Strike a balance

8th June 2007 at 01:00
Never underestimate children with disabilities. With the right support they can succeed. Gill Moore explains how

Physical difficulties may be caused by neurological factors or brain damage, and people with physical disabilities may or may not have learning difficulties.

The impact on learning will vary, but one of the big problems that pupils face is low expectation. Intelligence will cover the full range and it is important for teachers to find assessment methods that will allow pupils to demonstrate their potential.

Teachers and support staff must allow children to do what they can for themselves. Medical conditions may be stable or fluctuating and some, such as muscular dystrophy, are degenerative. Medication may affect the child's ability to concentrate or to remember. Chronic pain can affect an individual's attitude and behaviour.

Make sure desk, chair and computer screens are at a comfortable height and angle. Copy holders, foot rests, wrist supports and anti-glare screens should be provided if needed. Adapted keyboards and mice are invaluable and the Microsoft Accessibility Wizard will help you set up the computer to meet your learner's needs

UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU'RE WORKING WITH

Dyspraxia (now also known as Developmental Co-ordination Disorder), may affect one in 50 children, more often boys.

Children have poor hand-eye co-ordination, bump into things, fall over easily and dislike sports. They may be sensitive to noise or light.

Sometimes speech or handwriting will suffer.

Children can be helped to improve their motor skills, and speech therapy may help.

Teaching approaches

Think positively about what pupils can do.

Writing

Is handwriting essential?

Would bullet points or mind maps be acceptable?

Can you provide handouts for simple annotation?

Closed procedure and multiple choice questions enable pupils to demonstrate their understanding more easily.

Try different pens and triangular pencil grips.

Would a clipboard help? Could someone scribe answers or notes?

Reading

Pay attention to the page layout.

Set information out in panels.

Use symbols and pictures.

Use a ruler or a piece of card with a window cut in it to help the reader focus on particular lines.

Back up written information with speech.

Listening

Pupils may hear the words but not understand the meaning.

Be patient.

Give instructions one at a time.

Use pictures, signs and symbols.

Speech

Speech may be slow or slurred.

Help them articulate their ideas.

Use body language, signs, pointing to pictures or symbols where appropriate.

Memory problems

Break down the things you want them to learn into small units. Find out what triggers and associations help them access memory.

Build up individualised teaching resources such as personal dictionaries, cue cards and diaries.

Further help

Makaton is a language for people who have difficulty with speaking andor writing. www.makaton.org

The Dyspraxia Foundation www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk

For information on adaptive technology try www.techdis.ac.uk

Gill Moore is a lecturer in basic skills and a special needs governor

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