“We cannot teach anybody anything if they are not listening to us” (Phoebe Caldwell)
The first ten days of home-schooling have brought home to me just how vital it is to get Henry attentive and calm before attempting to teach him. Sensory Integration therapists talk about ‘deregulation’ – that state of mind and body where everything is scattered, unfocused and overwhelming. I like the term – it describes the times when Henry is disengaged and hyperactive perfectly, but much less emotively. Observing him for whole days at a time has made me realise just how often he is deregulated and the range of strategies he adopts to deal with the overload: repetitive actions, avoidance of demands, hitting out, freezing on the spot with his arm across his face, putting his fingers in his ears.
It wasn’t that I was completely unaware that this was happening. One of the reasons for home educating Henry was to try to reduce the sensory overload he was experiencing at school. I had planned a timetable which had short bursts of formal table-based learning sandwiched between longer play sessions, based on Intensive Interaction, Floortime and Sensory Integration. But after the first few days he became so agitated in the table-based sessions that it was impossible to continue, even though he had been engaged and cooperative in the play- based activity just beforehand.
So my carefully structured timetable has been abandoned for something much more fluid, guided by how regulated he seems and directed, for the most part, by Henry himself. I have a list of targets for this half term and I try to incorporate teaching towards these targets into the play sessions he loves. It has meant being much more flexible and spontaneous than I’m used to (I’m very much a ‘lists’ person) and having to think on my feet, grabbing opportunities for teaching from moments that occur naturally. There have been some successes: he is using two or three words to request favourite activities (‘More X please’) and although he usually still needs a prompt to do so, a raised eyebrow is generally enough. He is starting to be able to count objects, thanks to endless repetitions of the Fun Song Factory classic ‘ Five Little Snowmen’ and some hastily made finger puppets. And during an Intensive Interaction session, he came up and said ‘Hello Mummy’ – the first time he has ever done so unprompted. I’ll write more about Intensive Interaction in my next post – and, if I can overcome my technophobia, will try to upload some video. It has been a revelation to me – such a simple technique but so effective in achieving shared attention.