Can I Tell You About Nystagmus?

Can I Tell You About Nystagmus?
Nadine Neckles, illustrated by Vikas Upadhyay
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

I’ve only ever taught one child who had Nystagamus (due to his albinism). Now having read this excellent little book – the latest in the ‘Can I Tell You About series’, I feel ashamed about how little I really understood of the condition.

Herein a girl named Amber talks in a user-friendly manner about nystagamus -her ‘dancing eyes’, what this means for her in particular and about how she and other children with the condition will experience it differently, although they may share certain similarities such as taking longer to learn things. (This doesn’t mean they are any less clever than others however.)

We hear about Amber’s diagnosis (her eyes jiggle from side-to-side);

how she has to have regular eye check-ups; how she has to carefully adjust the way she sits to watch TV, preferably sitting right close to the screen; the need for her to wear glasses to prevent her ‘seeing double’ as she also has a mild squint.

Starting school presented a challenge for Amber especially the frenetic-seeming playtimes. Amber’s school has made accommodations for her condition such as adding yellow tape to the stair edges, doorframes and potential places of danger; and her mum explained nystagmus to Amber’s classmates.

When in the classroom she has a special place to sit, is never asked to share a book or computer screen and has work printed on coloured paper.

Reading itself brings its own set of challenges but again there are aids to make things less tricky for her. Depth perception is a particular challenge, so ball games, (and other things requiring rapid hand-eye co-ordination), gymnastics and running are ‘tricky’.

Of course frustrations occur but Amber’s friends are understanding and Amber herself is bold, intelligent and resilient, refusing to let nystagamus define her.

The book concludes with some information for adults, an outline of associated conditions, an important checklist for professionals, a glossary and a list of recommended resources.

Easy to understand, this book, (written by a special needs life coach and mother of a child like Amber, with nystagmus and Chromosome 18q) encompasses all the important aspects of nystagmus making it an ideal introduction for anyone wanting to learn more about the condition be they children, parents, carers, teachers, and other professionals. Line drawings by Vikas Upadhyay show Amber as the sparky individual the author presented.

He’s Not Naughty!

He’s Not Naughty!
Deborah Brownson, illustrated by Ben Mason
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Taryn and Jake are best friends, they’re almost inseparable, similar in lots of ways but also rather different for Jake has autism, and Taryn has taken it upon herself to explain for young readers (as well as teachers and other educators, carers, parents and family) what this means.

It most definitely does not mean, despite some of his behaviour, that he’s naughty. Far from it; rather his sensory processing disorder might result in him feeling explosive inside so that he flaps his hands and screams rather than participating in a supposedly fun activity.

Or, his tactile sensitivity might make him cast off his uncomfortable-feeling clothes or shoes and run around without the offending article(s).

Perhaps he might be so engrossed in his own world that it appears he’s ignoring another person; although there are ways to get around this, as there are ways of coping with other ‘mistakes’. After all, everyone– neuro diverse or not -, learns through their mistakes. For example, many grown-ups expect a child to look directly into their eyes when being spoken to; for children such as Jake, listening to and looking at a person at the same time, asks them to use one sense too many and as a consequence, to listen well he looks down at the floor. This is not being rude (a mistake many unknowing adults make); it’s merely coping with being different.

Taste and how food looks, reactions to strangers, taking things literally, feelings, speech (including communicating with sign language and by means of PECS);

making friends, choosing an appropriate school and routines, as well as famous people who have or may have autism are also covered.

This excellent little book is a real gem, written from first-hand knowledge and from the heart – its author is the mother of two children on the autism spectrum – and ought to be shared in all classrooms and by every family bringing up a child with autism.
Moreover, the artist Ben Mason has Asperger’s and his illustrations too are heart-felt and insightful.

Gilly the Giraffe Self-Esteem Activity Book

Gilly the Giraffe Self-Esteem Activity Book
Dr Karen Treisman, illustrated by Sarah Peacock
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

This large format paperback is both a therapeutic story and a creative activity book for primary aged children, developed by specialist clinical psychologist, Dr Karen Treisman.

It begins with a story about Gilly the Giraffe to be shared with children. Gilly has much in her world to be happy about but she struggles with self-confidence on account of her height, her long black tongue and her colourful mosaic patches; and worse, some of the other animals make unkind remarks about these aspects of her appearance.

However, thanks to kindly Loren the lioness pointing out that being different makes Gilly exciting, beautiful and cool;

it’s all a matter of how you look at something. “We’re all precious and deserve to be appreciated.” So says Loren and thereafter not only Gilly but her classmates start to become more appreciative about one another.

A great confidence-boosting tale after which might come discussions on some of the story’s key themes.

Thereafter the book offers a wealth of creative ideas through which these themes can be further explored. These are divided into two parts, the first being ‘fun activities and crafts with Gilly’ and comprises such things as mindful colouring, a word search, a quiz, questions to consider, a ‘make your own Gilly the Giraffe, a wonderful positivity wordlist, a positivity acronym using a person’s name(s) and more.

Part 2 contains over 25 further suggestions (that can be used in school or at home) for boosting self-esteem, confidence, positive thinking and self-belief,

each of which is clearly explained and where appropriate, space is provided in the book for writing, drawing or whatever is apt by way of a response.

With its integrated approach, this book is ideal for using in PSHE sessions and concludes with an excellent explanatory guide for adults; much of what is said herein, especially in the ‘practical strategies, tips and ways of being for building self-esteem’ should be read and acted upon by all who have dealings with children in whatever context.

Wearing my teacher/consultant hat, I whole-heartedly recommend this book.

Teaching Social Skills to Children with Autism Using Minecraft®

Teaching Social Skills to Children with Autism Using Minecraft®
Raelene Dundon, illustrated by Chloe-Amber Scott
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

I know from my teaching experience that children on the autism spectrum often become obsessively passionate about and often developing an enormous competence in a particular thing such as  Lego building, drumming, a certain cartoon series or drawing specific items.

The strength of the motivation towards their chosen passion tends to result in a lack of social skills: participating in Minecraft® (which is frequently called digital Lego) offers a wonderful setting to enable neurodiverse children to develop both social and communication skills. Clearly the author of this large format book, Raelene Dundon appreciates this and to that end, has created a superb resource.

Having outlined in the opening chapters the importance of social skills and how these are impaired in children with ASD, she puts the case for using group programmes, in particular Minecraft® to develop those crucial social skills.

The second part of the book comprises information on how to set up a social Minecraft® group; how to use the game for supporting such skills as holding a conversation, being interested in other people and understanding the viewpoint of another person.
Each skill, for instance problem solving,

‘being creative’ or co-operation

is succinctly presented and related to what has just happened during the specific session – this is a great tool for developing awareness in the learner.

In all there are thirty sessions (around 150 pages of photocopiable material) with smashing illustrations by Chloe-Amber Scott, making this an absolutely invaluable and comprehensive resource – a veritable goldmine – for any professional working with primary children or older students, who have ASD.

Yoga for Children and Young People with Autism

Yoga for Children and Young People with Autism
Michael Chissick, illustrated by Sarah Peacock
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Highly experienced yoga teacher, Michael Chissick has created another absolutely smashing book, for those who teach yoga to youngsters, specifically those with autism, although much of what is included here would work well with neurotypical children too.

At the outset Michael states his case explaining that perfection is not on the agenda, so an adult-style class approach is inappropriate as is chanting.

A plan is vital; intuitive teaching won’t work with children on the autism spectrum: I know from experience they need a structure and that is what the book provides, whether the teaching is done in a mainstream school that includes children with autism or a special school where everyone being taught is on the autism spectrum. If the latter is the case, Chissick suggests three groups(his are named after trees) which can be fluid but are based on the degree of challenge both students and the teacher of the class face.

He then goes on to offer four different lesson plans – one being suitable for all students (universal) and three others – and each of the latter is progressive.

Much of the remainder of the book contains the differentiated tried and tested games, thirteen in all, some of which require additional resources that are flagged up at the outset. There are also sequences such as the Sun Salutation and some sequence games, followed by the postures themselves including ‘good sitting’

(illustrated by Sarah Peacock whose work will be familiar to those who know Michael’s other books such as Ladybird’s Remarkable Relaxation and Sitting on a Chicken .)

And of course, there are ideas for the vital ‘calming stage’ and final relaxation.

There’s a chapter on teaching yoga to children who have ASD in a mainstream classroom, followed by some case studies and extremely useful visual resources.

A wealth of experience has gone into this book: it’s a veritable treasure trove for anyone who teaches yoga to children, whatever the setting, but especially children with ASD.

Forest School and Autism

Forest School and Autism
Michael James
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Let me say from the outset, wearing my early years teacher’s hat, I’m a firm believer in the benefits of Forest School for all children be they neuro-typical or with an autistic spectrum condition, so I was excited to receive this book, the first of its kind on Forest School and Autism.

The author, Michael James has a wealth of experience of Forest School and now runs his own Forest School in Somerset; his enthusiasm shines through in everything he says.

Having provided background chapters on both Forest School, its principles and practice, and autism (wherein he asserts crucially, ‘In order to offer autism-inclusive practice, you must view each autistic person as an individual.’), Michael goes on to discuss with the help of case studies, the positive impact of Forest School on health; its sensory benefits and the opportunities it can offer for the learning of new skills. Fun however, so the author asserts, is a primary objective.

Sensitivity and positive relationships lie at the heart of the whole of Forest School practice and the importance of empathy is paramount.

So too is observation, which is the biggest responsibility of all practitioners; how otherwise can effective communication between learners and practitioners (who need to be clear, sensitive and frequently literal) take place (each can learn from the other) and true developmental learning take place?

Crucial to the success of an inclusive practice is preparation – preparation at the outset of a course of sessions – coupled with on-going reflection and further preparation. A chapter is allocated to this and a summary of its key points, such as the importance of individual learning programmes, is given at the end. Indeed a useful summary of key points concludes the other chapters too.

This most definitely is a book to be recommended for all Forest School practitioners rather than only those who work with learners who have ASC. After all, our connection with nature enhances our humanity and focussing on a child’s strengths, abilities, sensory preferences and likes is beneficial to every learner.

Thera-Build with LEGO® / Art Therapy Cards for Children

Thera-Build with LEGO®
Alyson Thomsen
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Alyson Thomsen was a senior teacher and since creating and developing the Thera-Build methodology, runs a business consultancy for schools, families and others interested in using LEGO® bricks with children therapeutically.

Purposeful play with these bricks aims to develop social competence, reduce stress, boost self-esteem and confidence.

As a teacher I have used LEGO® bricks across the curriculum, but never as a therapeutic tool. However I was pleased to discover that I share with Alyson some basic underlying educational principles, most notably vital the importance of play in children’s development be that social, emotional or academic; and the crucial role of adult as facilitator – flexible and enthusiastic – in the learning process.

Drawing on her wealth of experience, Alyson provides in this book a veritable treasure trove of ideas for using LEGO®, a resource loved by so many children, in a therapeutic way, as well as giving readers an introduction to the brain science behind her methods, a wealth of advice that includes both the strategies for, and practicalities of, using the materials. and much more.

Not only will this inspiring book be a great resource for those working in schools and for parents, even more importantly, it has the potential to result in extremely positive outcomes for children.

Art Therapy Cards for Children
Elitsa Velikova
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

This resource comprises a box containing 22 stimulus cards (105x 150cm) and an accompanying explanatory book, and could be used for anyone (art therapists, social workers, psychologists, teachers and counsellors) who works with children and perhaps parents. The author, Elitsa Velikova, is an art therapist and psychologist with extensive experience, and is also Director of the Arts and Therapy Institute in Sofia (Bulgaria)

The cards offer creative art therapy opportunities for primary school age children and encompass four themes: feelings and emotions, relationships with family and friends, the body and imagination.
There are opportunities for exploring in both two and three dimensions and all the materials required are listed in the booklet.

Each card provides a different prompt, for instance, ‘Draw a person in the rain using pastels or pencils’ (feelings); ‘Create a nest and a bird with clay’ (relationships); or ‘draw or create a happiness machine (imagination). All are illustrated in bright collage style.
The booklet explains each prompt and its aim(s), the materials needed and how a child might benefit from experiencing the activity.

A useful resource but it could I think, have been even more so, especially for teachers and other non-specialists in art therapy, to have at least the materials needed listed on the reverse of each card.