Author Archives: Gill Gleeson

News – January 2016

A stack of newspapersOur monthly round-up of news, legislation and cautions relevant to families who have children with brain conditions.

Mental Health Investment
The Mental Health Services and Schools Link Pilots, in 22 areas of England, are to test proposed improvements to mental health services for children.  (Dept for Education).


SI 2015/2005, The Civil Legal Aid (Merits Criteria and Information about Financial Resources) (Amendment) Regulations 2015
Amendments to the criteria for entitlement to legal aid.  Includes some issues affecting children and families.  Applies to England and Wales.

2015 No. 2041, The Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Prescribed Requirements) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2015
From 14 January 2016, requires local authorities in England to arrange their new schemes.  These potentially have an impact on families where there is a child with special educational needs / disability.

2015 No. 428 (C. 56), The Welfare Funds (Scotland) Act 2015 (Commencement) Order 2015
From 1 February 2016 (for some parts) and 1 April 2016 (for the remainder), brings into force regulations and other parts of the Act that are not already in force.  The Act allows for emergency payments to individuals by local authorities, now that the Social Fund is not available.

2015 No. 444, The Victims’ Rights (Scotland) Regulations 2015 came into force in December 2015
An implementation of European Directive 2012/29/EU establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime.

2016 No. 21, The Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 (Amendment of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995) Order 2016
From 15 January 2016, changes to the regulations about court orders.

2015 No. 1989 (W. 299), The Partnership Arrangements (Wales) Regulations 2015
The regulations set out now local authorities and local health boards are to work in partnership for specified health and social services functions. To do this, they are to form seven regional partnership boards and share information with integrated family support teams.

2015 No. 1988 (W. 298), The Children (Secure Accommodation) (Wales) Regulations 2015
From 6 April 2016, requirements in relation to the placing of children into secure accommodation.

2015 No. 1843 (W. 271), The Care and Support (Charging) (Wales) Regulations 2015
From 6 April 2016, regulations relating to charges that local authorities can make towards care and support services for adults.

2015 No. 2006 (N.I. 1), The Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015
Adjusted rules for various welfare benefits and entitlements.  Partly in force already, partly expected to be in force on dates yet to be determined.  Works in conjunction with the Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Act 2015, of last November.

SR 2015/407, The Disabled Persons (Badges for Motor Vehicles) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015
Further amendments to the Disabled Persons (Badges for Motor Vehicles) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1993.

2015 c. 10, The Children’s Services Co-operation Act (Northern Ireland) 2015
An Act mainly to require co-operation among certain public authorities and others towards the well-being of children and young people, and the adoption of a children and young persons strategy by the Executive.


Newborn babies in cars
A hospital in Oregon watched about 300 parents of newborn babies as they put their baby in the car to go home.  They found that over 90% of parents made serious errors of positioning, and advise that parents learn how to do this beforehand.

Using steam to ease children’s colds
Surgeons have recommended not using this traditional method, after treating a number of children for burns sustained as a result.  They note that it is still sometimes recommended by people that parents would listen to.

Events – January 2016

EventsAll you need to know about personal budgets
A workshop for parents and carers of children and young people who have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan.  Stockport, 22 February. (In Control, with the Seashell Trust).

Up Down Man
Production of a play by Brendan Murray, running at the Salisbury Playhouse from 24 February to 12 March 2016, about “the question that faces every parent of an adult with a learning disability…. What will happen if I’m not here?” 

Kidz to Adultz In the Middle
Additional needs resources and information, exhibition and event, Coventry, 10 March. (Disabled Living).

The Education Show
Event showcasing learning resources. NEC Birmingham, 17 – 19 March. (i2i).

British Library Family Programme
Information about free children’s events at the British Library, London.

Consultations – January 2016

We’ve rounded up some open consultations that may be of interest to parents and carers of children with brain conditions.

Keeping children safe in education: proposed changes
The Department for Education in England is consulting on proposed revisions to guidance for schools on keeping children safe.
Closing date: 16 February 2016.

Wraparound and holiday childcare – parents and childcare provider ‘rights to request’
The Department for Education is also seeking views on draft advice about how schools should respond to requests regarding childcare outside of normal school hours and over holidays.
Closing date: 29 February 2016.

Personal Independence Payment: aids and appliances descriptors
Consultation about the Personal Independence Payment Aids and Appliances Descriptors.
Closing date: 29 January 2016.

SENDirect are asking families for suggestions about adjustments to services for disabled children on social media using the hashtag #SENDreams2016.
Until the end of January.

Eye-care services
The charity SeeAbility is seeking views  about eye-care services, from parents and carers and people with learning disabilities.

Resources – January 2016

ResourcesA round-up of helpful resources for families of children with brain conditions.

Access to Work
Employers’ guide to Access to Work: money to help disabled people do their jobs. (Dept for Work and Pensions).

Employing disabled people and people with health conditions
A guide for employers on how to attract, recruit and retain disabled people. (Dept for Work and Pensions).

Finding work for those with autism: self-employment success
Discussion article by M. Bennie, (Autism Awareness Center Inc. Canada).

Brain disorders across the lifespan
An open access collection of articles from 2015 and a perspective on promoting nervous system health, (supplement to Nature journal).

Family mediation
Leaflets about mediation for families thinking of separating, (Ministry of Justice).

Baby monitors
Advice about the use of baby monitors, (Swiss Federal Office of Public Health)

What you’ll need for your baby
Advice  about equipment for babies including the safe use of bedding and cots,  (NHS Choices).

Help in the early years if your child has additional needs
Factsheet for parents from Contact a Family.  Applies mainly to the new system in England, but also of relevance elsewhere).

Which School? For Special Needs
A searchable database of Special Schools, (John Catt Educational Ltd).

A guide for young people supporting each other
Peer support tool for young people to use themselves from the Association for Young People’s Health.

Dealing with issues relating to parental responsibility
Guidance for organisations looking after children while their parents are not with them, (Dept for Education, England).

Read Kindle books on your computer
Free programme to download Kindle books to a computer. Book format conversion software, (Calibre).

Fire safety leaflets
Guidance for people with sight, hearing or mobility issues,; and fire safety for parents and child carers, (Dept for Communities and Local Goverment).

My area
Information and feedback website about services for adults with autism in each local authority area of England, (Autism Connect).

Free app for parents to look up the sugar content of food products. (Public Health England).

Communicating with Music

Our Parent Support Consultant Gill Gleeson takes a look at communicating with music.

“Because music is a way of communicating other than with speech, or in addition to it, it is obviously something to look at for (though not only for) children with speech and language difficulties.

A number of claims are made for the value of music to children including those with additional needs. This article concentrates on one aspect, that of its communicative qualities. These do not depend upon understanding a language, but they can be very individual because the perception and responses to music are shaped by preferences and a person’s history. The music that a person likes tells you something about them.

How music can communicate

Among the ways in which music communicates (whether or not there are any words such as words of songs) are:

  • sounds as signals;  a bell, Alpenhorn, vehicle coming along a road, hooter on the river, etc., giving a message or a warning of some sort.
  • sounds producing associations in the mind, for example someone who has heard a blackbird singing on a trip to the countryside is likely to remember the trip if they hear a similar song elsewhere.
  • music in which people share a similar message or want to express something in a united way, e.g. an anthem, hymn, football song or those sessions on coach trips.
  • in rhythms (heartbeat, walking, rhymes etc.)  Music interacts with the body’s and mind’s own rhythms and frequencies.
  • music that expresses, reflects and generates mood, for example the gentleness of a lullaby.

Methods of musical communication

Many parents naturally sing to children, especially as babies.  Perhaps not all parents realise how valuable that is.  For those who would like to do more and want some more ideas, there are plenty among the sources listed below.

Musical methods for entertainment, therapy or education seek to exploit the communicative aspects of making music, as well as just listening to it, and its potential for expression.  Almost everyone does something with music in everyday life, by choosing what to listen to, singing, teaching with rhymes and action songs, or playing with children.  It is not necessary to be a trained musician, although musicians can do more with it.

The way in which musical activities enable social inclusion and meet social needs has been studied (e.g. Welch 2014). Singing, for example, is an engaging way to bring a group together. Claims have been made, beyond this, about additional benefits of active music-making with musical instruments, for example Schlaug, 2014.  Education for children tends to focus on active rather than passive musical activity. Speech therapists also sometimes work with music as a tool, for example at Blethers, 2013 (referenced below) a speech therapist describes in detail how she does this.  Educationalists might work on finding musical preferences and moving within and beyond them.

Some methods in music therapy use improvisation to communicate one-to-one with children. There are different schools of music therapy but one is described in López-González 2012 (the techniques used are described at pp.13 onwards). Among the characteristics they work on are communicating, listening, memory, movement, awareness, and reflecting back / dialogue. They also sometimes work on adjusting and extending the range of specific movements.

Most of all, perhaps, music allows people to express themselves, and to experience and understand expression.

When music is a nuisance

It is also worth saying that music can be intrusive. It is ubiquitous as a background, at events, in shops, or behind the action in films or TV programmes. For those more sensitive to it or with attention or concentration issues, background music can divert attention.

As well as leading the hearer into moods and feelings (sometimes different ones for someone wanting to divert from their own), for the musician it might also lead into analysis, a drawing into the architecture and flow of the music, absorbing and enriching in the right context such as a concert or relaxing at home.

Music successful as background to e.g. study probably is something that a person likes when they are really hearing it, but that is easy to “tune out” when they want to concentrate on something else. On the other hand, it could be a very difficult thing for a child with attention problems if they wish, or are required, to concentrate on something else.

I hope some may feel inspired to add music, or more music, to enrich communication and perhaps even discover a talent in a child who is drawn by it”.

Gill Gleeson


Blethers Speech and Language Therapy Edinburgh and Lothian, 2013. Music and communication development.

Brand E. and Bar-Gil O 2008, Improving Interpersonal Communication through Music. In: S. Malbrán and G. Mota (Eds.), Proceedings of the 22nd International Society of Music, Bologna. (then: Min-Ad: Israel Studies in Musicology Online, musical methods used are described particularly on pp61-64).

Hansen M. 2012, Music as Communication. Video, (Tedx Talks, Teddington).

López-González M. and Limb CJ. 2012, Musical creativity and the brain. Cerebrum, Epub 2012 Feb 22,

Music One2One 2016, Communicate Through Music activity pack, (National Literacy Trust).

Ploger M. and Hill K. 2005, The Craft of Musical Communication, (Institute for Musical Perception).

Sacks, O. 2009, Musical Minds. Documentary (NOVA, USA,

Schlaug G. 2015, Musicians and music making as a model for the study of brain plasticity. Progress in Brain Research 217:37-55. doi: 10.1016/bs.pbr.2014.11.020,

Welch GF et al. 2014, Singing and social inclusion. Frontiers in Psychology. 2014 Jul 29;5:803. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00803,

Creativity and Children with Additional Needs

Parent Support Consultant Gill Gleeson takes a look at how to encourage creativity in children with additional needs.

Much thought goes into how to help children with additional needs develop life-skills and confidence, make the most of their education, access opportunities and attain as much capacity for independence, enjoyment and satisfaction as possible.  But what about helping them to adapt and respond creatively to changes around them in the future and even build and discover new things that inspire and make a difference to themselves?

What is creativity?

“Entrepreneurs don’t see barriers – they see around them – and think of different ways to do things” (Deborah Meaden 2015, speaking at the British Library).  What she is speaking of is creativity in her own field of business.  Creativity is often thought of in terms of artistic activities, but it is actually relevant to any type of activity.

Parents and carers of children with learning disabilities involving IQ below about 70 have sometimes been led to think that their children will not be very creative.  However, creativity and IQ are different.  Further, playfulness and spontaneity are associated with creativity but are not the whole of it. So it cannot be assumed that a tendency not to play or react in the same way as most (for example, with autistic features) is an indication that that creativity cannot occur.

So what is happening in creativity? Scientists are attempting to understand the process, operating within many parts of the brain at once (for example, Bob and Louchakova, 2015, also Boccia M. et al 2015).  In work to identify how and where it operates in the brain, some elements of the “circuit” involved are being identified.  It appears that very creative people can form and find associations between different things / ideas more easily and meaningfully, but can also be emotionally delicate which may get in the way of using them productively.  This provides some clues, as does listening to people known to be creative, who go through a process of mulling things over, looking for new angles / methods and experiencing inspiration about them from somewhere unconscious – sometimes called a “Eureka” effect.  Parts of the process have been seen happening in the brain using scanners (Andreasen, 2011).

Making use of a new idea (or movement, design, sound etc.) means taking it up as something that can be built on.  Expectations of children, for example in multiple-choice questions at school, tend towards the idea that there is only one real answer to a problem.  Children who see diverse possibilities will sometimes find it hard to pick the right one, as might those who have a condition that makes it harder for them to see the logic of what the school is looking for.  Taking up those other possibilities, and seeing where they go, might be one creative approach.

Bringing creativity through to producing results also involves wider skills, such as collaboration with others who think /move /construct /paint etc. differently but can think together; evaluating and exploring the answers (critical thinking); and asking questions about creative ideas, such as “does it work”, or “does it get to the goal”.  The inventor Thomas Edison famously said “Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration”.  This combination is still being studied (Oleynick V.C. et al 2014).

There are children who are very good at thinking outside the box, but not so good at thinking inside it.  Because creativity involves moving outside the box, it may not fit in with others’ wishes (such as a teacher concentrating on a set curriculum, or a parent who does not want food wasted on making models).  So the creative person also needs some understanding of the box.

There is believed to be a dynamic between invention, connection / discovery and solution / critical thinking, and one between an imaginative approach to questions, knowledge / skill, motivation, and energy / persistence (Iowa State University, 2015).  Probably the more knowledge and/or skill a person has in what they are trying to be creative with, the easier it is for interest and inventiveness to be sparked.

Nurturing creativity

How can children learn creativity and have the confidence to use it?  As in anything, some will naturally find this easier than others. Educational approaches might be able to foster an exploratory approach to problems.  A non-threatening, non-controlling social environment is also believed to help.  Other suggestions include others explaining or showing how they create or combine ideas themselves, and encouraging the creative thinking even if it does not succeed in what the student was trying to do (Iowa State University, 2015).

The author J.R.R. Tolkien, in his essay “On fairy-stories” gave an example of making up a story about a “green sun”. Obviously, the sun and the colour green are separate in reality. Creativity can begin by putting them together , then go on to weave a magical world in which the reader is led into a temporary but absorbing “secondary belief” (Tolkien 1974).  This process is an example of “synectics”, a way of generating and developing something new.  Related to it is the process of association, again leading to new combinations, not only when using words but also in doing anything creatively.

Gable (2015) describes ways to introduce children to these processes. She stresses the importance of having their ideas listened to, and again exploring alternative solutions.  Conditions that favour creativity include:  a chance to make choices from a variety of possibilities, for example about what to draw, what to use, how to do things.; the decisions people make as they paint, sculpt, write and think are at the core of the creative process; an environment that encourages and helps them to problem-solve; time for play and make-believe; some freedom, within limits of rules; and experience of different ways of being and thinking.  Whatever satisfies someone is more likely to be related to something they have a talent for, i.e. will be able to take further.  For example, if they enjoy the feel of clay they are more likely to want to experiment with making things out of it.

“Brainstorming” techniques seek to trigger creativity by free association of ideas, either completely freely or related to a particular subject, trying to make the mind wander and capturing what it finds.  Gable suggests encouraging children to tackle problems as a group.  Those with communication difficulties might find this easier one-to-one, or using a different medium such as art or toys.

Gable also lists barriers to creativity, some of which are surprising. For example, rewards and external motivation can lessen the key feature of enthusiasm for the creative process.  So can being compared with others, or being given too much in the way of adult direction or restrictions.  She describes the stages and processes that children go through as they develop in art; there are stages when they are easily discouraged and can be very critical of their own efforts.  They may need to be shown different examples of, say, art expressing the same idea, to illustrate that, again, there is not “one right answer”.  The adult’s response is a careful process so that on the one hand, the child is helped to find ways of developing and changing their creation but on the other hand, to feel positive about what they have already done.

A slightly more structured approach that has been suggested is to teach skills like divergent thinking, visual thinking and considering different points of view in a similar way to other subjects at school, and specifically encouraging children to experiment and innovate (Azzam K.M. 2009).

Providing more practical ideas would have made this article too long, but for those who would like to explore further, sources of ideas including the parents’ blog; courses are also available, for example the Earlyarts Power of Play course. For more on actions that can enhance creativity, see Techniques for Creative Teaching, by Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching.


Andreasen N. C., (2011), A Journey into Chaos: Creativity and the Unconscious. In: Brain, Mind and Consciousness: An International, Interdisciplinary Perspective (A.R. Singh and S.A. Singh eds.), MSM, 9(1), p42-53.

Azzam A.M. 2009 September, Why creativity now?  A conversation with Sir Ken Robinson.  Educational Leadership 67(1): 22-26.

Bob P. and Louchakova O. 2015, Dissociative states in dreams and brain chaos: implications for creative awareness.  Frontiers in Psychology 2015;6:1353.

Bocchia M. et al 2015, Where do bright ideas occur in our brain?  Meta-analytic evidence from neuroimaging studies of domain-specific creativity. Frontiers in Psychology 2015; 6:1195.

British Library:  Innovation and Enterprise Team 20 November 2015, Top business tips from our panel with Deborah Meaden.

Gable S. et al 2015, Creativity in Young Children, Curators of the University of Missouri.

Iowa State University, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching 2015, Elements of creativity.

Oleynick V.C. et al 2014, The scientific study of inspiration in the creative process: challenges and opportunities.  Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 2014; 8: 436.

Tolkien J.R.R. 1974, Tree and leaf. London, Unwin Books.

Consultations – December 2015

Consultations are your chance to give big organisations like the NHS and other government bodies your opinions on things that matter to you to. This is our monthly round-up of open consultations that might be of interest to our members.

Researchers at Royal Holloway College, University of London
are looking for first-time fathers of infants aged 3-36 months, for a study about fathers’ experience during labour and birth.

Draft guidance for police in handling people in mental health crisis
Comments are invited by 1 January 2016.  Details:  (College of Policing).

News – December 2015

A stack of newspapersOur monthly roundup of news and legislation relevant to families who have children with neurological conditions.

New guidelines by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) on Children’s attachment: attachment in children and young people who are adopted from care, in care or at high risk of going into care, [NG26] (Applies up to age 18).


2015 No. 1823 (W. 265), The Visits to Children in Detention (Wales) Regulations 2015
From 6 April 2016, the regulations relate to visits by local authorities.

2015 No. 370, The Victim Charter (Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2015) Order (Northern Ireland) 2015
Sets out requirements for the support of victims of crime, from 13 November 2015.

2015 No. 406 (C. 51), The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 (Commencement No. 10 and Saving Provision) Order 2015
The Act is a major piece of legislation.  From 5 January 2016, brings into force sections of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 (“the 2014 Act”).  It includes, where a child is in secure accommodation, the previous 1995 Act will continue to apply if a decision about detaining them is taken before 1 February 2016.  Provisions about named persons for children and children’s plans start to come into effect from 5 January 2016.  Section 96, relating to assessment of wellbeing, is planned to be completely in force by 5 January 2014, and other sections on kinship care and adoption by 1 April 2016.

Resources – December 2015

ResourcesWhere can I get a free PC?
Where to find free or low-cost computers. (Neil Hawkins)

Tax-free childcare:  ten things parents should know
Tax-Free Childcare will be available to around 2 million households to help with the cost of childcare, enabling more parents to go out to work, if they want to, to provide greater security for their families. Here’s the top ten things to know about the scheme. (HM Treasury and others)

Spending Review:  what it means for families with disabled children
Summary based on the Chancellor’s recent announcements. (Derek Sinclair, Contact a Family)

An agency providing nanny services by the hour for 8-16 year olds, including special needs.

Guides for children and young people

Youth Mental Health
An information hub offering young people advice and help on mental health problems including depression, anxiety and stress,  (NHS Choices).

Get your rights
Everything you need to get the most out of the NHS,  (Council for Disabled Children and National Children’s Bureau).

All about information, advice and support services
A website for young people up to the age of 25,  (Council for Disabled Children and National Children’s Bureau).

Young Person’s Guide to Personal Budgets in England
(Together for Short Lives).

Staying safe online
Top ten tips.  Leaflet designed for young people who may be about to go online with a new computer, tablet etc.,  (National Police Chiefs’ Council).

Guides for parents and carers

Babies In Mind
A free online course about ways in which parents and caregivers can influence the mind of a child from conception to infancy,  (University of Warwick).

Autism and Thanksgiving
How to cope with feasting and hubbub.  An article about the USA Thanksgiving celebrations that adapts to other situations of “holiday excitement”,  (Autism Speaks).

Upfront guide to caring
Online tool to help new carers to find the information and support they need,  (Carers UK).

How to teach a person with ASD how to cook
Article by Maureen Bennie, (Autism Awareness Centre).

Guide for parents who are formula feeding, and Building a happy baby
Two leaflets, (UNICEF).