Support for young people with additional support needs

Futures fair-

The Futures Fair will be held on  Thursday 6th November at The Brunton Hall, Musselburgh.  It will be a drop in between 2pm and 5pm.

This information fair aims to help young people with additional support needs and their families plan for adult life.

There will be approximately 50 organisations who can tell you about what they offer and how they can help with:

  • Education
  • Work and training
  • Money advice
  • Social work and health
  • Social life and leisure    ….and much more!

For full details, have a look at the information poster here


Short Breaks Fund Re-opens

This week saw the launch of the latest round of the Better Breaks funding programme.  The purpose of Better Breaks is to develop responsive and creative short break opportunities for disabled children and young people, and their families.

There has been an additional £100,000 added to the programme to be targeted at organisations providing services for families caring for a child or young person with learning disabilities. This brings the total to £1.3m to be distributed.

The deadline for applications is Wednesday 11th December 2013 at noon.

To date the Short Breaks Fund has funded over 22,000 separate breaks over two and a half years at an average cost of £293.

If you want to apply or know more then you can read the full guidance and accompanying notes on our website.

ICT and Inclusion

I attended the ICT and Inclusion Day at the CALL Centre last week. It was an ideal opportunity to  see the latest hardware and software and hear practical, information-packed, short presentations on a wide range of topics all geared towards learners with additional support for learning needs. I was able to  meet and network with colleagues, make some interesting new contacts and chat with presenters and suppliers.


School and authorites are obliged under Disability and Equality legislation to consider how they can provide learning resources in accessible formats for pupils with disabilities. CALL Scotland have created a database of books currently available and provide training on how to adapt books.   Hodder Gibson are offering free digital copies of their resources subject to a print copy having been bought and also subject to very strict copyright terms and conditions.  Action:   I am keen to establish how we take this forward in East Lothian and ensure pupils can be provided with  books in an alternative formats when required.  Do we have a Print Disability Copyright Licence?

Workshop 2Age Appropriate ICT resources for older students with complex needs

Fil McIntyre from BRITE Centre reviewed some resources (keyboards, mice, switches) that are not highly coloured or involve gimmicky animals and therefore would suit older students.  The exception was for visually impaired students who often prefer bright colours and colour contrasts.  Action: Identifying software and reading material that is age and ability appropriate.

Workshop 3: Read and Write Gold 10 demo

This assistive software is designed to help those with dyslexia, literacy difficulties and English as a second language.  The PDF Aloud feature converts text to speech and the writing support tools allows users to study independently in an inclusive environment. We have a site licence for  high schools in East Lothian so it’s  installed on all computers but may be an underused resource.   Action:  Cost the upgrade to R & W Gold 10; arrange training sessions for SfL staff

Workshop 4:  Optelec – visually impaired hardware

We were shown a range of powerful hand held magnifiers and braille notetakers.  They were very similar to the Humanware products that have been bought for visually impaired and blind pupils in East Lothian.  Action: Share this information with Visually impaired service.

Workshop 5: iPods and iPads for Communication

A variety of communication apps have been created to enable pupils to communicate using voice output.  There are a number of downsides to consider… even top of the range AAC app Proloquo2go has no alternate access options (key guards, scanning) and the UK voice choices are not great. It would be ideal if you could install Heather and the Scottish male voice that is currently being developed.

 Photo Story and Communication passport apps allow photos, videos, audio and text into a book format. The iPad having a larger screen makes this more visually appealing and easier to read but the iPod touch for portability is ideal for other users.  Action: Continue to pursue issue of obtaining access to iTunes store on school network so I can get some devices out to pupils to try out these apps. The idea being these popular mainstream devices are cost effective communication aids and almost as importantly, are very cool!!

Inclusive Technologies Information Days

Inclusive Technologies are offering 2 FREE Information Days in Edinburgh on August 23 and 24. These would be useful for teachers, therapists and support assistants working directly with learners experiencing severe and complex special educational needs.  I am planning to attend both days but ideally would like some front line practioners to join me.

August 23: PMLD/Communication
This day focuses on best practice in the use of ICT to support the communication, learning and leisure needs of children and young people with severe and complex special needs. Delivered by an experienced special school teacher and our specialist speech and language therapist, the session will explore how the use of ICT facilitates meaningful and motivating access to the curriculum. The will explore commonly used assistive technologies, for example switches and touch screens together with a range of simple communication devices, and show you how to embed their use into your classroom teaching.

From experiential learning to making simple choices, they will  provide you with the ideas, strategies and confidence to try in your classroom the very next day.

•Strategies to engage experiential learners.
•Choosing an appropriate vocabulary.
•Making something happen – taking control.
•Independently making simple choices.
•Simple communicators and how to use them in your teaching.
•Creating motivating teaching resources in minutes.

August 24: Inclusive Classrooms

This day focuses on using ICT to support students with special needs in mainstream settings. This includes looking at providing access to the computer for those pupils who struggle with the keyboard and mouse:

•Simple adaptations to the keyboard and mouse.
•Accessibility changes to the operating system and applications.
•Alternatives to keyboards and mice – large keyboards to eye gaze.
•Software to improve access: word prediction and speech recognition.

They will also explore how ICT can support those struggling with reading and writing, including those with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia.

Drawing on their experiences in the Accessible Resources Pilot Project for the DCSF they will look at the range of options to take struggling readers and writers from their initial ideas to a completed document including using:

•Light tech aids like electronic dictionaries.
•Planning and mind mapping software.
•Text to speech, wordbanks and word prediction.
•Portable book readers like Kindle, iPad and Slate.
•Reading electronic books on the computer.
•How to obtain electronic books for free.
•Creating accessible electronic versions and copyright issues.
Can I attend both Information Days?

Yes, you can attend one or both types of Information Day at no cost. Lunch is also provided – but booking is essential.  Get your booking form here and let me know you have signed up. Thanks!

MOVE into action in East Lothian

MOVE (Mobility Opportunities via Education) is an innovative programme which combines therapy and education, for individuals who have physical and complex needs, to teach functional activities based on the skills of sitting, standing and walking.  This helps them to develop independence, to be able to take greater control of their lives and  to be more included in society.

Read the June 2011 MOVE newsletter to see what has been going on in East Lothian. We were one of the first Scottish authorities to sign up to MOVE and our practice in this area is part of the ongoing  commitment to innovative practice and multi-agency working, to secure the best outcomes for children and young people and to get it right for every child in the authority.

Playing music on the iPad

Francesca Borghi, a  Music Therapy student at Queen Margaret University gave an excellent presentation to staff at the Hub yesterday on her final year research project:  An investigation into the potential of the iPad in Music Therapy.  She had been motivated to research uses for the iPad after reading about Owen Cain, a young American boy with motor neurone disease whose limbs are all in slings but he can use a gentle touch and swipe action to access music, books and a variety of other apps.  Have a look at this amazing film clip.

Francesca has been working with Greta, a 6 year old girl with quadriplegic cerebal palsy.  Greta has severe visual, cognitive and communication impairment and associated seizure disorder.  She was able to effectively use a knuckle to engage with a variety of musical apps (iOrgel, Harmonizer, Holiday Bells,  Bongos, Magic Piano) on the iPad 2 while Francesca would sing or play the guitar.

We watched several film clips of Francesca playing music with Greta while her mother supported her head.  It had taken some time to build up a relationship of trust and from there real progress was apparent. Greta was able to choose which app she wanted to use by clicking on the icon with her knuckly.  She was clearly engaging with the music and enjoying herself.

The potential for use of the iPad for pupils with severe and complex learning needs is huge. These devices could be used by many pupils in a many different ways and supported easily by staff.  The management issues over accessing  the iTunes store on the school network to obtain apps needs to be overcome.

Using mainstream devices for communication

KEYCOMM newsletter Spring 2011

It’s an exciting time for those who use Augmentative Alternative Communication.  Mainstream handheld devices such as the iPhone, iPod touch and the iPad can provide a voice through the use of  communication apps.  Keycomm’s Spring newsletter has some useful information on what apps are available and what skills are required to use the hardware.  If you would like to have a pupil assessed for their suitability for using such a device for communication, contact Deborah Jans at Keycomm on 0131 311 7130 (

Have a look at this video clip on Proloquo2go, the most comprehensive (and most expensive) communication app. Please note Mr. Jobs….Scottish AAC users need their own voice!

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Family Fun Day at the CALL Centre: March 26

Run by specialist staff, this FREE day is a chance for families of children with ASN to try out and learn about the software, hardware and specialised communication technologies that might help support them.  Professionals are also welcome if they are accompanying a child/family.  Read more details on the website.

Another date for your diary….  15 JUNE…. also at the CALL Centre

Come along to an exhibition of technology to assist students with Additional Support Needs.  Up to 20 of the UK’s leading suppliers of software and assistive technology will be exhibiting and giving short presentations on their latest products.

Grid 2 Training opportunity

There are a few available places on a training course to learn about Grid 2 software.  The Grid 2 allows people with limited or unclear speech to use a computer as a voice ouput communication aid, using symbols or text to build sentences. In addition to this, you can send and receive email and sms messages, browse the web, listen to music and more.  The Grid 2 is accessible to everybody, accepting input from switches, headpointer, touchscreen, mouse, and other options too such as Eye Gaze.

Training is being held at Musselburgh Grammar on Friday 21 January starting at 9:30.  Please contact me if you are interested in attending or have questions about the software.

Cochlear Implant for Jonathan

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See this wonderful clip of 8 month old Jonthan having the cochlear implant in his right ear turned on. When you look at it the 2nd time watch how he mimics his mother’s mouth movements.

Reminds me of the fascinating work carried out by Colwyn Trevarthen on the communication betwen very small children and their carers.

He studied the rhythms and expressions of children’s play and fantasy, and how musical games and songs, stories and acts of discovery, with real or imaginary companions, support the development of skills during infancy and the pre-school years.

His influence on music therapy – especially in areas of conflict – is very significant in enabling youngsters undergoing the intense trauma of living in a war zone, as can be seen in the work of Nigel Osbourne.

Trevarthen also pioneered the incredibly powerful Video Interactive Guidance programme which helps professionals ‘give individuals a chance to reflect on their interactions, drawing attention to elements that are successful and supporting clients to make changes where desired’.

I did part one of this training a few years ago and found it invaluable.

But back to Jonathan – I know some members of the hearing impaired community dislike the emphasis on the spoken as opposed to the signed, word but no one could deny the joy that baby experiences as he communicates with his mum. I recently trod on one of my incredibly expensive hearing aids and am awaiting a replacement. It feels as if I’m underwater when trying to discern conversations. The temptation is to turn off from ordinary human contact. I pick up important news but miss all the general chat in staff rooms. No wonder I’m anti-social! I’m with those who ensure that children are given such implants as soon as is possible.

And here’s an opportunity to say farewell to a good friend and great colleague, Eleanor Carnell. She is an amazing fount of wisdom and knowledge about lots of stuff – but especially about teaching children with hearing impairments. She retires at the end of session after many years of sterling service to the Lothians and we in the Outreach Team will miss her sorely.

(PS If some clever person could change this URL to the real Youtube video I ‘d be pleased. Why does it work on my blog but not here?)