Saturday, 17 October 2009

Up before the Beak

Last Thursday (15th Oct) Angharad's nursery teacher told me that the Deputy Headmistress, who is also the SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-Ordinator), wanted to see Nik and me at 1100 hours on Friday. My atavistic and instinctive reaction was dread; reminded of those occasions when I had been told to stand outside the Headmaster's door. 

'Barrel' looked as you'd expect a man with that moniker to look, rotund with a shock of white hair and a square face. In Lower Sixth he assured me that I needed to get my finger out [his words]. Since then I had to see the Head of School during two of my four degrees for various offences mostly being variants on the theme of get your finger out and do yourself justice.

I broke the pattern at Cambridge when the Head Honcho wanted to know how I'd got on during the Ash Wednesday vigil at the MoD in London. I'd been arrested with 90 others, in my case for chalking "PEA  " on the walls. The arresting officer couldn't get over the fact that I'd written up a vegetable, overlooking that this was a Pacifists' Peace Rally and that he had interrupted me halfway through writing PEACE. This was during my Fellowship of Reconciliation, hippyish, hug the trees period. Now, I recommend nuking things. 

Anyway, we turned up on Friday and the Deputy Head simply wanted to talk about Angharad's Individualized Education Plan. For three year olds these are quite basic of course. Listening to Today on Radio 4 that morning Ministers of Education were doing their best to rubbish the Cambridge report that stated the emphasis on SATS for 5 year olds was wrong and that later commencement of formal education was more effective. So we were already thankful that here in Wales the Assembly has adopted a Foundation Phase that recognizes the benefits of learning through play for the earliest years. Well, for Angharad the school wants her by xmas 'to understand and express person and action phases when supported with signs and symbols', and 'with support, to be able to sit still on the mat during class/group book sessions alongside the other children'.

Fancy that - ACE is not yet brilliant at sitting to order! Mistaken identity surely? Mind you, she can sit when SHE wants to for lengthy periods. But that one should be achievable. And, judging by her fine achievements since starting school, she should make further progress on the words and signs too.

It's interesting this. In Thursday's dance classes the kids are each asked to choose something for the group to do in that song - wriggling, jumping, rolling, running, etc. Similarly, in Friday's music class the kids are asked to name their favourite animals so that the group can make the relevant noise.  Angharad understands each of the concepts (running etc) and knows all of the animals that might be chosen. She can differentiate between each concept/animal and she can use the relevant Makaton sign. She can even accurately point/pick out combinations of these (e.g. running horses, wriggling snakes, sleeping elephants as opposed to sleeping horses, and such combinations). But she is not yet able to make that separate conceptualization of imagining ab initio from a tabula rasa (heh, sorry!) an action or animal noise. So I give her a paired verbal comparison/choice and ask her to say 'yes' to the one she'd like me to convey to the group. Close but in no way the same thing.

I'm not sure whether this is a deficit that is a consequence of Down Syndrome or simply a slowish development of a skill that she will develop as soon as her language development gets over the current, DS-related, early difficulties. Of course, there is no guarantee that she will get over these early difficulties, but most of us expect her to. The downsed publication 'An overview of the development of infants with Down syndrome, page 7 (link below at end of posting)' puts it thus:


...are more delayed than the children's non-verbal understanding and reasoning abilities. This is a pattern of specific language impairment. Most children with DS understand more language than they can use as a result of specific speech production difficulties. For this reason, learning to sign will help the majority of children to communicate, to show their understanding and reduce their frustration. Hearing difficulties, usually due to 'glue ear' are common and contribute to speech and language difficulties.  For msot children with DS, the most serious delay that they experience is in learning to talk. This is not only frustrating but it has serious consequences for all other aspects of their social and cognitive development.

...As children learn to talk, each new word that they learn is a new concept or piece of information about their world. Once they can string words together, speech becomes a powerful tool for learning and communicating with everyone in their world, and it also becomes a tool for thinking, remembering and reasoning. We carry out these mental activities using silent speech in our minds. While we can also use visual imagery to imagine and recall events, reasoning with the use of language is considerably more powerful. It follows that a serious delay in learning to understand and to use language will lead to delay in all aspects of mental or cognitive development. Conversely, if we can improve the rate at which children learn language, this should benefit all areas of their social and cognitive development.'

The advice goes on to note that 'working memory development, particularly short-term memory, seems to be specifically impaired - again not processing as fast as would be expected for non-verbal abilities - and this has consequences for their children's ability to process information', but that 'visual memory and visual processing are relative strengths... and [they] should be thought of as visual learners'. While 'reading ability is often a strength from as early as two years of age, perhaps because it builds on visual memory, and reading activities can be used to teach spoken language from this time'.

At page 6, the downsed publication notes:


...Most children with DS can achieve a number of the same developmental goals at 5 years of age as other children. Most 5-year-olds are walking, toilet-trained, able to feed themselves and put on at least some of their own clothes.

Most 5-year-olds are able to be part of an age-appropriate group and can conform to the social expectations in the classroom. They are able to sit at a table, listen to the story and follow the teacher's instruction - with some needing no help to do this and others needing some support. Most children can control their own behaviour and are not anti-social. They have appropriate understanding of the emotions of others, e.g., when they are happy, sad or hurt.

Therefore motor skills, social progress and behaviour are strengths. However, most 5-year-olds with DS will have significant delays in spoken language - typically talking in 2 or 3-word phrases, and the words may be difficult to understand. Some children will have a knowledge of the maths concepts needed in the classroom, and be starting to count, despite general language delay. Some children will be reading a sight word vocabulary and know their letter names and sounds, despite having language delay.

One excellent sign: ACE already loves books and being read to. She will also sit by herself for long periods looking through her books. And playing the piano! I am looking into music encouragement for her working with Helen from Fridays' classes. We are going to take her to pound some gamelan in the St David's Hall soon and she loves Helen's electric piano too. This week Nik, ACE and I went to the fun pool at the Sports Village in the Bay. It's the first time that the 3 of us have been in the water simultaneously and we all loved it. ACE was her usual self and also explored the water slides. 'Explored' is the wrong word. 'Bounded onto again and again' does it more justice! 

A snap of ACE in her Pippi Longstocking mode taken this morning is attached. For horse and monkey swap dogs and parents!


No comments:

Post a Comment