could have put support and training into schools.

Were parents angry? You bet they were. Are the LAs angry? We will have to wait and see. They have been exposed as deliberately employing a firm of solicitors who, rather than advise the LA on their duties, are there to avoid them having to meet them. Quite embarrassing, yes?

More information can be found through the following links:

https://t.co/zdcVrfb4GA

https://t.co/Xn2tcNlO2n

https://t.co/O5Tq9yCDOf

SEN Law & Professional Responsibility

Baker Small (BS), what were you thinking?

 

Food, glorious food

Like lots of us do when there’s an important essay to write, I am procrastinating. Well that’s what others will tell me I am doing. I like to think that I am actively engaged in some metacognitive activity, for while I am writing on an unrelated subject, I am also pondering on the ‘real’ one (the real one, by the way, is the write-up of the research I’ve been doing). The topic here is food. A fellow Tweeter described her offspring’s eating habits as ‘self-imposed’ and while I understand her point, I am inclined to disagree.

Somewhere back in the late 70’s, our class teacher wrote a load of different types of food on the board and divided it in two. On the one side, there was traditional ‘British’ food – the meat-and-two-veg kind of stuff, along with fish & chips, burgers, sausages etc. On the other side of the board was fish, pasta, fruit, nuts, pulses etc. We were asked who ate mainly from each side. Only one person failed to raise their hand to the ‘British’ fare – me. Later, I did an ‘O’ level in Food and Nutrition. We learned all about the food groups, what they do and how to balance a diet. We didn’t do the types of topics seen in modern exams, we did more chemistry/biology in the theory lessons and did ‘real’ cooking in the practical. We researched menu, bought the ingredients and cooked. No ‘tin of this’ or ‘ready cooked that’ – or even – just bring in £X to pay for school-supplied ingredients for school-supplied menus.

I learned that we needed protein for muscle and cell repair, carbohydrates for energy and an array of micronutrients for things to work well. Back then, there were no leaflets given out, no Eatwell plate to copy. We had a book. A big book. The book contained recommended doses of X & Y to create the optimum diet, both on the macro and the micro level, which foods they were found in and in what quantities. Looking back, we learned some tough stuff! I took away with me some important information. Too little protein and we become weak, our bodies won’t self-repair. The body burns carbs to fuel itself, too little and not only will you not have energy, your brain will start to get confused. Too much and your body will not burn surpluses in its fat stores, so you will put on weight. Fat stores are our safety net, our rocket-boosters for when we find ourselves being chased by a lion, or for pregnancy. Women store a little more around their waist/hips/thighs just for that job!

More recently I’ve been amused by the talk on the news that ‘fat isn’t bad for you’ and ‘eating too much carb’ makes you fat. Hmmm. I had this discussion with a chemist in a spa pool at the local gym some 10yrs ago. She didn’t follow, she said she had a PhD. I was confused – I learned this stuff doing an ‘O’ Level in the dying age of Glam Rock and the advent of the Punk one……. Why is it only now that it’s news?

So, back to food. I am informed. I know what it all does and why. I love reading those magazines at Christmas with their glorious pictures of ‘the big dinner’. I get excited. I plan the menu. I don’t eat it. I never eat it. I don’t like it. And there it is, the elephant in the room. Is it self-imposed though? I have no memories of eating ‘normally’, even though I have some fairly strong memories spanning back to about 3yrs of age. I’m smiling – my dad grew some peas at the bottom of the garden, just in front of the shed. I’m not sure he saw the fruits of his work because I couldn’t help popping a pod here and a pod there. I love raw peas, I like mushy peas, I hate frozen, tinned or otherwise cooked peas (don’t ask me why I like mushy ones!). I like other raw veggies, such as carrots and cauliflower. I hate cooked veggies (except potatoes). I discovered I like raw cabbage in my teens – the usual night out then everyone went for a kebab….

Back in middle school, our dinner ladies used to serve us our food to us at the table, but dessert was a big bowl of something plonked in the middle of our table, which we served ourselves. More often or not it was a milky pud, such as sago or semolina which was ignored by most of my peers – bliss. I got to pig out! The only thing I didn’t eat was chocolate flavoured blancmange. I don’t like chocolate cake either, yet I like chocolate.

I have, for as long as I can remember, a very uneasy relationship with food. Not food in general, just certain types of food. I’m not sure I can fully explain this, but for those whose children are ‘picky eaters’, I’ll have a go.

When we eat, we don’t just eat food, we eat flavours and textures. We eat with our eyes, ears and noses. We see it, we hear it coming, we smell it. Restaurants have popped up which serve you in pitch darkness, the experience is changed. Wine tastings have been done to music, the same wine but the taste is changed. We know that serving food on smaller plates leave you feeling fuller than the same portion on a bigger plate. Like cats hearing the biscuits being shook, we start to anticipate. Dogs salivate on the opening of the tin. We salivate to get the gastric juices ready to receive the meal. What happens when you don’t get the cue? When your mouth doesn’t water when you hear the pans go on, or smell the food cooking, or see the meal in front of you? What happens when the food tastes like battery acid or smells bad? Will you salivate then?

I have become aware of the fact that what I am tasting is somewhat different to what others taste – even when eating in front of the TV, when people generally stop tasting what they’re eating and just shovel it in anyway. There’s appears to be a taste-bypass for many, because they’ve already ‘eaten’ the taste when they smelled the food before arrival? I drink my coffee black usually, without sugar. I gave up sugar in the shortage of ‘74. I can taste if the spoon used to stir my coffee was used in a cup with sugar in it first. Many foods ‘leak’, especially celery, onion and peppers. You can’t simply remove the offending item from the meal because it has touched other foods and ‘leaked’ its flavour. ‘But it’s not even touching it’ is something I’ve heard so many times, but you used the same knife, the same chopping board didn’t you? Like the spoon you used to stir my coffee. ‘But you’ve never tasted it’ is another cry. No, but I smelled it. I could smell it cooking, I could taste it cooking. Can you taste it in the air? Can you taste the heady perfume of the lady walking ahead of you? Can you taste the smoke when passing the pub? I don’t need to put foods to my lips to taste it. I can taste it in the air.

Then there’s the texture. The thought of texture is new to me, something that was suggested on Twitter. I like crunch, I like foods that make my jaw work. I also like to eat slowly, I savour each mouthful. I’m inclined to eat breakfast and dessert with a teaspoon. Even cake, nice small mouthfuls at a time. I like flavour too. I like herbs and spices, lemon and grapefruit. While ‘normal’ people are salivating over the cake counter at the sticky buns on offer, or the deli counter at the cooking meats or ready-to-go meals, I can be found in the fruit & veg section. What fruits are there? What’s in season? Is there something I haven’t tried? What about nuts? How much are they? Should I have a tomato pasta for dinner? Maybe some Lemon Sole goujons over a salad with some walnuts and sour dough rolls, maybe a touch of homemade sweet chilli sauce?

It’s not that I don’t like food. It’s not that I’m in some kind of self-exile (except chicken, I choose not to eat chicken) or following a fad (I am actually both allergic & intolerant of milk). It’s like what my high school teacher did. I just don’t like your side of the board.

Unprecendented!

About six weeks ago I wrote a letter. I’m not going to say too much about my reasons or the recipient, but a Twitter colleague made a comment about reading it, so I sent it over to the wonderful @AspieDeLaZouch. He, in turn, suggested I asked Tania @SpcialNdsJungle and so The Great EHCP Swindle was born http://www.specialneedsjungle.com/great-ehcp-swindle

To date, the post has been shared over 800 times and this blog had a huge surge in viewings, as well as my Twitter follower numbers swelling! I’m not at celebrity status as yet, but it is kinda nice, if somewhat surprising, that my post has gone far and wide.

I would like to think that The Great EHCP Swindle, despite its title, is a straightforward clarification of law. The advocacy charity I volunteer for is both impartial and independent. What I say does not change depending on who I speak to. The law is the same whoever you are! I usually recite what the law states in lay terms to parents, use legal citations if/where necessary and allow whoever I’m talking to, to make their own decisions as to what they wish to do with the information given. Some may follow what I say to the letter, others ignore me and do their own thing. I don’t have a problem with either, or anything in between. I impart.

This week I also launched a survey to see how the EHCP process is doing. It is basically a tick-box exercise with a space for personal comments. The survey, I hope, is as impartial as it can be. The questions are straight forward and I have avoided sliding scales. Either you have this report or that – or you don’t. Either some, all or no reports state outcomes. Sliding scales do not really fit here.

I’ve wanted to do this as a piece of research for a while – well actually, I would have loved to do this as part of a Doctorate in Education, but I wasn’t accepted this time round. No problem – I’ll run my own pilot study and practice my writing skills at the end! I’m a glutton for punishment…..

The government commissioned a report into parental satisfaction of the EHCP process, released recently, but I fear for the biases. I’m not, in any way, shape or form knocking the researchers. However, the research was set by the government & families selected by the LAs involved. It is of a different type to mine. Mine is an England-wide snapshot of self-selecting participants. It is unfunded and completely independent. I cannot say that it will be without its flaws, but it will be as unbiased as I can possibly achieve. I have had no control over where it has been shared or who has chosen to complete it. There’s no ‘Countdown’ – “I’ll have two big ones and the rest small, please Rachel” – here. When I launched the survey, I only had an inkling of what the results might look like, but no-one calls an advocacy charity because everything is going swimmingly!

The more people who fill in my survey, the better a picture will be drawn. I can’t work in the thousands – not least because the price-plan doesn’t allow for this. I can collect up to 100 responses, which will be a huge amount of data for me to work with. I’d be happy if I reach 77, as that’s how many families were involved with the government’s survey.

Please bear with me while I write it all up. I want to make a good job of it all but it is quite a daunting task, but hopefully not an overwhelming one. If you’ve not seen my survey, it is here: surveymonkey.co.uk/r/TS3V7WM The counter is now at 60!!!! EEEEEK!

Visual musings

Just a quickie as I haven’t blogged for a while – when I say quickie, I may ramble on! I’m in a musing mood, so I am just musing along….

I’ve been on Twitter for quite a while now. I resisted the move for ages, having previously been part of the old MSN groups, with all the back-biting and bulling that came with them. At that time, the groups I joined were focussed on ASD and generally run by people who may have started out as well-meaning and helpful, but developed into something more sinister. Snake-oil cures (e.g. chelation) and the hounding out of people who disagreed with the site’s owner were commonplace.

On Twitter, I have very occasionally bumped heads with such people, but on the whole, it’s been good. It is a place where I can have a difference of opinion – generally as long as it is not linked to literacy – and remain on good terms with my counter-arguer. Maybe most of those that I choose to follow and who follow me, are proper grown-ups?

Over the last few days I have been questioning why ‘visuals’ are required for those with ASD. Where has this idea come from and why does it seem to endure? It may be that someone passing by this blog can produce some supporting research for this? Two posts have sparked my thinking – firstly there was a tweet saying ‘not just for autistic people’ linked to this article: http://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-04-need-to-remember-something-better.html then someone else sent me this: https://www.autism.com/advocacy_grandin_visual%20thinking

I have no issue with either article. The former does not say ‘for ASD’, the tweeter did, the latter is Temple Grandin’s discussion of her own processing and how it may also link to others. The curious part for me is why the initial tweeter thought that doodling information was ‘just for autistics’ in the first place? Why have we got to the point that visual timetables etc should be a staple of an autistic’s statement, EHCP or IEP/ILP?

I pretty much spend two day a week, seven months of the year, assessing students for access arrangements for their exams. Generally my starting place, unless a student’s profile suggests otherwise, is working memory. With working memory, I assess both visual and verbal memory – and the assessment of visual memory may direct me to test for visual stress and/or dyspraxia (both visually mediated and both subjects of a past blog). The more students I assess, the clearer the picture I see – some student’s visual and verbal memories are similar, and some are not. Some students may have ASD (diagnosed or suspected) and others do not. I do not see any patterns specific to autistic students. None.

Temple Grandin discusses thinking in pictures, it is the way she processes, but is it unique to autism or do others also think in pictures? I dream in colour, sometimes quite vivid colours, but I am told this is unusual. Is it? I wouldn’t know and it’s not an area in which I have read research. Thinking in pictures, however, is not the same as visual memory and I think it’s unwise to assume that people with an above average visual memory think in pictures!

In one of my uni exams I tried to revise using pictures, I’d become aware of the medication that I take for neuropathic pain interfered with my recall, hence trying a different approach. I linked pictures with words, so for the surname ‘Alonso’, I used a picture of Fernando Alonso. I can still ‘see’ him in his old Renault blue-and-gold racing suit, but I can’t now remember a thing about Mrs Alonso & what she did. It was a spectacular fail. However, if I go back a bit further to my bullet-point lists, I do remember: Behaviourism, Pavlov -> salivating dogs; Skinner -> box -> rats. Even now, I can easily write a short paragraph on each, along with others like Bronfenbrenner, Vygotsky, Piaget, Bentham, Goffman etc. All learned via bullet-point lists. Obviously I tapped into my visual memory to ‘see’ the list in my mind’s eye, but often spoke them out aloud. My verbal memory is higher than my visual.

My ‘hobby’ for want of a better description (I like hobby as hobbies are something you enjoy, do in you leisure time and do not usually get paid for!) is volunteering for a large SEND charity giving legally-based advice. I often discuss EP reports with callers/parents I work with, as no-one has ever actually explained what they mean. A big part of my work is establishing a student’s needs, based on their cognitive assessments. I see many statements/EHCPs that call for a variety of visual prompts, seemingly contrary to the EP report. I like to see if concrete/verbal skills are the same/better/worse than visual/fluid skills. Again, like the assessments I undertake at work, I am not seeing any biases towards one or the other in regards to ASD. It seems to me that autistics are as variable in these skills as the rest of the population.

Someone on Twitter said that the use of visuals is part of TEACCH and so it is. I am confused however, how a programme that states that it uses empirical research, is based on the promotion of visual supports, since a) I cannot find any evidence myself that all autistics rely on visuals and b) I haven’t seen any research that also supports the idea that all autistics benefit from this.

I think a big spanner in the works is if the student also has dyspraxia and/or visual stress. This is frequently not picked up on in EP reports, possibly because the LA has not requested that the EP look for these? One child I have tracked through, has EP reports going back to around 3yrs old. Visual/spatial assessments between the ages to 3-15 have all placed him in the well-below average range, but more concrete skills, such as reading/analogies have been well above average (or even above the test’s ceiling – many tests used by EPs stop at 16). Although there were many instances of the mother stating that her son’s hand-eye coordination was ‘a bit off’ and he struggled with jigsaws, it wasn’t until his independent report at 15 that he gained a dyspraxia diagnosis. Was it ever appropriate to suggest this student should have a visual cues? Would he ever have made sense of them? Should he be using drawings to support his memory when he can’t draw for toffee? (Think basic stick-man).

In my opinion, if you have access to an EP/SaLT/Specialist Teacher report that discusses visual ability, use it as a basis for support rather than rely on a generalist notion of what is needed – please?