Author Archives: Kyle Davies

Parents, researchers and charities join forces to create new resource for parents of children with learning disabilities.

The University of Warwick, Mencap, Cerebra, and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation have teamed up with parents of children with learning disabilities to produce a new Parent’s Guide on improving the well-being of young children with learning disabilities. The guide is being launched today (25th May) in Belfast and you can download the the booklet here.

Research has shown that young people with learning disabilities face more barriers to achieving well-being than children without a learning disability, but also that there are practical steps and strategies which parents can take to change this.

Combining the practical wisdom of parents with insight from the University of Warwick’s twenty years of research into the wellbeing of families of children with a learning disability, the new guide presents hints and tips, backed up by research, for parents to use in their family lives to promote the well-being of their children and to develop positive family relationships.

The Parent’s Guide has been created to help parents support the well-being of children from 0 – 5.   It offers suggestions on ways to build and support warm, positive family relationships, and also includes a chapter on activities parents and siblings can do to support the development of a child with learning disabilities.

Each chapter includes advice from parents, suggested activities, and space for personal notes and reflection.

Parents invited to give feedback on the guide befor its launch said:

  • “The tone of the booklet is really reassuring, and easy to understand. It makes a nice change from the booklets we usually read that are full of jargon.”
  • “The best bit of the booklet for me is hearing about other people’s experiences and coping mechanisms. It makes me realise that we aren’t alone. I just wish we had had something like this when our son was born.”
  • “Every chapter is so relatable, and it’s so useful to read about all of the activities.”
  • “I want to complete the reflection activity and review this to see if I did set some time aside for myself. I think that putting it somewhere I can see it, like on the fridge, will remind me to do it.”
  • “I think that this booklet is amazing information for parents to know.”

The guide has been written by Dr Samantha Flynn, Dr Vaso Totsika and Professor Richard Hastings of the University of Warwick’s Centre for Educational Development, Appraisal and Research (CEDAR), in collaboration with family carers of children with learning disabilities, Margaret Kelly and Joanne Sweeney of Mencap Northern Ireland, Tracy Elliott from Cerebra and Viv Cooper OBE and Jacqui Shurlock from The Challenging Behaviour Foundation.

The guide is supported by a policy briefing which you can download here:

Policy briefing

Dr Totsika said:

“We wanted to share what CEDAR has found out about the best ways parents can  support the well-being of children with learning disabilities in a format that was easy to understand and also easy for parents to put into practice.

“We are very grateful to the parents who worked with us on the Guide to put our research into context, and share their own experiences of supporting a child with learning disabilities through examples from their own lives.”

Margaret Kelly, Director of Mencap NI said:

“We are delighted to have worked alongside the University of Warwick, parents and various organisations to produce this wonderful guide to help support parents of young children with a learning disability.

“There are currently 5,000 children with a learning disability under the age of seven in Northern Ireland and we believe every young child with a learning disability should have access to early intervention services that support their development from birth.

“At Mencap, we are committed to ensuring children with a learning disability and their families have access to effective early intervention services and approaches and we believe this book will be of support to so many parents of children with a learning disability.”

Tracy Elliott, Head of Research and Information at Cerebra, said:

“Cerebra is the charity that works with families who include children with brain conditions.  By listening to families we know that one of their key concerns is for their child’s well-being, but they often question what well-being means for their child and how can they promote it.

“Using research evidence, this booklet will answer key questions families have and give them ideas of what they can do to enhance their child’s and family’s well-being.”

Jacqui Shurlock, Children and Young people’s lead at the Challenging Behaviour Foundation said:

“The Challenging Behaviour Foundation supports families of children and adults with severe learning disabilities whose behaviours are described as challenging.

“Families tell us that it is really difficult to get good information or support when children are small and that sometimes professionals dismiss their questions or concerns about how to manage day to day life.  Families want the right information at the right time, presented in the right way.  This booklet is a real step in the right direction.  We hope families will find it useful and we very much hope to see other researchers following this example.”

Development of this booklet was supported by an award from the ESRC Impact Acceleration Award of the University of Warwick (ES/M500434/1).

The research that primarily fed into this booklet has been funded by a grant from the Baily Thomas Charitable Fund (TRUST/VC/AC/SG/4016-6851). Some of the previous research that was included in the booklet had been supported by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Mencap, Cerebra, and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation have provided support for a number of the studies included in this booklet, both financial and collaborative.

 

 

Creating the Urdd Eisteddfod Crown

Daniel Cuthbertson, who is a designer at the Cerebra Innovation Centre, has created the crown for this year’s Brecon and Radnorshire Urdd Eisteddfod

Pupils from Builth Wells High School designed the crown and took their inspiration from their local area – its history and its legends.  Once the pupils had agreed the final design, it was then sent to Dan who had eight weeks to create the finished crown.

The request to create the crown came via Dan’s sister, Sarah Cuthbertson who teaches Technology at the school. Dan was delighted to have the opportunity to create the piece and was pleased to be working with the talented pupils.

Using a host of natural materials – brass, copper, silver and oak – Dan brought the design to life and created the stunning crown that will be awarded to the winner of one of the Eisteddfod’s main literary competitions during the week-long youth festival.

“It’s been an honour for me to create the Urdd Eisteddfod crown this year,” says Dan who lives in Swansea.”It was also a privilege to realise the design and concept of the pupils from Builth Wells High School. Their design challenged me to work with new materials and also motivated me to use new techniques. It’s great to see the crown now completed and I look forward to seeing it being awarded the winner of the competition during the ceremony at the Eisteddfod.”

Dan has worked for the Cerebra Innovation Centre within the University of Wales Trinity Saint David for over six years now. As UWTSD Product Design graduate, Dan loves to use his skills to create equipment for children with brain conditions.

“I am very grateful to Cerebra for giving me the opportunity to be released from my daily work to create this year’s Urdd Eisteddfod crown. I would also like to thank the University for its support and for having the opportunity to use the great equipment we have at the workshops within the University’s Alex building in Swansea. “It has been a huge pleasure to work with a group of enthusiastic pupils and to have had the opportunity to bring their beautiful design to life,” he adds.

The Brecon and Radnorshire Urdd Eisteddfod will be held on the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells, 28 May – 2 June. The crowning ceremony takes place on Friday, 1 June.

 

Accessing Public Services Workshops for Professionals

Following on from the huge success of our Accessing Public Services Workshops, we are launching sessions specifically for professionals.

The workshops run from 10am -2pm and will help professionals to use our Accessing Public Services toolkit, helping to solve any difficulties families may be having with statutory agencies.

While UK law provides powerful rights to accessing health, social care and education support services, the law can be complicated and difficult to understand.  This workshop can support you by unpicking potential problems and giving you the tools you need to resolve them. Case studies from our LEaP project are used to help develop effective strategies to access services that families need, which are reinforced with a number of template letters to help challenge decisions made by public bodies. Ultimately, it is not in the interest of public bodies to have these commonly occurring problems and that most of these are capable of being resolved without great expense to those involved.

All of our workshops have been accredited by the CPD Certification Service. This means that our information workshops have reached the required Continuing Professional Development standards and benchmarks and that the learning value of each has been examined to ensure integrity and quality.

To find out more or to book a workshop please contact derekt@cerebra.org.uk

For further information or to book a workshop, contact Derek Tilley at derekt@cerebra.org.uk.

Adapting life – a family’s story

One of our families has written a blog post about the many adaptations families with children who have disabilities have to make.

“Several years ago we were referred for an assessment by an OT to look at possible adaptations we might need to our house to make things more suitable for the girls needs then and in the future. We were in fairly uncertain times with no clear idea of which way things would go health wise, so it felt like we had to consider advice from any professional willing to offer it.

Following her assessment there were some fairly obvious things that were going to make a tangible difference once completed, like an easily accessible shower with a seat to rest weary legs. Level access to the property for wheelchair access and to prevent trips and falls when crossing the threshold. There were also some that came as a shock! Had we thought about how to get upstairs as things got worse? Would our stairs be suitable for a stairlift or if needed could we accommodate a through floor lift? These weren’t the conversations we ever thought we would be having.

As it happened she was a tad over zealous and the larger adaptations, thankfully, have never come to fruition……and breathe. But it certainly adapted our thought processes and our minds went on a journey of worry and stress that we hadn’t necessarily prepared for and actually weren’t needed.

But as I sit back and consider the past 11 years the adaptations we have had to make are many, but to the outsider many maybe frustratingly hidden leaving folk wondering what all the fuss is about!

Some of the things that have made a real difference to quality of life have been fairly unsophisticated like rubber bands round utensils and tubigrips on their arms to improve the messages sent back to the brain so eating and writing is more controlled. Getting seating and sleeping spaces right have prevented pain and spasms and enabled rest and ability to stay still! This might have been with bespoke specialist seating that come at an eyewsteringly high price or, with trial and error, the correct cushion or pillow shoved into various corners to prevent bumps or prop up legs!

We no longer have an old icecream tub to hold our household medications…we have a whole double cupboard dedicated to the bottles, tubes of creams, spacers, inhalers, dosset boxes and all other necessary medical paraphinalia that keep them well & sparkly!

We have walls decorated with visual resources painting a picture of how the days are (in theory) going to pan out. Not too detailed so minor changes can’t be coped with, but detailed enough to be the lynchpin for the day. Essential to help with the difficulties with transition and inherant need to control…ahhh! Visual prompts to accommodate one child with short term memory difficulties & the other struggling with executive functioning & concentration.

The lounge which in theory is our calm space is filled with peanut balls, exercise mats, and a human sized bowl for spinning and chilling in that provides just enough sensory feedback to keep our sensory bunny calm! Though doesn’t necessarily calm everyone else as they create an undesirable trip hazard in the thoroughfare!

Adaptations to meal times to accommodate the sensory culinary preferences (cottage cheese, chickpeas and anything burnt!) And a constant supply of crunchy snacks, chewing gum or chewy items to prevent any more bite marks in furniture or chewing of clothes due to the constant oral sensory seeking behaviour.

Normal planning doesn’t do for us! Logistical management takes on a new level considering fatigue, sensory overload, medications, splints, ear defender’s, weighted jackets, visuals and also how to practically manage 2 children in wheelchairs when their maybe only one adult!

Adapted bed time routines, that involve so much more than bath, teeth, pj’s story & bed.

Adapted life plan! Not just avoiding pomotions & working part time hours, but a whole different career, a whole different mindset. How do you get the flexible working that takes into account the days off school due to frequent sickness or school refusal, the micro management of meetings or appointments, tests & all the necessary paperwork, DLA, EHCP, carers assessments? Oh yes & the financial restrictions put on you when you receive carers allowance! You can have it if you care for someone more than 37 hours, but you can’t claim it twice for looking after 2 people & by the way you can only earn  £100 a week! If you have a career that you trained hard for actually getting a contract for so few hours is nigh on impossible! The solution I have fallen into is effectively being my own boss, working hard when I can so it doesn’t all fall apart when I can’t! Trouble is that level of juggle sometimes leads to me falling apart!

Emotional adaptations you have to make along the way can have massive impacts. Relationships are tested as you effectively tag team the caring role, no time to talk or process the latest appointment, diagnosis or meeting about school. The different timings in the processing of it all as one crashed & grieves the other has to up the ante! Friendships are tested and sometimes don’t survive, so a new support network formed. Extended family roles adapted as the expected role of grandparents is morphed into respite carers, and comes with it a whole set of logistical & emotional challenges.

But then there’s the positive adaptations that have taken place. The appreciation of the smaller details, celebration of the moments when unexpected milestones are achieved that otherwise may have been taken for granted! A different level of understanding your child inside & out! The involvement of family to achieve a special trip means they get to be part those intimate moments that they may not otherwise have been part of…Disneyland, trips to London.

The adaptation of our attitude on life! Live for today not for tomorrow, learning to dance in the rain & not waiting for the storm to pass, remembering it’s not what happens that’s important but what you do about it! But really learning that you can’t change the situation you haven’t chosen to be in, but you can change the way you think about it and embrace the necessary adaptations rather than fight against them!”.

You can read this, and other blog posts, here.