Think Piece: How do we teach children with Complex Needs?

The new generation of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), those with complex learning difficulties and disabilities (CLDD), have transformed the special needs registers of our schools in this first part of the 21st century (Carpenter et al., 2015). Many of these children are ‘wired differently’; children born prematurely, particularly those of pre-28 week gestation, are a particular example of this phenomenon (Carpenter and Egerton, 2013). Their profile of learning is not that which we have previously known with children with SEND. This brings unique challenges to teachers, for the neural pathways in the brain of the child with CLDD are connected and routed differently, and they, thus, learn differently. Therefore, in what ways do we teach differently?

This is a debate that is beyond differentiation, and takes us into the realms of new generation pedagogy, where personalisation becomes an essential component of the differentiated process of meeting individual needs.

Key to this pedagogy – ‘how’ we teach – is engagement (Carpenter et al., 2015). For any child of any ability without authentic engagement in learning there will be no meaningful outcomes, no effective progress, no real attainment. Engagement is the liberation of intrinsic motivation and the pathway to achievement. The engagement principle, delivered through the Engagement Profile and Scale (http://complexld.ssatrust.org.uk), enables a teacher to co – produce with the child, a truly responsive learning programme. This will style itself in ways appropriate to the presentation of the child’s complex needs. Autism, for example, is not merely the ‘classic’ presentation we knew in the late twentieth century, but now has multiple causal bases, all of which generate specific learning styles. Again, engagement can be key to ensuring high quality, responsive teaching (Carpenter et al., 2016).

From the extensive Department for Education-funded research conducted in the UK by Carpenter and colleagues, a range of resources were produced and are located on http://complexld.ssatrust.org.uk. Similarly the 16 modules written to support teacher training in the area of complex needs – ‘Training Materials for Educators of Learners with Severe, Profound and Complex Learning Difficulties’ (www.complexneeds.org.uk) – are now the focus of a European Commission-funded Erasmus+ programme to make these materials more widely available in Europe via a number of European languages to support inclusion practice through accredited vocational learning.

Our challenge in this 21st Century is to create inclusive pedagogy, regardless of setting. There are children entering our schools ‘the likes of which we have never seen before’. Engagement, as a well-researched principle for learning in all children, will be key to that inclusive pedagogy. We need to design a curriculum which wraps around the child with CLDD (Carpenter et al., 2011), and takes that child on a journey of effective teaching to enable us to touch that child at their point of learning need.

Professor Barry Carpenter, January 2016

References

Carpenter, B., Carpenter, J., Egerton, J. and Cockbill, B. (2016) ‘The Engagement for Learning Framework: Connecting with learning and evidencing progress for children with autism spectrum conditions’, Advances in Autism, 2 (1).

Carpenter, B. and Egerton, J. (2013) ‘The impact of prematurity on special educational needs’, Optimus Education (SEN hub). [Online at:http://www.optimus-education.com/impact-prematurity-special-educational-needs; accessed: 7.10.13]

Carpenter, B., Egerton, J., Brooks, T., Cockbill, B., Fotheringham, J. and Rawson, H. (2011) The Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities Research Project: Developing meaningful pathways to personalised learning (project report). London: Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (now The Schools Network). [Online at:http://complexld.ssatrust.org.uk/project-information.html; accessed: 21.3.12]

Carpenter, B., Egerton, J., Cockbill, B., Brooks, T., Fotheringham, J. and Rawson, H. (2015) Engaging Learners with Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities: A resource book for teachers and teaching assistants. Abingdon: Routledge.

Interpreting Engagement ; pathways for children with Complex Needs

The Engagement Profile and Scale, which was a major outcome of the Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities Research Project, continues to be used creatively by practitioners in a variety of settings. The powerpoint below is an illustration from Sally Jones, a teacher of children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders in South Australia.

ENGAGEMENT FOR LEARNING

Brain Changes Suggest Autism Starts In The Womb

Brain Changes Suggest Autism Starts In The Womb

This blog post by John Hamilton discusses research from the New England Journal of Medicine suggesting the changes organisation of the cortex are more prevalent in children with Autism. It also contains a range of links to resources about Autism.

New Autism Research Report Launched

A Future Made Together

A Future Made Together: Shaping Autism Research in the UK

Autism research has taken great strides toward understanding autism, its causes and its consequences. This research has the potential to transform the everyday lives of those with autism and their families. Yet there is still a huge gap between knowledge and practice, which means that, for the most part, the advances in research fail to impact upon those who need them most: autistic people, their parents and carers and those who help support them.

Commissioned by the charity Research Autism, this project aimed to describe the current landscape of autism research in the UK, embedded within an international context, and to compare the nature of the research being conducted with the views and perspectives of key stakeholders.

The resulting Report is the most comprehensive review of autism research in the UK ever undertaken. It also sits alongside a large-scale consultation of autistic people, their families, practitioners and researchers about what the research agenda means to them.

The Report highlights the many strengths of UK autism research. It also suggests that, for the UK to maintain its position as one of the world’s leaders in autism research, it needs greater investment in under-researched areas and in under-served populations, new strategic oversight and coordination and the involvement of autistic people and the broader autism community in decisions about research.

The Report was written by Liz Pellicano, Adam Dinsmore and Tony Charman, supported by members of an Advisory Group: Chris Atkins, Virginia Bovell, Baroness Angela Browning, Barry Carpenter, James Cusack, David Ellis, The Goth,Sarah Shenow, Helen Pearce and Simon Wallace.

http://newsletters.ioe.ac.uk/A_Future_Made_Together_2013.pdf

Download full report

Download executive summary