A recruitment advert for an early years setting recently caused a stir on social media as it stated they were looking for a practitioner with “…experience in handling children with autism.” Parents and professionals responded with anger, shocked that the term ‘handling’ had been used. They felt this showed a complete lack of understanding on the part of the setting and was completely inappropriate. Of course, I agree that the term ‘handling’ shouldn’t have been used, but a quick read of the Ofsted report showed this was a ‘good’ setting where “children with special educational needs and/or disabilities are supported through effective partnerships with their parents and outside professionals.”
For me, the advert reflected what I hear from early years practitioners when I deliver training. Although they are confident and competent, they feel that they do not have the skills to meet a child’s needs when they have received a diagnosis. A diagnosis doesn’t change a child and when I was an Area SENCO, it made little difference to how practitioners in the best settings met a child’s needs because they were already working at the child’s developmental level, using the child’s interests to motivate them and most importantly, asking parents and professionals for advice when they were unsure.
On many occasions, I’ve seen a key person preventing a child with autism becoming distressed because they recognised the signs that they were becoming anxious and either removed them from the situation or found something that would calm them such as a favourite book, song or toy. I’ve witnessed the key person of a child with Down syndrome encourage sensory play by placing the child’s favourite laminated cartoon characters in the water tray, playdough and sand. I’ve seen another key person buy a pair of ski trousers from a charity shop so a child with Cerebral Palsy could play outside without hurting their knees. None of these actions required specialist knowledge, they needed a reflective practitioner who had the time and skills to look at a situation from the child’s point of view and adapt the environment to meet their needs.
- Parents are the experts on their child, ask them if you have any queries.
- Try to break tasks into small, achievable steps so the child enjoys the experience and feels successful.
- All practitioners should support the child so that expertise can be shared. The child is part of the setting and if difficulties occur, all staff need to offer solutions.
- With parental permission, if there are other professionals involved then contact them for advice – don’t wait for them to visit or make contact with you if you need support.
- Celebrate the child’s achievements, particularly those that mean they are becoming more independent.
- If you need information about a specific diagnosis, look at a reputable source such as the information produced by the charity Contact a Family
Most importantly, don’t underestimate your own skills and ability to meet a child’s needs, sometimes you just need to look at things a little differently!
About the author
Kathryn is a specialist early years teacher and trainer who has worked with children for nearly 25 years, including 10 years as an Area SENCO. She is an ELKLAN Speech and Language Trainer and regularly writes and delivers courses for early years practitioners on all aspects of SEND. You can follow her on Twitter @kathrynstinton2, find her on Facebook or visit her website for more information.