Grow Your Tribe Online

MAY 2021

BY SUSANNA PINKUS

I have never really taken to other social media platforms. I don’t particularly like the brevity of tweets or the very personal sharing which often exists on Facebook, and I am still learning to grapple with Instagram.

I am, however, really passionate about LinkedIn, the networking site for professionals to connect, share and learn, amongst other benefits.

As a resource, literally at your fingertips, LinkedIn provides a wealth of opportunities to learn from experts and thought leaders in your field of expertise. This can enable you to keep up to speed, at ease, with the latest research and trends. Personally, I learn something new every day from LinkedIn, and because posts are relatively short, I can do this in a time efficient way.

The focus is on forming professional connections and network alongside providing a forum in which to hone and showcase your own expertise. By being active on the platform, you too can influence discussions on matters about which you are knowledgeable and passionate.

I particularly like the interdisciplinary nature of potential networks, and how this can provide a place for innovation to happen.

Tips for getting started:

  1. It sounds obvious, but do have a fully completed profile, even though this will likely change over time. 
  2. Think about why you want to post before what. This is a very different platform to Facebook and Twitter. If you are not familiar with it, before posting, observe others a while.
  3. Initially, you may just want to comment on other people’s posts rather than writing your own but in time, do consider creating your own content. I keep an ongoing list of thoughts and topics for posts so I have an ongoing source of ideas to dip into.
  4. You may wish to consider adding light-touch personal references in addition to professional content but be mindful that nothing you post, brings yourself or your associations, into disrepute. If in doubt, seek advice beforehand.
  5. Personalise invites where you can and say why you are keen to connect. The other day, I was asked if it was okay to look at other people’s profiles and would that seem weird. Not at all, is the answer! That is the whole point. Do not be scared to reach out to possible connections.
  6. Do ask questions, tag people in your network, and initiate discussions. You will likely find this a very positive forum for professional exchanges and sharing ideas. I have had such inspiring conversations, both online and offline, with people I would not otherwise have met.
  7. Think not only about your words but also the images you use to convey who you are and what you represent. Consider curating your own images if you can. People may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel, and visuals are such an important element of this.
  8. Keep your posts as concise as possible.  One or two lines at a time.  Long paragraphs don’t work well – especially on phones.

Making Connections

MAY 2021

BY SUSANNA PINKUS

One of my reasons for wanting to collate this series of articles, was to celebrate the importance and impact of truly collaborative, interdisciplinary working.

I am very fortunate to work with a dream team of colleagues who share the same vision and drive. Individually and collectively, we aim to enable young people to understand themselves better, to be better understood, and for their needs to be met.

Alongside these in-person colleagues, I have also consciously cultivated my online network over the past few years.

Initially, I did not really understand the value that having a virtual network would bring: most educators I know, did not really have a presence on the site.

However, in so many ways, being part of the LinkedIn network, in particular, has greatly enhanced how I work, and think, about inclusion matters.

‘Meeting’ like-minded people from across the world, who also share passion and determination to make the world a fairer and better place continues to be hugely inspiring.

The potential of this online community with its global reach and capacity to enable positive change, cannot be underestimated.

To read this week’s piece about the value of LinkedIn, and how to get started with it, click here.

Please Don’t Call Me ‘Mum’ 

MAY 2021

BY KAREN COWAN

I will always remember the first ‘Professionals’ Meeting’ that I attended many years ago, in my capacity as Class Teacher. Throughout the meeting, I remember being concerned at how the student’s mother was referred to, both before and during the meeting, as ‘Mum’.

Now, in my role as a ‘professional’ almost 30 years later, and despite guidance and laws which uphold the importance of the parental voice, it baffles me at how common the practice of referring to parents as ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ in meetings continues to be. This has a subtle, yet powerful, effect in undermining the value of parental knowledge: the depth of understanding and insight into their child’s needs. 

By law, parents of children who have Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) are legally entitled to have ‘a real say in decisions that affect their children’, and whilst professionals are able to offer invaluable skill sets, so too are parents. This is especially critical when a child has additional needs and requirements. 

Image By Ria Mishaal

Amongst many other insights and skills, a child’s parents, carers, and sometimes family members too, are those most likely to:

  • Provide a holistic picture of their child, indicating key features and traits essential to the identification of need.
  • Identify their child’s strengths, interests, views, and wishes – not all of which will be able to be demonstrated within a formal learning context. 
  • Be able to identify their child’s responses to environmental factors which may be masked when outside the home. 
  • Be able to observe and report on the impact to their child’s mental health which may be more easily observed within the home context, where their child is likely to feel most comfortable to express themselves.
  • Be able to notice and report patterns of behaviour or response, informing how school-based provision can be adapted and fine-tuned to meet need in a highly effective and timely manner.
  • Be able to identify the child’s patterns of response, struggles, views, wishes and feelings which a child may often mask in the context of the school environment.
  • Provide continuity and opportunities for consolidation, should the professional recommend ‘exercises for home’, or similar.
  • Support the relationship between the professional and child, with the knock-on effect of fostering a therapeutic alliance between parties.

Parents are an integral part of the SEND Team around which the child is supported, and professionals need to proactively invite parental contributions by sharing information and enabling inclusion.

Collaborative appreciation and respect for shared knowledge and understanding will facilitate exactly the objectives set in law (the principles of the SEND code of practice – 0-25 years*, 2015) and are in the best interests of the child: to facilitate the provision of ‘support to children, their parents and young people so that children and young people do well educationally and can prepare properly for adulthood.’

Building a truly collaborative rapport and relationship with a child’s parents is absolutely key to the effectiveness with which the need for support is identified, effective decisions made and provision accessed. This starts with explicitly recognising and valuing parental expertise within the team context, and includes calling parents by their names. 

*DFE-00205-2013. (2013). Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years. Available: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/398815/SEND_Code_of_Practice_January_2015.pdf. Last accessed 2nd May 2021.

By Karen Cowan, Assessor of Specific Learning Difficulties and SEND Advisor

Image Credit: Artwork by Ria Mishaal

Teamwork Matters

MAY 2021

BY SUSANNA PINKUS

Over the past three decades, I have been incredibly fortunate to have worked with some very inspirational colleagues, many of whom have gone on to become dear friends.

And Karen Cowan, the author of this week’s piece on the importance of developing inclusive partnership with parents, is certainly one of those people.

She is exceptionally knowledgeable, equally passionate about inclusion matters, and our conversations often go on far too late into the evenings on SEND related matters!

The topic of Karen’s piece is also one very dear to my heart.

My doctorate was also about the importance of parent partnerships, and over this period of four years, I had the great privilege of observing families’ relationships with educators, and alongside, examining different constructs of partnership working. 

I learnt a huge amount during this time and this continues to inform how I work now, and support others, when working with families.

Whilst all parties involved in a child’s provision and care are important, parents and other family members, know their children in ways that no one else can. This knowledge and insight is especially critical when a child has additional needs and requirements.

Using the terms, ‘parents and professionals’ to describe those working with the child can also subtly imply that the professionals hold the expertise. I therefore prefer to refer to us all as ‘the team’. 

After all, we all have equal, vital and different viewpoints to contribute to understanding and enabling children to thrive.

To read this week’s piece, click here.

Image Credit: Artwork by Ria Mishaal, using components by herself and Photographee.eu, RutySoft, Ivanova Tanja, Andrii Oleksiienko, Samuel Borges Photography/Shutterstock.com

Unexplained reading difficulties: could it be convergence insufficiency?

APRIL 2021

BY FRAN GOLDIN

Are you concerned about your own child, or a child in your class, who has symptoms which include headaches, poor tracking, double vision and/or inability to keep their place when reading?

As a specialist orthoptist who treats and studies irregularities of the eyes especially those of the eye muscles and specialises in ‘convergence insufficiency’, I may well be able to assist.

What is ‘convergency insufficiency’?

Convergence insufficiency (CI) is ‘a common binocular vision disorder that is often associated with a variety of symptoms’. These include: eye strain, headaches, blurred vision, double vision, sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, movement of print while reading and loss of comprehension after short periods of reading or performing close activities’ (Archives of Ophthalmology 2008).

A definition of primary CI in the UK is a near point of convergence greater than 10 cm from the nose.  To example that if you brought a pencil slowly, slowly, to the nose fixing on the tip one should be able to maintain fixation all the way to the nose.  If one eye wanders outwards this is loss of fixation and is called convergence insufficiency.

The second type of convergence is secondary.  This is due to a latent squint called an exophoria or it can be due to presbyopia which is when adults need reading glasses around the age of forty or it can be due to diseases such as thyroid.  This occurs is mainly in adults.

This causes people, not just children, to lose their place when reading, poor stamina of reading, missing words, missing lines and even sometimes double vision.  This also can cause frontal headaches as lactic acid builds in the medial rectae muscles which are needed for convergence and one gets referred pain over the eyebrows causing a headache.

This is why, often, students and children, complain of headaches during schoolwork.

Essentially, the human visual system is designed so that the paired eyes and the six muscles in each eye can work to such a high degree of teaming that the two eyes perform as one.  This is due to the nerve impulses in each eye.  The skill is intimately related to eye movement control and focussing ability.  Fixation is the precursor of good visual concentration and is required for good reading skills.  These skills must be maintained and effortlessly for prolonged periods to do well at school.

Whilst working for the National Health Service I found myself to be more and more interested in convergence issues that affected children’s reading and tracking abilities.  I was also very passionate about it as both of my children were dyslexic and there is a high incidence of convergence weakness in people with dyslexia, although one does not have to be dyslexic to have convergence insufficiency.

Treating convergence insufficiency

Very often frontal headaches are misunderstood. People are asked to go for MRI scans and CAT scans and yet no one has first checked their convergence.  I have had many patients who have been for various neurological tests and in the end, I have treated their convergence and the headaches go away.

Children with reading difficulties are often prescribed low hypermetropic (long-sighted) glasses by their optometrist to help with their reading.  All this does is magnify the print and does not cure the problem.

Ophthalmologists and orthoptists do not believe that children need reading glasses as this is an aid not a cure and children’s eye muscles are like elastic and therefore should not need reading glasses unless there are exceptional circumstances.  The same applies to giving children prisms (these bend the rays of light).  Prisms again do the work of the eye muscles and can make the eyes weaker long term.  It is advised that the first point of treatment is exercises to cure conditions such as convergence insufficiency and accommodative anomalies.

The treatment of convergence insufficiency is not intrusive, and it just requires exercises. I am a great believer in not overloading children, and I find that just three to five minutes of exercise daily works extremely well.

The sort of exercises I give are putting the pencil into the hole of a biro, bringing a pencil slowly to the nose, and exercises using physiological diplopia which is a normal phenomenon using everyday sight.  Exercises are fun and adapted to the age of the child and I start off doing it every day and when I discharge them after four visits, I ask the patient to do the exercises just once weekly for two minutes to prevent a recurrence of symptoms.

I also test patients for Irlens Syndrome using a test called the intuitive coloured filter test.  Very often children with convergence insufficiency tend to like a coloured overlay and they use this for perhaps three months and then find that they do not need it anymore but this is a test I do on the second visit of every patient.

I love the fact that a child can come to me not reading or is reluctant to read and when they have finished the course of exercises, they are reading with much more pleasure and not losing their place.  Of course, this does not happen in all cases but most of the cases improve significantly and they find schoolwork and homework much easier.

Take away tips:

  1. Diarise regular eye tests for your child – it can be easy to forget!
  2. If there are concerns about the child’s reading, do ask if they experience any blurring, movement of text, or missing out words/lines. Remember this may be normal for them and they may not realise that reading doesn’t need to be experienced like this.
  3. If there are any concerns, in the first place, ask children to read with a book held upright so that you can observe if their eyes are tracking together.  As a teacher you often sit side by side and you may not consider what the eyes are doing.

For more information, contact: www.frantheorthoptist.co.uk

Image credits: Artwork by Ria Mishaal, using components by herself and chomplearn, LightField Studios/Shutterstock.com

Welcome to the Summer Article Series

APRIL 2021

BY SUSANNA PINKUS

I am so pleased to launch my summer article series. It has been my passion project through lockdown, and a long time in the making.

The pieces span a wide range of topics, from how to navigate the Education Health Care Plan (EHCP) process, to how to build your online inclusion network, managing transitions, and matters to consider when getting a school dog.

With top tips on aspects of how to enable inclusive practice, and more than a little help from my friends and quiet heroes also working with young people, I hope a sense of passion and purpose will shine through each piece.

This month’s pieces are about making and building connections. And we start by making connections between reading difficulties and tracking problems by the wonderful Fran Goldin. As a highly experienced orthoptist, Fran specialises in working with young people and adults who have tracking difficulties which compromise their reading skills. To read Fran’s piece, click here.

Are you concerned about your own child, or a child in your class, who has symptoms which include headaches, poor tracking, double vision and/or inability to keep their place when reading?

As a specialist orthoptist who treats and studies irregularities of the eyes especially those of the eye muscles and specialises in ‘convergence insufficiency’, I may well be able to assist.

What is ‘convergency insufficiency’?

Convergence insufficiency (CI) is ‘a common binocular vision disorder that is often associated with a variety of symptoms’. These include: eye strain, headaches, blurred vision, double vision, sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, movement of print while reading and loss of comprehension after short periods of reading or performing close activities’ (Archives of Ophthalmology 2008).

A definition of primary CI in the UK is a near point of convergence greater than 10 cm from the nose.  To example that if you brought a pencil slowly, slowly, to the nose fixing on the tip one should be able to maintain fixation all the way to the nose.  If one eye wanders outwards this is loss of fixation and is called convergence insufficiency.

The second type of convergence is secondary.  This is due to a latent squint called an exophoria or it can be due to presbyopia which is when adults need reading glasses around the age of forty or it can be due to diseases such as thyroid.  This occurs is mainly in adults.

This causes people, not just children, to lose their place when reading, poor stamina of reading, missing words, missing lines and even sometimes double vision.  This also can cause frontal headaches as lactic acid builds in the medial rectae muscles which are needed for convergence and one gets referred pain over the eyebrows causing a headache.

This is why, often, students and children, complain of headaches during schoolwork.

Essentially, the human visual system is designed so that the paired eyes and the six muscles in each eye can work to such a high degree of teaming that the two eyes perform as one.  This is due to the nerve impulses in each eye.  The skill is intimately related to eye movement control and focussing ability.  Fixation is the precursor of good visual concentration and is required for good reading skills.  These skills must be maintained and effortlessly for prolonged periods to do well at school.

Whilst working for the National Health Service I found myself to be more and more interested in convergence issues that affected children’s reading and tracking abilities.  I was also very passionate about it as both of my children were dyslexic and there is a high incidence of convergence weakness in people with dyslexia, although one does not have to be dyslexic to have convergence insufficiency.

Treating convergence insufficiency

Very often frontal headaches are misunderstood. People are asked to go for MRI scans and CAT scans and yet no one has first checked their convergence.  I have had many patients who have been for various neurological tests and in the end, I have treated their convergence and the headaches go away.

Children with reading difficulties are often prescribed low hypermetropic (long-sighted) glasses by their optometrist to help with their reading.  All this does is magnify the print and does not cure the problem.

Ophthalmologists and orthoptists do not believe that children need reading glasses as this is an aid not a cure and children’s eye muscles are like elastic and therefore should not need reading glasses unless there are exceptional circumstances.  The same applies to giving children prisms (these bend the rays of light).  Prisms again do the work of the eye muscles and can make the eyes weaker long term.  It is advised that the first point of treatment is exercises to cure conditions such as convergence insufficiency and accommodative anomalies.

The treatment of convergence insufficiency is not intrusive, and it just requires exercises. I am a great believer in not overloading children, and I find that just three to five minutes of exercise daily works extremely well.

The sort of exercises I give are putting the pencil into the hole of a biro, bringing a pencil slowly to the nose, and exercises using physiological diplopia which is a normal phenomenon using everyday sight.  Exercises are fun and adapted to the age of the child and I start off doing it every day and when I discharge them after four visits, I ask the patient to do the exercises just once weekly for two minutes to prevent a recurrence of symptoms.

I also test patients for Irlens Syndrome using a test called the intuitive coloured filter test.  Very often children with convergence insufficiency tend to like a coloured overlay and they use this for perhaps three months and then find that they do not need it anymore but this is a test I do on the second visit of every patient.

I love the fact that a child can come to me not reading or is reluctant to read and when they have finished the course of exercises, they are reading with much more pleasure and not losing their place.  Of course, this does not happen in all cases but most of the cases improve significantly and they find schoolwork and homework much easier.

Take away tips:

  1. Diarise regular eye tests for your child – it can be easy to forget!
  2. If there are concerns about the child’s reading, do ask if they experience any blurring, movement of text, or missing out words/lines. Remember this may be normal for them and they may not realise that reading doesn’t need to be experienced like this.
  3. If there are any concerns, in the first place, ask children to read with a book held upright so that you can observe if their eyes are tracking together.  As a teacher you often sit side by side and you may not consider what the eyes are doing.

For more information, contact: www.frantheorthoptist.co.uk

Image credits: Artwork by Ria Mishaal

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