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Lynn McCann

Our Blog will include contributions from a number of autism specialists. Lynn, Matt and Emma work for Reachout ASC, plus occasional guest bloggers.
We love to hear about your ideas, opinions, challenges and tips so please join in the conversation!
Lynn McCann
Lynn McCann began working as  a mainstream class teacher and was an early years lecturer and SENCO.   More recently I have over 10 years experience in autism education, outreach and training in a specialist education setting.   I have training and experience in autism theory and research, PECS, Sensory Integration, SCERTS, TEACCH, ASC and Puberty, Social Stories and Forest Schools. 

The Other Side of Autism.

By now you might have heard the story about a dad putting out an appeal for a blue Tommee Tippee cup for his autistic son, Ben,  who won't drink from any other cup.  The cup his son has used since he was 2 years old is wearing out and there is nothing at all they can persuade him to take a drink from. Hundreds of identical cups have now been sent to the family. Tommee Tippee have made a special batch from an old mould so he'll have a life time supply of identical cups.

Doesn't that make you feel good? Does it make you say aaahhh, and restore your faith in humanity?

But have you read on? Have you read that the boys family can still not persuade their son to drink out of any of the new cups…even ones that are battered and old too? It still has to be the same old cup. They have all these identical cups, but to Ben, they are not.  He is not being awkward or naughty.   Ben is autistic. 

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Thinking about your autism pupils afresh

Christmas and the end of the autumn term was more than likely an extra stressful time for the child or children with autism in your class.   As I wrote in this article, there would have been lots of extra changes and sensory overload as well as unpredictable events.  Some children with autism do like Christmas and I hope that all of them had a good holiday at home, but it's likely for some that it was just as stressful, and for many of the same reasons.

A new term is a good opportunity for you to look afresh at your pupils and review where they are up to after their first term in your class.   I don't mean by looking at their academic data (as I'm sure that this will be a feature of your planning this term) but by putting that aside and looking at the whole child you may find some helpful insights to enable you to make the rest of the school year successful for them.

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SEND book Reviews 2016

Inclusion for Primary School Teachers by Nancy Gedge

Supporting Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities by Cherryl Drabble 

Both published by Bloomsbury (2016)

Reviewing these books was a little daunting.   I know both these ladies well and have great respect for their SEND knowledge and experience.  If you follow either of them on Twitter, you will know that they always talk sense, give great advice and challenge those who don't consider the SEND children in our schools.  However, I wanted to read and review these books with an open mind and without prejudice and so over the Christmas hols I've settled down with a glass of wine (red for each, just to be fair) and jumped into their world of advice for teachers.   Both books are aimed at non-SEND-specialist new or young teachers, SENCOs or teachers wanting a refresher and update on the SEND Code of practice.  Both fulfilled the brief, in my opinion, but I'm going to give you more information about each because they are different books - and in that way they complement each other very well.

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A whole child approach

​ When my son was in Year 4 he went off reading and writing. He is a bright boy who gets bored easily, but he had a massive fall in confidence in producing any written work and in reading out loud in class.  That year he had an unconventional teacher.  She had a wicked sense of humour and used sarcasm a lot.  My son said she always made him laugh and she got his jokes.  She wasn't a text book teacher, was far too old school and he thrived in her class and so did most of the children that year.  But when my son 'went off' reading and writing, she called us in and asked us what he was interested in and what he liked best.  We put a list together, and it was at the end my husband said  "You know, there's this book I caught him reading last week called Captain Underpants.He was laughing a lot.But I don't know if that kind of book is allowed at school."  To her credit, the teacher put a box of books together for our son that included Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants), Jeremey Strong and similar authors.  She let him write about the topics in the books and even though his stories were full of pooping, nappies and toilets (with the occasional fast dog aka Jeremey Strong) he re-engaged with writing and that year produced some of his best work.  At parents evening we and the teacher cried with laughter at some of his written work.  When we asked whether it was ok for him to only be writing about toilets and things like that, she confidently said that he would grow out of it and as predicted, by the end of the year he was confidently writing about lots of different things (although he's never lost his toilet humour!).

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A week in the life - Specialist Autism Teacher

​ Many of you will receive a visit or receive a report from a specialist teacher at some point.   Emma and I work on building relationship with our schools so that the teachers see us as a support and resource for them as well as someone who can help their pupils.  We love to encourage and help the SENCOs too,  as we understand the aspects of their job that others in the school rarely do.   That's the benefit of the way we work with schools, regular half termly, monthly or weekly visits (depending on needs and funding) means we know the school, the children and their families and the staff - and they know us really well over time.

So what is a typical week for a Specialist Autism Teacher? 

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Recent Comments
jo smith
It's great to read how it is for the professional's side because it's so easy to forget that there are other perspectives througho... Read More
Sunday, 22 January 2017 7:07 PM
Lynn McCann
Thanks for your comment Jo. I hope it gives parents confidence and hope that there are professionals working on their child's sid... Read More
Sunday, 22 January 2017 7:07 PM
Lynne Pearson
Sounds like an amazing job - very busy too! My son had some input from specialist autsim support staff when he was first diagnose... Read More
Sunday, 22 January 2017 9:09 PM
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Supporting Children with Autism at Playtimes.

image from http://clc2.uniservity.com/

Playtimes can be tricky for children with autism....

  • It's unstructured time - which some like (no demands) and others hate (don't know what to do or how to fill the time).
  • It's a sensory overload – which some love because they are sensory seekers and need the movement and sensory stimulation and others hate because the sights, sounds, smells, noise, weather, movement, touch and space of a playground hurts them.
  • It's socially demanding – which most don't like because there's a lot to take in, children are moving and talking and shouting and playing and coming at them from all directions.They might not know where to start to even ask to play, and possibly no-one asks them to play.
  • The rules keep changing – so when they thought they were playing one game, someone changes it to another,  just like that,  and they can't keep up and are left behind – or get angry because you changed the rules and that is stressful beyond words.
  • There's no place to escape – some will wander, trying to find their own bit of space where they can just be on their own for a bit.  Others will invent their own worlds to escape to so the noise and mess around them can be shut out.
  • It's scary and it's easy to feel angry - Children are running, screaming and pushing. How do they know when to stop?  Imagine a child with autism who is frightened, because they don't know how to stop themselves or join in without getting it wrong.  Hitting out at others is just getting them out of the way…or attempting to join in when you can't communicate so well.
  • It's exhausting – even though a child with autism may look like they're doing ok and joining in, the effort is exhausting.  You notice it when they come back into class, especially in the afternoon. Or maybe it's their parents who find out when they go home and it all comes out.  They've used up all their spoons. 
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8 ways to help Autistic pupils manage anxiety

I was born worrying, so my mum said.  I don't really know what it is like not to have a million worries running through my head all at once.  Every conceivable disaster is imagined once my brain focusses on a particular thought - There's a downside to having a wild imagination.

But over the years I have learned a lot about anxiety and have many strategies that work for me in coping with it.  I can manage it.  I can recognise when it comes, what it is and fight it off.   Sometimes it goes quietly, sometimes I'm exhausted after the battle.   But I usually win these days.  Anxiety doesn't control me like it used to.

There's an upside to having a wild imagination too.  I can write stories and get really involved in a fantasy world in books and films.  I love craft and sewing.   And I can empathise when others tell me they are anxious all the time too. Anxiety's energy can be harnessed for good.

When I work with children and young people who are autistic, they often seem anxious and many will tell me that they are...
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Recent Comments
Guest — Emma W
Love these posts Lynn! What do you think of Carol Gray's stuff? I've found Comic Strip Conversations useful (similar idea to Emoti... Read More
Saturday, 22 April 2017 9:09 PM
Lynn McCann
Yes Emma, I use social stories and comic strip conversations all the time - I should do a post just about them! There is a chapte... Read More
Sunday, 23 April 2017 7:07 AM
Ines Lawlor
Great Blog- I also feel anxiety is a huge issue for children with Autism which really exacerbates any sensory processing difficult... Read More
Tuesday, 25 April 2017 11:11 AM
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Why I’m changing my language about Autism

I previously wrote about the debate about what words we might use to say someone has autism…or is autistic here.

Since then the debate has gone on and the more I listen to autistic people the more they are taking their identity and pride from being autistic.

The problem with 'having autism' or 'person with autism' is that it separates a person from autism and can easily lead to the autism as being something seen as 'bad' or 'wrong'.  There are whole charities and industries based on autism being 'wrong' and some of the treatments and so called cures are inhumane.  Anyone heard of forcing autistic children to drink bleach?  Then there are those like the charity Autism Speaks, which spends the majority of its funding on finding a cure for autism. That's why many autistic people don't like their 'Light it up Blue' campaignin April as its supporting the fact that they are the 'wrong' type of people. Autism is not a burden, a disease or a curse.

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Thomas Sutcliffe
Excellent post. As an autistic person I hugely appreciate the level of understanding that you have demonstrated. The key, as you c... Read More
Sunday, 04 June 2017 7:07 PM
Guest — Drew
Good post. Language is very important more so among those with the job of training! Another good read to help with deciding the be... Read More
Sunday, 16 July 2017 7:07 AM
Lynn McCann
Thanks Thomas and Drew for your comments. It's important that we keep learning together.
Sunday, 16 July 2017 7:07 AM
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Review of Teaching Assistant support in a secondary school

image from www.cliparting.com

This project was done by an HLTA in a large mainstream secondary school. It has around 1700 students on roll and between 2-3% of their pupils with identified SEND – with and without Statements/EHCPs. Many of those are students with a diagnosis of ASD but there are also a number of pupils with physical and other learning difficulties. I have supported the school's ASD students for the last few years which has included group and 1:1 interventions during my monthly visits which the TAs then continue to support between visits. I have done regular training and department meetings for teachers and the TA team. I asked the HLTA if I could share her dissertation findings after she gave a presentation on it during a training day I was supporting. It is interesting that she has investigated the effectiveness and deployment of the teaching assistants in the school and the effect on the student's achievements (not shown here but almost all ASD students were making good progress on the school tracking system). What has come from this is evidence of good practice and areas for development that the school are now implementing - leading to better communication between teachers and TAs.

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Post 16 Transition for students with SEND / ASC.

At this time of year many secondary teachers are thinking about the looming GCSE's for their Y11's and may also be thinking about what happens next for their students. If a student has SEND / ASC then there are additional challenges when leaving school and moving on to the next step in their educational lives.

I often find that the student's themselves realise in Y10 that they will soon be leaving school. For some they may be so relieved that it's all they want to think about.  For other's it's such a massive change in their lives, after all, being at school is all they've ever known, that the anxiety it causes can seriously impact on their concentration, mental wellbeing and motivation in school.  Some are so anxious, they cannot bear to talk about it. 

This blog is co-written by @Mr_ALNCo an FE Teacher who's created a role for a Transition Support Worker at his FE college in South Wales. First I am going to look at transition to college or training from the viewpoint of the school, and James is going to offer advice from the college's point of view. 

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Guest — Hilary Nunns
Also ask vocational areas to provide checklists for class ie USB, calculators and allow time for students to orientate, how much t... Read More
Sunday, 05 February 2017 10:10 AM
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