Over a decade of teaching children with severe learning difficulties and two and a half years of being a special mummy has left my mind full of ideas and my cupboards bursting with resources. I want to help and inspire others who may be just starting out in the world of special education or parents who are looking for low cost, effective ways to engage their child.

One of the current ‘Buzz’ phrases in special education at the moment is ‘Remove barriers to learning’. Now, a barrier to learning in my mind might be anything from a bad night’s sleep to a severe visual impairment. If your child is faced with barrier upon barrier; physical disability, multiple sensory impairments, tactile difficulties and maybe even more… where do you start?

What I can do

My suggestion would be to start with what your child can do, even if their major movements or actions are involuntary. We all begin learning using trial and error and by introducing some level of reward associated with a child’s movement, vocalisation or action there is the opportunity for incidental learning.

• Leave a set of car keys next to my most mobile hand on my tray/knee/arm rest.

• Position something dangling next to my head.

• Lie me on a space blanket

• Place a sound to light toy in my line of vision against a dark background

Offer me variety

Think texture, many of your child’s toys will be made from plastic, no matter what shape they are (banana, tea cup, square) to a child who is relying on their sense of touch they will feel much of a muchness. Consider a crawling baby moving around your house and the textures he/she would encounter, the edge of the rug meeting the hard wooden floor, the dangling curtains and the cool slab of stone at the edge of the fireplace. Be creative, be a magpie, create baskets of various textures, sounds and smells.

• Use a kitchen roll holder to hold various textures, wooden, metal curtain rings (eyelets removed) Crochet hoops, sparkly bracelets etc.

• A big shiny balti dish makes for a great backdrop to anything sparkly or flashy and beads dropped inside will make a lovely noise too.

Keep it consistent

Keeping some things the same within a daily routine will offer a child the opportunity to understand and possibly predict what is about to happen, these can be known as ‘objects of reference’.

• Position a spoon (or syringe if more appropriate) in my hand at meal times.

• Allow me to hold a nappy as I am being changed.

• When getting ready to go out, give me a shoe to hold.

• About to go into my standing frame, make the velcro noises with my leg splints.

Repeat, repeat, repeat!

If your child is likely to let go of, throw or swipe objects away then continuous play can depend on how much time and patience you have to continue to pick up and return toys and objects. Make life easier for yourself and attach a selection of toys/objects in the same, fixed position for a period of time so that your child has the chance to remember, show preference and maybe make an independent choice.

• Use a simple clothes rail to dangle a range of toys and objects at a reachable distance above my feet, hands or head.

• Attach a range of materials of various textures to the inside of a bum bag using elastic and ribbon so I can reach down and explore when out and about.

• Use a simple clamp to position sensory toys onto my tray so I don’t knock them off by accident.

• Actively watch me for a short period of time to see if I show any preference or avoid an item. I use these strategies and resources (amongst many others) to ‘Remove barriers’ in my classroom on a daily basis and my son who has profound and multiple learning difficulties benefits from them also.

I hope this helps you to bring the world to your child and have some fun doing it too!

Enjoy, from Jo and Thomas!

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