All together now

27th October 2006 at 01:00
Among the past year's best books on special needs are ideas for inclusive PE, a picture book about an autistic boy, and a critical study of ADHD.

Karen Gold reports

Guess what, Mrs Addy," burst out 10-year-old Luke at the start of his weekly exercise session. "Guess what, guess what! I've been chosen to play for the school football team." "Knowing this little boy's co-ordination (he has Asperger's Syndrome)," says occupational therapist Lois Addy, "I thought that was pretty good going.

"I said to him, 'Luke, that's fantastic. What position are you playing? Centre forward? Defence? Goalie?' He said, 'No, I'm the manager.' I said, 'What do you do? Do you coach the team?' He said 'No.' I said, 'Are you working out exercises for them?' 'No.' I said, 'What do you have to do?' He said 'My job is to stand on the sidelines and shout as loudly as I can.'

"Later on he took my hand and said. 'I know I'm the manager Lois, but I'd rather get a goal.' That's what happens to kids with co-ordination difficulties. They get shut out and alienated."

For 23 years working in paediatric occupational therapy, Lois Addy has heard stories like that. When she moved from clinical practice to training physiotherapists and OTs at Leeds University's York St John college, she began to see her own experience repeated among her students and colleagues: for an hour a week they would work individually with a child with physical disabilities andor co-ordination difficulties, only to see the child return having forgotten what they had learned and having acquired another week's worth of frustration and failure at school.

She tried going into primary schools to brief the children's class teachers. But every year children would move on and the process would have to be repeated. She experimented with briefing days for a whole staff: they worked better, at least in helping the school understand that physical co-ordination was at the heart of difficulties their students had with everything: handwriting, standing in a line, sitting still, eating lunch, making friends.

She began to set up study days at York for classroom teachers. At the end of each day they always asked if she had any materials they could use. And then the penny dropped, and she started to write them.

She had already written two books on handwriting, Write from the Start and Speed Up, inspired by a trip to Romania in the 1990s during which she and her engineer husband visited a rural boys' orphanage to see how they could help. He worked on the building while she devised exercise programmes for the children but also collaborated with one of the orphanage teachers, Ion Teodorescu, to develop the handwriting method that she has written up in her books. Part of the royalties from their sales go to buy farms - the second has just become operational - where orphanage-leavers can be apprenticed, she says, rather than end up on the streets.

With a view to bring together medical practice and the classroom curriculum, she started work on Get Physical!, the collection of 40 vibrant PE sessions for key stage 1 children which has won the 2006 NASENTES teaching and learning award. It took her a year to write. She drew on every game she had ever played in her hour-long small group physiotherapy sessions, to transform them into 35-minute whole-class sessions.

While writing, she says, she held particular children in mind: one in a wheelchair, one with muscular dystrophy, one with cerebral palsy, one with autism, one with dyspraxia. Yet the book is aimed squarely at the mainstream class, concentrating on fundamentals such as balance, muscle strength, hand-eye co-ordination, that underpin the physical development of every child. "When we play floor football, where you pretend the children's bottoms are superglued to the floor and they use their hands as flippers, it really strengthens the child's upper body and legs, while keeping their posture stable," she says. Every session contains a warm-up followed by activities done individually, in pairs and as a group, with adjustments for children who need them: a Velcro mitt for those with difficulty catching; a batting tee for children whose hand-eye co-ordination is too weak to hit a moving object.

All focus on developing fundamental physical skills. To catch a ball, for example, a child needs to be able to use both hands (bilateral integration), to assess where they are standing in relation to the ball (mid-line centre), an awareness of speed and timing, an understanding of the size of the ball (form constancy), and an awareness of where their own limbs are (proprioception). It sounds a long way from Wembley, and although a key stage 2 book is under way it will be harder, she agrees, to keep the focus on underpinning skills when the national curriculum, parental and pupil pressure all demand "proper" team sport.

But, she argues, "Sporty children have opportunities that children with co-ordination difficulties don't have. "I've never had anyone saying 'This is hindering my child's development.' All the children are still having to do their spatial planning and judging the distance and speed of the ball.

That's what they'll need when they play for Man United."

The winners

Books for Teaching and Learning Award winner: Get Physical! An inclusive, therapeutic PE programme to develop motor skills, by Lois Addy, LDA, Pounds 22.99 Academic Book Award winner: Critical New Perspectives on ADHD, by Gwynedd Lloyd, Joan Stead and David Cohen, Routledge, pound;22.50 Children's Book Award: Looking After Louis, by Lesley Ely, illustrated by Polly Dunbar, Frances Lincoln Books, pound;10.99 The awards were presented by Ade Adepitan at the British Library

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