Optometrist Specialising in Children’s Learning Difficulties

Dorothy Crystal is a Specialist Optometrist working in this field. Yesterday about 16 of us (support for Learning teachers, health professionals) were priviliged to hear her talk passionately about her professional interest in children, optometry and learning difficulties.  I shall try to summarise!

In Norway all children with ASN are assesses by optomerist as there is a proven high correlation between learning difficulties and visual problems – 61%.  Hearing assessments follow on from this. 

Children may have problems with focussing, binocular vision and binocular instability.  The latter difficulty can be a big problem as information is processed differently.  Simple daily exercises can resolve these issues in 97% of cases! If a teacher thinks a pupils may be dyslexic then a vision check should be carried out first however it is important to alert the optomerist that the check is requested because of concerns about learning. Should the screening indicate a problem then the child can be referred on to either Dorothy Crystall or the Eye Pavilion.

Visual Stress is the new term to replace Myles Irlen or Scotopic Sensitivity.  It is diagnosed through a proper clinical process.  Children may be tested for this if there is a family history of migraine or epilepsy.  Assessment for coloured overlays used to treat visual stress, does incur a cost of £40. These overlays may only be required for 6 – 9 months

Children with astigmatic problems (wobbly eyes!) may sometimes invert letters in words. The incidence of this is increasing particularly in children of drug abusing mothers. Astigmatism will affect reading however larger print may help. If Astigmatism develops (rather than congenital) then there is a pathological reason, usually a brain tumour.

Teachers can look out for a variety of signs – child covers one eye to read, holds book at an angle, turns head at an angle when reading, rubs eyes , blinks a lot, fine and gross motor problems.  If a child frequently daydreams s/he may be trying to correct blurry images. The history and symptoms provide the biggest clues for the optomerist. When using an Interactive Whiteboard the child should be directly in front of it. Copying from the IWB is usually very difficult for the child.

And of course the earlier the better for assessment – from P1 onwards.

Comic Life!

A wee while ago a colleague and I attended a workshop on Youth Participation. Whilst there we came across some software called ‘Comic Life.’  Basically it offers a range of comic templates, links to your photos stored in your computer and you can choose speech bubbles, text boxes and headlines.

I’ve used it successfully with reluctant writers and children with ASN.  Its so easy to use that I haven’t opened the manual yet!  Click on the boxes and the photo resizes to the box, write in the text boxes and speech bubbles and they resize with the text.  Drag into place and hey presto – a very professional comic starring your pupils!!

Comic Life is on the refreshed laptops. Ask IT if you don’t have it. Have fun!

All good things come to an end!

As many of you know I am based in Innerwick once a week.  I don’t have an office and used to sit with my laptop perched on my lap. Some time ago a desk was found for me and set up in a extra classroom.  The schools network was made live so I could access emails on my laptop and other items to make my wee ‘office’ comfortable. Such wee things make a big difference. What a welcoming place!

But now 4 children have enrolled and the extra classroom re-instated. I’m on the move! Now I’m ‘hot-desking’ with the support staff!  Once more the network point has been made live for me and I’m linked to the network printers.  It’s not quite so comfortable but the view is fantastic!

ICT and Inclusion 2009

Yesterday Neiria and I attended this event in Edinburgh.  It’s an annual event hosted by CALL Scotland – I’ve blogged about them before on this site. My head was in a complete birl when I got home having attended seminars by these developers;

  • Inclusive Technology – suppliers of software and hardware and communication aids. This includes touch monitors, using 2 switches for cause and effect skills as well as switch controleld MP3 player and ‘jelly beamer’ – a wireless switch.
  • Access Apps – award winning suite of free portable applications which can be run from a USB stick.  Access Apps contains a range of programmes which can help learners with additional support needs including literacy difficulties and visual difficulties.  We loved the on-screen ‘reading rulers’ which enabled learners to keep their place when reading text or even an excel spreadsheet.
  • Beyond PECS:Using Symbols and Clicker – Prospect Bank school classroom team introduced us to a wide range of strategies to promote communication: PECS, Signalong, voice output devices, chat books and chat boards as well as simple games and activities adapted from the usual classroom versions
  • 2 Simple – educational software for primary pupils developed by teachers for teachers. Ease of use and clear icons enable children to develop transferable ICT skills, work independently and to be motivated learners. All programmes are supported by teacher resources and short, support videos etc.  WE loved the fact that teachers can hide the ‘Print’ icon from the pupils!
  • Doorway Accessible Software – new software developed by Scottish borders Council, free of cost to internet users. The software is accessible and inclusive and can be accessed by keyboard, mouse or switch.  Activities are particularly suited to Interactive Whiteboards. It includes Doorway Speller, Doorway First Words, Doorway Cashing In and Doorway Text Type
  • Widgit – introduced new web based symbol technologies, downloadable resources for Communicate; In Print and Boardmaker as well as a demo of SymWriter.  I’m looking forward to playing with the demo materials.

We’ve come home with lots of catalogues, websites, demo CD roms and invitations to visit Propect Bank school.  We had to choose which seminars to attend and we were able to visit the stands of all exhibitors – we missed Smartbox Assistive Technology, QED, Microlink, Sight and Sound and Dolphin amongst others.

I wished I still had my camera with me when Neiria and I tried out a fantastic desk chair by Posturite – we loved it and I want one at home!!

Special Needs Toy Library

Recently a colleague and I visited the Special Needs Toy Library at Fisherrow Centre, Musselburgh. We were impressed by the range of toys and resources available and the commitment of staff to provide a range of quality toys – from jigsaws to light ropes and larger items like child sized tables and chairs. The Special Needs Resource Base is supported by East Lothian Council Childcare Partnership and operated by Borders Scrap Store.  It’s open on Wednesday mornings, costs £10 for annual group membership and has an uplift and delivery service

The following information is from the website.

What it provides

The library aims to provide a range of toys, equipment and books for children who have special needs.

Often organisations do not have the money to buy a full range of equipment, nor do they have the facilities for storage.

The library allows members to borrow and try out some of the resources available.

Groups and individuals are able to borrow materials for up to one term.

Who can use the toy library

Groups and individuals who provide childcare and education for children with special needs can borrow equipment on payment of a small annual membership fee.

  • After school clubs
  • Childminders
  • Community groups
  • Daycarers
  • Early years centres
  • Families
  • Fostercarers
  • Nurseries
  • Playgroups
  • Playschemes
  • Private nurseries
  • Schools
  • Special Needs groups

Enquire Information packs

Recently I sourced a pack containing all the leaflets published by Enquire, the Scottish Service for Additional Support for Learning

Enquire publishes loads of free information for parents, pupils, professionals and teachers – all of a very high quality.  There are factsheets, Young peoples Guides, DVDs, booklets and leaflets on all sorts of subjects and alternative formats are available. 

  • Involving Children and Young people in Decisions about their Education
  • Round the Table: A Guides to Going to Meetings
  • Going to Secondary Schol and Getting Ready to Leave School
  • Nadias Story
  • Have your Say – teachers notes and film

These are just a few of the many titles and Enquire will send whatever you need and it arrives very quickly.  Everything is also downloadable however the lovely colours fairly eat printer ink!  So why reinvent that wheel when the information is already there.  I have order forms if you’s like one.


Music Therapy project at North Berwick

What a great workshop I participated in at the weekend! The Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy team were excellent and had us singing, clapping and trying out crazy musical instruments like Boom Wackas!

We were there to:

  • find out more about the benefits of music therapy
  • get an update on the NB project (working with youngsters in North Berwick schools), and
  • to meet other supporters and interested parties

We found about what music therapy actually is, about how Music Therapists are trained, who can benefit from therapy and how music therapy can help. The videos of the children during a session were very emotional to watch and the benefits obvious to all.  We were laughing and crying as we watched. 

The music therapists showed great skill as they improvised on the piano whilst interpreting our actions. I’ve been singing ‘Belle Mama’ ever since!


Borrowing Resources – some bright ideas!

Recently a colleague got in touch asking if it would be possible to borrow some resources for a wee lad with ASN (additional support needs) in nursery who was very motivated by sensory toys – sadly we had nothing to lend.

That got us thinking – what could we do to help. Where could we find resources? This is what we’ve come up with. If you have other ideas we’d love to hear them.

The Hub at Sanderson’s Wynd primary school

The Pre-5 Visiting Teacher (Outreach) – Laura Girvan lgirvan@eastlothian.gov.uk

COTS – Communication Outreach Teaching Service – 0131 665 8640

The Special Needs Toy Library, Musselburgh, £10 annual membership fee for groups, £5 individual membership. it’s based at East Lothian Resource Base, Borders Scrapstore, Fisherrow Community Centre, South Street, Musselburgh, EH21 6AT. Open on Wednesdays only 9.30 am – 5.30 pm

The Library Service, Schools Service based at Dunbar Road Haddington. 01620 828213 open until 5. They can provide interactive stories, dressing up items, puppets, lift the flap books and all sorts of lovely things!

Some catalogues have cheap and cheerful options

Seek and ye shall find!!

‘Books for All’

CALL Scotland  recently ran this course in East Lothian – we’re all really enthusiastic and I’ll try to summarise here.

‘Books for All is about learning materials in accessible, alternative formats, for people who have difficulty reading ordinary printed books.

Most people think of Braille and Large Print when they think of alternative formats but in fact there are many more types of accessible textbooks, workbooks, worksheets, assessment and examination papers and other learning resources.

Similarly, it is commonly assumed that the pupils who need alternative formats are blind and partially sighted. In fact, there are many other groups of “print-disabled” pupils who can benefit from learning resources in alternative formats. For example:

Students who have a physical difficulty with holding books or turning pages can benefit from audio books or materials in a digital format on the computer.
Students with specific learning difficulties, dyslexia, or reading difficulties can read material if it is printed in a larger or different font, or on coloured paper, or displayed on computer. Many pupils with reading difficulties can also access information by listening to audio books, or by having the text read out by a computer.
Students with learning difficulties may benefit from simplified language, books printed in a simpler font or layout, or from books with symbols, or from audio books.
Students with hearing impairment may need simplified language, audio books or multimedia resources with signed video.’

At the course we learned about the copyright law and how to use a variety of free software to create accessible materials for our students. Many of these facilities are embedded in Microsoft Word.

We found out how to add comments to text, use document maps and headings, add recorded voice to text and loads more. The Scottish Voice (Heather), WordTalk and sources of free texts made this course really valuable. Now all I need to do is work my way through then CD rom and workbook!

CALL Scotland Project with ELC

CALL Scotland (Communication Aids for Language and Learning) at Edinburgh University has been working with The Hub (Sandersons Wynd Primary School) and Ross High ASN Provision to develop resources, approaches and strategies to give children with complex ASN a voice. Consulting with children and young people can be a real challenge particularly if there’s no spoken language. Finding innovative solutions was the basis of this project.

We met on Friday 16th January to ‘showcase’ the results – what an inspiring afternoon!

Talking Mats were the first resource where pupils used Boardmaker symbols and Signalong to indicate ‘I like’ or ‘I don’t like’ A very simple but effective approach to enable children to express their opinion.

Eating Programmes have been revamped to a much more visual format which were so easy to read for everyone from the teachers and support staff to the dinner ladies who no longer puzzled over ‘scoop bowls’ but could see from the photo exactly what was meant.

The move from Meadow Park to The Hub was the perfect opportunity to develop Transition mats – the children selected their own photos of both venues for their own personal mats. Boardmaker symbols for ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Hello’ as well as directional arrows gave the children a real sense of what was happening and parents could use the mat to talk about the move with their children.

PowerPoint was used to develop learning stories and coupled with Switch technology the children were enjoying seeing themselves on screen. These Learning Stories could be sent home on DVDs for families to shars

With the power of technology we were able to set up a folder right then and there so we can share resources. The ‘Communication Toolkit’ folder is located within the Support for Learners area on Education Exchange (this can be found in your ‘favourites’) – anonymised exemplars are located here and the report from the meeting will soon follow. Watch this space!