SENCO Week looks at how to support those students with DME (dual or multiple exceptionality) and how to help them fulfil their potential

Last SENCO Week we looked at the issues surrounding pupils with DME (dual or multiple exceptionality) – those with high ability in one, or some, specific areas but also experiencing difficulty in some aspect of education. This week we consider some strategies for support and how to help pupils fulfill their potential.

Support for SENCOs
The best place to start is in finding out what the pupil is good at (and perhaps could be even better at, if the appropriate encouragement and support is offered). This can reduce stress and frustration for DME pupils, especially if they are feeling that teachers focus only on their weaknesses. There are some general guidelines for SENCOs to share with colleagues (see below under ‘Support for teachers’).

G&T pupils with sensory and physical impairment
These pupils often underachieve at school, their abilities underestimated by teachers and peers alike. Obviously, a sensory or physical impairment does not mean that a child’s cognitive functioning is in any way impaired, and often these youngsters have to be incredibly resourceful just to be able to function in everyday situations. Talk to parents, talk to the child; see beyond the disability. Put into place as much support as possible to alleviate the barriers to achievement caused by the sensory/physical impairment (large print, magnifiers, Braille; sign language, sound field equipment; communication/recording aids). Find ways of unlocking the gifts and talents that are often buried inside bodies that do not work in a ‘normal’ way: this might involve looking carefully at the various tests you use to measure ability and being creative in expanding the range of opportunities offered to pupils to enable them to excel.

Specific learning difficulties (dyslexia, dyscalculia)
There is a much greater awareness these days of dyslexia (and to a lesser extent dyscalculia) and the fact that individuals with these conditions, may be extremely creative and excellent verbal communicators. It is still the case, however, that many children come to the attention of educational psychologists for emotional and behavioural problems rather than their difficulties with reading and writing. This is perhaps a result of their frustration with the lack of recognition of their ability, boredom with the work they are given and disappointment with their levels of achievement in school. Often, very able dyslexics are not identified until well on in their education, as they are clever at disguising their difficulties. Again, look at your tests – do they allow dyslexic children the chance to show what they know, understand and can do? In the classroom, are there opportunities to use mind maps and different ways of recording other than by handwriting? Is there specialist (BDA trained teacher) support as well as the ‘Waves’ interventions?

Behavioural problems
Pupils with Asperger syndrome are on the autistic spectrum and need a lot of support with developing social skills and coping with the rigours of everyday life, especially when taken outside their comfort zone and subjected to breaks in routine. They may be hypersensitive to sensory stimulation and have no understanding of humour. However, these individuals may also have extraordinary skills in one or more specific areas. They need to have all of the support mechanisms in place for ASD (see issues 95, 96), but especially need the understanding of teachers and peers who will ‘cut them some slack’ when their behaviour is inappropriate and see beyond the ‘weirdness’ to the often exceptional talents.

G&T students with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be so difficult to manage that their abilities are often overlooked, especially when they end up in a lower set. Some system of ‘containment’ has to be devised (sitting near the teacher, time-out, yellow card etc) but alongside this, there has to be opportunities for some self-direction and freedom of pace in how they approach learning tasks. The support and understanding of peers is also essential – teachers need to get them ‘onside’ and help with positive reinforcement when the child with ADHD is behaving well.

Support for teachers
There are some generic approaches to creating a positive ethos that will be supportive to all pupils, but especially those with gifts/talents and SEN:

  • value and acknowledge a wide range of gifts and talents and create an environment in which these can flourish
  • get to know students as individuals; talk to them about their strengths and learning needs; talk to supporting TAs who will know individuals very well.
  • talk explicitly about different types of ability and ways of learning in the classroom
  • use humour (laughing with pupils, not at them)
  • develop high quality thinking and questioning for all pupils: explore – discuss – reflect – share
  • attend to weaknesses but also exploit and celebrate a pupil’s strengths; have high expectations and encourage students to embrace challenge
  • model positive attitudes about disability and ‘difference’
  • help pupils to develop self-knowledge and a sense of self-worth
  • use positive role models – people with SEN/disability who have been successful in different walks of life.

(Gifted and Talented Education: Helping to find and support children with dual or multiple exceptionalities. DCSF ref: 00052-2008BKT-EN www.teachernet.gov.uk/publications)

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2009

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.