Supporting children to flourish

28 June 2018

The Link magazine front cover

Kerri Morgan, our Highly Specialist Speech and Language Therapist, offers some tips to help teachers support children with cerebral palsy flourish in the classroom and beyond.

This article first appeared in The Link magazine, issue 11 June 2018, published by Speech Link Multimedia Ltd


Whenever I talk to professional colleagues about my work I start with the following quote from the late American psychologist Carl Rogers, “If I accept the other person as something fixed, already diagnosed and classified, already shaped by his past, then I am doing my part to confirm this limited hypothesis. If I accept him as a process of becoming, then I am doing what I can to confirm or make real his potentialities”.

Cerebral palsy is a diagnosis but a broad one with each child presenting in a unique way. If there’s  one tip I can give you about helping a child with cerebral palsy in your classroom, it’s to believe in their potential.


But how can you help them achieve it?

Firstly, it’s important to note that children with cerebral palsy rarely have just a movement disorder. They may have a multitude of things impacting on their day:  sensory impairments or processing difficulties, pain, insomnia, epilepsy, learning difficulties, speech, language and communication needs and, above all, their own personality and past experiences.

So it’s vitally important that we as school staff take the time not only to find out what these factors are in detail but also to really learn to appreciate what they mean for the child. To ask ourselves how do they see the world?

Imagine: if you have difficulty with balance and coordination and you’re surrounded by 29 other children running around, then a PE lesson can be daunting. Couple that with difficulty understanding instructions and the lesson starts to feel like quite a frightening place.

That’s not to say that a child with cerebral palsy shouldn’t be in a PE lesson, they absolutely should; it is we who need to adapt, to take their needs into consideration and, at the very least, acknowledge how the world feels for that child.

The same rule applies when it comes to social skills. The majority of children with cerebral palsy will have spent much of their early life in in hospital, attending appointments, interacting with lots of adults but very rarely experiencing friendships with children their own age. Quite literally, if they use a wheelchair or walker they may not be able to get physically close to other children.


Breaking down isolation

Part of the reason children with cerebral palsy feel isolated is that for the other children, there’s an air of mystery that surrounds disability. This may well be the first time many children in your class have encountered someone with a disability and it’s important that you address that in the following ways:


Demystify and debunk

Let your class know what cerebral palsy is. There are lots of helpful books out there such as  Ceana Has CP by C. Fran Card or Taking Cerebral Palsy to School by Mary Elizabeth Anderson but, more than this, let your class know specifically what their classmate finds difficult and most importantly what they don’t. If their speech is affected but they are able to understand, make sure your class know the difference.

Normalise it

There are 7 billion types of normal in this world. Make sure your class know that they are all different – they all have strengths and weaknesses. Provide a diverse set of role models when teaching and remember: not all people with cerebral palsy dream of being a Paralympian. There are so many successful people with cerebral palsy in all arenas. Books such as Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls books 1 and 2 by Elena Favilli showcase this beautifully. Comedians Rosie Jones and the Britain’s Got Talent winner Lee Ridley AKA ‘Lost Voice Guy’ are also excellent examples of fantastic, articulate and successful people with cerebral palsy whom all the children can enjoy watching.


Be inclusive

In the same vein, ensure you educate yourself and take a proactive approach to inclusion. When planning make sure your disabled pupil’s needs are forefront rather than an add on. If, for example, they can’t get out of their chair on the floor, consider: does the rest of the class need to sit on the floor that day? If you need to differentiate the worksheet, hand it out at the same time as the others, put the adapted scissors in the same draw and expect them to get them just as you would the rest of your class.


Ask the experts

Know where to go for further information and advice. Talk to your local Occupational Therapy and Speech and Language Therapy services about access, software and equipment that may help your pupil get the most out of their learning. They may even be able to bring in examples or put you in touch with companies that can loan you equipment.

Remember a child with cerebral palsy doesn’t necessarily have a cognitive difficulty but they are likely to have a learning difficulty in that they are going to find it harder to take part physically which can impact their pace of learning.



Five top tips for lesson preparation

Here are 5 simple ways you can make things easier in the classroom:


  1. provide larger print worksheets or, if you are expecting the class to copy text from the board, this text may need to be closer to them, i.e. a copy on their desk
  2. provide a computer with predictive text to help record their work if writing is difficult – an occupational therapist can help adapt this if necessary
  3. break instructions down into smaller steps if you are expecting multiple things in a session. It may take your pupil longer to complete a task and so they may need something to help remind them of the next step like a visual cue card or recording they can play back. In this way they can still be as independent as possible
  4. give your pupil time. If you are asking the class questions and you know it the child a while to create an answer on their communication aid or plan what they want to say, don’t leave them out. Let them know you will be coming to them in a minute so they can get ready. And just be aware that a child with cerebral palsy may not always be able to put their hand up the quickest and make themselves known, don’t always choose the child with the fastest draw!
  5. Talk to us at CPotential. We can provide training packages tailored to your school’s needs that include areas such as differentiation, social skills, communication strategies and behaviour management.


Finally, research shows that children with cerebral palsy usually take part in fewer activities, find friendships harder to maintain and have reduced play skills. We owe it to them to facilitate these friendships. If we do, we’ll see them take more of an active role in the school day.

A great way to do this is by providing semi-structured opportunities such as clubs or groups. Perhaps with all the children, mixing and mingling on mats on the floor to increase a sense of togetherness. Make sure that you gradually strip back adult intervention so this becomes an empowering experience – no child wants a teacher hanging out with them in the playground or monitoring their conversations. Give the children the tools, then step back and watch them create something amazing.

Above all, I’d urge you to remember: every interaction with a child with cerebral palsy is an opportunity to help them reach their potential.





Total Communication Seminar

26 June 2018

Pupil with speech and language therapist

Boy with speech therapist

Join us for this stimulating Continuing Professional Development Seminar for education and healthcare professionals who work with children with speech, language or communication needs.

When: Friday 6 July 2018 from 1 – 4.30pm

Where: Woodstar School, 143 Coppetts Road, London N10 1JP

With Keynote Speaker:  Dave Hewett, Director of the Intensive Interaction Institute, who will talk about Intensive Interaction methods

Dave Hewett

Plus: presentations on Assistive Technology, Behaviour as Communication, Using Experiential Art and Lego therapies

And: an exhibition of leading assistive and inclusive IT aids for children with communication needs


Last places available! Book your ticket by Friday 29 June 2018


Our “lovely visit” to London Zoo

17 May 2018


A giraffe’s tongue can grow as long as 50cm. Just one of the fascinating facts the children from Woodstar School and nursery learnt on their visit to London Zoo yesterday.

They had a great time seeing the animals they’ve been learning about at school – including butterflies, tigers, zebras and gorillas – and ticking them off their checklists.

Kerri Morgan, Woodstar School speech and language therapist, explains:

“Before the trip we gave the children pictures of animals at the zoo. They chose which ones they wanted to see, cut them out and stuck them on to a checklist for the day. On the bus the children also voted to see an interactive talk all about Humboldt penguins.”

The trip was packed full of exciting sights and sounds with lots of opportunities for the children to use their practical Learning for Living skills including using a map of the zoo, meeting the zoo staff, taking turns going to the best viewing posts and taking photos with an iPad.

As well as the wildlife, we came across a tuk tuk – something the children had not seen before but were excited to add to their knowledge of types of transport they’ve been learning about this term.

And the children’s overall response to the day? Their comments included: “I had a lovely visit” and “beautiful” and one of the boys was delighted to have learnt to say “Alpaca” for the first time.

Many thanks to everyone at London Zoo for making us so welcome.


Learning for Living – teaching children skills for everyday life

27 November 2017

Pupil making petit fours

Everyday activities that we take for granted can be much, much harder for a mum or dad of a disabled child.

Shopping is just one example. Going to the shops can present a range of basic practical challenges for a child if they use a wheelchair or walker.  For a child with sensory processing difficulties the whole experience can be unsettling, even frightening.

A child with sensory processing difficulties may be oversensitive or undersensitive to the world around them. They may have an extreme response to loud noises or bright lights, they may dislike being touched or have a constant need to touch people or things even when it’s not appropriate.

Shoppers and shop staff can often lack the knowledge to be patient and sympathetic when they see a disabled child behaving differently from what they’re used to.

So, for the child and their family, getting out and about can become a physical and emotional obstacle course. Something to avoid.

That’s why we provide Learning for Living at CPotential and Woodstar School.


How does Learning for Living help the children we work with?

At CPotential we take everyday experiences and break them down into small, manageable components that the children can learn and get used to, so they are well prepared and able to cope. We call this Learning for Living.

We plan this process over a number of weeks, involving the children in every step of the process and rehearsing it, so that they understand and feel comfortable when they undertake the activity.

We take the children out to different places – shops, libraries, parks, woods, museums – as well as learning everyday skills in school from washing up to finding out bus schedules.  They get to do and make things that form a part of everyday life. It’s a vital way to help each child practise the skills they’re learning in their lessons and sessions in real-life situations and build up their confidence.

The process also helps develop problem-solving and logical thinking skills, which help the child to be as independent as possible in all areas of life.


How you can help

Your donation will enable us to keep giving our pupils the chance to learn about and experience life – just like other children do.

Learning for Living in action

As part of their lessons about Healthy Eating, the children made hummus. First, they discussed what ingredients they needed, learning about their sizes, shapes and properties such as flavours, and made a list.  They planned and rehearsed their journey to the shop, interacting with people to find the ingredients and paying for them. One the day of the trip they went to a local shop with their teachers. They found the items on the shelves and paid for them. Then they came back to school and made the hummus.

A simple shopping trip, which provided lots of real-life Learning for Living.

Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside

19 July 2017

The children in our Unicorns class had an amazing time on our end of year school trip yesterday.

After a fun coach ride through London, they took to the skies across the Thames on the Emirates Airline. Everyone, including our school mascot, then chillaxed (after a tasty fish and chips lunch) on the Urban Beach at Victoria Docks. It was a fitting finale to our ‘Seaside’ topic, which we’ve been learning about this half-term.

The trip was part-funded from pledges kindly given at our Gala Dinner. And also big thanks to all the cable car staff who helped us to get into the cars and to Huggy, the ticket inspector, who gave all the children a free ticket for another visit.


Meet rising writing star Raisa

18 July 2017

We’re  delighted to congratulate ex-pupil Raisa Hassan, who has just graduated with a 2:1 BA in Creative and Professional Writing from the University of East London.

She has also just published her first book entitled Spotlight (A Way Forward), which is a collection of her poetry, screen writing and prose based on her personal experience of life as a disabled woman.

Raisa came to CPotential (or the Hornsey Centre as it was then called) from the age of three to seven.

We asked her to tell us more.


What did you most enjoy about the degree?

The degree at UEL helped me explore my feelings towards my disability. With this sort of degree, the content could never be considered ‘the wrong answer’ – I felt free. With both my book and poetry dissertation exploring life with a disability, I was able to be true to myself. It was very therapeutic!


What did you find most challenging and how did you deal with that?

Without a doubt, the most difficult thing about my degree was balancing education and the amount that I had to keep up with. Obviously, it takes me longer to complete work compared to someone without a disability – including the way I work. I had to write most of my work out by hand which is time-consuming, then I had to type it all up using a voice-activated device, which often didn’t do what I wanted it to do – every week for four years.

Obviously, stuff happens. It can be anything – from illnesses to accidents to supporting friends and sudden deaths.

Sometimes it was really hard to block out emotion but I knew that my grades were at stake.  In all honesty, I have ‘snapped’ a few times when it became a bit too much. I always had to talk to myself afterwards, to say ‘RAISA, YOU HAVE GOT TO GET A GRIP!’ Luckily, there was always one person that I could rely on when things were really bad – my personal tutor, Dr Tim Atkins, who is really amazing and like a father to me.


What do you want to do next, what are your ambitions?

Now, this is a difficult question! First, I need to take a break from education ha ha! No, seriously, I just want to have some time to myself as I have been working to secure my education with the good grades tirelessly from the age of three.

I can’t wait to pursue swimming again (as I haven’t been in nine years!) and I’ve always wanted to go horse riding so I can’t wait to do that.

Some other things I would really love to do are: run my own poetry workshops for people with disabilities in London, go to a lot more poetry open mic nights and pursue a career in public speaking about disability and rights – in a way make disability ‘less awkward’ and show people the importance of disability awareness.

I’d love to publish some more books, whether this would be self-publishing them or using actual publishing houses. Perhaps I’ll have my own company too, I don’t know yet!


How would you describe your book and your writing?

Well, my book represents people with disabilities and the struggles they have to go through, but also represents the fact that they still have a life worth living – and the fact that that sort of life should be valued.

At times, it is brutally honest – I do swear a few times and, for me, that’s perfectly valid! My book is aimed at a mature audience – probably the minimum age I would say that could read my book is 14. At the same time, I don’t want to sound overly mean, inconsiderate, arrogant or bitter; I approach my work with the attitude of ‘this is how it really is’, if that makes sense.


What are you passionate about?

Above all, I’m passionate about disability and the concept and importance of empathy and intelligence. For me, it’s also important to love and respect difference. I’m sick and tired of the sympathy and often patronising attitudes towards disability – often the concept of intelligence connected to disability is written off but I truly believe that everyone has a talent – you just have to have the right support to find it.

At the end of the day, disability can strike anyone at any time. The more people who are educated about it earlier will face later challenges which will be, in some shape or form, easier to overcome. This sort of education can also be seen as a warning – but in a good way.


How did CPotential help you?

To be honest, I don’t know where to start! Obviously, the education was important but there was always a sense of respect and belief as regards ability, intelligence and individuality.

There was always a ‘you can do it’ attitude and, if you couldn’t, you would have to find your way around it in a unique way and that was okay too – no matter how small the task was. It’s the sort attitude that I’ve been able to continue in my daily life to this day and I plan to carry this attitude through to the future, whatever it may bring.


What would you say to current pupils at CPotential and to their parents?

Oh, wow! First of all, genuinely believe you will do well. You are your own person. Never give up. Progress, no matter how small, is always progress. Move forward. Don’t be afraid of disability, do not hide your disability and certainly do not be ashamed of it – disability is not a ‘curse’ – it is  predominantly connected to accidents and genetics.

Don’t live in a life where you wish you didn’t have a disability – yes, it may have been different but your disability makes you, you. Why change that? You deserve a chance as much as everyone else.

Push yourself, but you will always know your limits: respect them. Even if you feel like it, no matter what, always remember that you are not alone. Ever.

If you really believe you can’t do something, it’s okay to ask for help but first you have to try. Parents should believe the same. Life is never easy but you should always try to do the best you can with what you are given. Love life.


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