Sunday October 23, 2016
I spend a lot of my time, especially at this time of year, reading paperwork about students, existing or prospective, from a range of professionals such as teachers, therapists and social workers.
Every profession has its own jargon and vocabulary, much of it unnecessary. My closest friend is a senior officer in the Royal Marines. He taught me a cracker recently: ‘vectoring assets to kinetic situations’ which translates as ‘sending our guys to help out their mates as some bad guys are shooting at them’. We can sanitise and depersonalise by using such language and perhaps, in situations such as that, it is part of the point.
In the reports that I read there’s a style and language, deliberate or not, that turns the mundane, normal aspects of life for children with learning difficulties into technical, inhuman operations. I decided to note down some of the things that I’ve done over the last few days as if they were written about the children I work with.
- Jarlath accessed his local leisure facilities with some adult support. At times he lay on the floor and was unresponsive to adult prompts.
- When feeding himself independently, Jarlath made some poor food choices and needed adults to intervene.
- Jarlath displayed high-level obsessional behaviour by playing the same music repeatedly in order to avoid doing the task he'd been set.
- Jarlath uses social media excessively to communicate with people he has never met. Safeguarding concern form completed.
- Jarlath seeks to control and micromanage everyone on his work placement. He displays challenging behaviour when we try to discuss this.
- Jarlath’s bedtime routine is poor. He can often be found playing on his phone long after he should be asleep.
- Jarlath rarely communicates what he actually wants. We often have to infer his wishes from body language and other aspects of his non-verbal communication.
- Jarlath’s perseverance is poor. He will often leave important tasks half-finished, preferring to avoid them by completing routine tasks instead.
- Jarlath does not have sufficient discipline to control of his personal budget. For instance, he recently bought a pair of shoes, despite the fact that he already owns a pair.
- Jarlath retreats to safe behaviours such as wandering around the school site or litter picking at times of stress and anxiety.
- Jarlath is hyposensitive first thing in the morning. As a result he has cut himself when shaving independently a number of times. Occupational therapy referral completed.
- Jarlath’s behaviour becomes oppositional and he becomes introverted if his favourite rugby team loses. He has an incomplete understanding of perspective as he fails to realise that it is just a leisure activity.
Perhaps we’d do better at meeting the needs of these young people if we stopped writing as if they were inhuman robots and started writing about their lives the same way we talk about our own.
Jarlath O'Brien is the author Don't Send Him in Tomorrow, a hard-hitting book about how we need to radicaly review the way we approach the schooling of children who present us with emotional, behavioural and phyical challenges.