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What's in a name?

Discussion in 'Special educational needs' started by JulesDaulby, Jun 19, 2017.

  1. JulesDaulby

    JulesDaulby Occasional commenter

    What do we call it?

    I don't know how many of you follow Twitter but there's an interesting discussion happening on the changing of language around SEND.

    It began with a talk by Mary Myatt (if you haven't read her books or seen Mary speak I'd thoroughly recommend it) at NorthernRocks17. This is a yearly education event held in Leeds and organised by Debra Kidd and Emma Hardy MP. Congratulations to Emma, previously a primary school teacher, who has just been elected.

    Mary Myatt was telling us from work she had undertaken, how students in middle and lower classes (or tables) were often not challenged in the same way as the highest attaining learners. She went on to say that differentiation was a stupid word, 'Why would we do it differently?' Mary asked recommending instead, teachers begin at the same point then work from there.

    I know what Mary means, it is a constant source of surprise to me that students with the most complex needs are often (not always I might add, excellent cultures in some schools) virtually disapplied from learning, and phrases such as 'I don't do homework' are common in many mainstream schools. This may correlate with age meaning by year 11 these learners have lost agency, feel undervalued and are pretty much just going through the motions rather than exercising the manic urgency to achieve from other students in higher groups. An interesting statistic to think about which Mary gave us was that in one study, 88% of students in the bottom stream at age 4 were still there by year 11.

    I have transgressed from my original point about language but does affirming language relate to action? Does it really matter what we call it? We just need to 'do' it. But what is it? And how do we do it? What does it look like?

    Do you think the word differentiation has become toxic? Should we stop using the phrase SEND? Or replacing special with additional as some schools have. How do we move from a deficit model to one where all learners are celebrated and the highest expectations co-exist with an understanding of the requirements needed to achieve.

    I'm coming back to this question next week and hope you will join in with what I'm calling the #sendlingo discussion. Will a shift in language mean a more inclusive culture within schools? And by inclusive I mean ensuring every learner is given the facility to access the curriculum and the instruments to show how much they know.
    Dodros likes this.
  2. Jo3Grace

    Jo3Grace New commenter

    I believe that as our understanding and awareness changes terms naturally get updated. It is not that there is anything inherently wrong with the terms themselves, or the labels, it is just a sign of us wishing to reflect our increased knowledge.

    We shifted from remedial to SEN for example, but snap back in time and the same dedicated professionals that use the term SEN would have used the term remedial.

    There is a danger when we talk about language shift that people think that language shift creates change. If only we could stop people using the bad words then our problems would go. This is not true. What creates change is a shift in understanding and awareness, and this is reflected in the change of language.

    I often share this cartoon on my twitter feed @Jo3Grace to express precisely this:
    So, having said that words don't create change I do think change is happening and that is getting reflected in the terms we use.

    The vast majority of my work focuses on people with PMLD - profound and multiple learning disabilities. In research terms these people are described as the most disabled members of our community. And yet when I talk about them I am often talking about their talents and abilities. It has always felt a little funny to introduce them according to an acronym that does not display these things but instead speaks of their deficits. Defining by deficit is not something we would do to ourselves, so why would I be doing it to others?

    I had another problem with the PMLD label, in that although my work focuses on these people it is also very applicable to a lot of other people, for example people with later stage dementia, some people on the autistic spectrum, and people with various other conditions.

    My work is for anyone whose primary experience of the world, and meaning within it, is sensory. I have taken to calling these people Sensory Beings. Partly as a result of the thoughts above and partly as an outcome of the Sensory-being project, the most recent of The Sensory Projects, which looked at how we facilitate the benefits of mindfulness for people who experience the world in a sensory way.

    One of the perks of using Sensory Being as a label is that there is the other label: Linguistic Being, for us - those of us who can experience meaning through language. Labelling both groups acknowledges that there is a bias to both experiences of the world, and we can recognise that different experiences are equal. It is not about teaching all Sensory Beings to become Linguistic Beings - how boring the world would be if we all saw it in the same way. Rather it is about having the opportunity to see through each others eyes so that we all access more of the experiences this life has to offer. Respecting difference is not only good for the people we have traditionally thought of as different, it is good for all of us. This notion is one I refer to as 'rich inclusion' and there's a short video about it here (very scrappily made I'm afraid for a conference I had to present at via video link up).

    I have found changing my language from PMLD to Sensory Beings to be very fulfilling. I can more accurately say what I mean with the new term and I have had others use it too. I'm not advocating that anyone should use it, simply saying that I found it useful. Humblingly (if that is a word - spell check seems to think not, but hopefully you know what I mean) a parent attending one of my Lexiconary courses told me that she'd found it life changing. She blogged about what it meant to her as a parent of a child with complex needs and as a special school teacher here. Despite making her cry several times during the training day (a gift she returned to me also) she had a good time and found the terms Sensory Being and Linguistic Being to be liberating in her life.

    When we get language change right, it makes a big difference. But changing language does not make a big difference on its own.

    I shall look out for your hashtag.
  3. dzil

    dzil Occasional commenter

    Well said as always Jo. Thank you.
    There was a huge language shift after the Warnock report in the early 80s when children became children first and their need added. Sadly the lables SEN (including (MLD, SLD and PMLD) replaced were not just "remedial" which is bad enough, but .. (I can hardly bear to type this, it but feel I must to demonstrate just how far we have come) ESN (M); ESN(S) and U. the e was for "educationally" the M or S was for severe or moderate. The SN was not special needs but sub normal. even worse, sensory beings were "classed" as "uneducable" and were therefore not entitled to an education.
    You can imagine the politics behind these appalling lables, which may give you some idea as to why names and lables can matter sometimes. They were badly soiled when first applied, even when used by the most caring of people, and they got worse. Maybe some of this still lingers in education? I still remember being asked "why don't you teach people that matter? people that will benefit from you skills? Surely you don't need a degree and a teaching qualification to teach them (sic)" when people found out what I did -
    I am so glad lables moved on, as has our understanding.
    And my answer to the first 2 questions? same as always - and genuinely meant "who else is able to open my eyes and teach me more than I can ever teach them." (what other job would pay me to dance in the rain in sparkly outfits, paint walls with fly swats and ice cubes, string lights on umberellas and decorate the lift as an underground cave and roll around the room on a daily basis whilst demonstrating outstanding progress to a body like OFSTED?
    Boogum, sofia_sen and JulesDaulby like this.
  4. Dodros

    Dodros Star commenter

    Yes, I fear some changes of name are made purely for reasons of poltical correctness, although I do shudder when I recall the availability of a course in teaching the "educationally subnormal" (ESN) when I underwent my PGCE in 1970. When it comes to SEND terminology, though, something is lost as well as gained when the nomenclature shifts.

    Personally, as somebody now retired from teaching students with special educational needs within a mainstream secondary setting, I think there are far worse terms than "differentiation" to criticise. As a former linguist, I like to check whether a teaching term is a UK-only affair or whether it is couched in the professional literature Europe-wide or even world-wide. Differentiation has its counterparts in "différenciation" in French and "Differenzierung" in German and would be readily understood by teachers and other education professionals in French and German speaking countries, where it is regarded positively. After all, differentiation includes writing extension material to stretch the gifted, able and talented, not just "diluting" the subject matter for the least able when differentiation is at its crudest. Differentiation also applies to the inclusion of students for whom English is an additional language. And in the case of students with SEND, differentiation can mean exploiting the individual's strengths as well as removing barriers to learning.

    I did an Advanced Diploma in Special Needs in Education back in the 1990s, when the first Code of Practice came in and the deficit model was much more accepted than it is nowadays. I remember using the term "appropriateness" a lot back then when I wrote my assignments and developed my personal philosophy of SEND. "Appropriateness" could be a workaround term for "differentiation" because it is related to the Latin adjective "proprius", conveying the sense of "ownership". "Appropriateness" in learning and teaching therefore suggests personalisation, which claims to be the future of health provision, so it is not unreasonable to think of personalised learning as the future of education too.

    I am a strong believer that, if humanly possible, all students, regardless of ability or aptitude, should be exposed to a broad and balanced curriculum when they are in compulsory schooling. That is what happens in other advanced countries, especially modern Germany, which I have always regarded as a model of educational inclusion. Every child should expect to be not only included but to be also challenged while accessing every subject within the curriculum with the support of the teacher. This means that the teacher will seek to lead all students in a class out of their comfort zones and into new territory without losing any of them on the way, which is quite a tall order. I am reluctant, therefore, to endorse any "one-size-fits-all" armoury of strategies while each part of the curriculum is being delivered, because this may tie the classroom practitioner's hands.
    JulesDaulby likes this.
  5. Wow, what long replies! I will keep mine short(ish!) Get rid of "special" please. It's so patronising.

    I often think about the language I use but also the WAY that I use it. My business cards (which I produced about four years ago) say: A Potential Diamond: supporting people with autism, Asperger's Syndrome or mild learning disabilities into paid employment. Actually, that's not fantastic is it? It's almost as if I'm defining people by their autism or learning disabilities. These days, my "signature" at the bottom of my emails says: A Potential Diamond supports people into employment in Sussex, Surrey and Kent. Our jobseekers are hard-working, reliable and keen to learn. Many will have unique talents and gifts that are central to their autism or learning disabilities. Masses better, methinks, if a touch long for a business card!
    JulesDaulby likes this.
  6. dzil

    dzil Occasional commenter

    AS Jo said and illustrated in the cartoon, lables become soiled. Once upon a time special was not patronising.
    I find the term disability difficult. "disabilities" defines someone by the things they can't do, it suggests that things can not improve or be ameliorated and is the usual medical term-
    Difficulties, whilst still not ideal, at least acknowledges a problem that can be solved, and is the educational term.
    Differently able? maybe a bit twee but focuses on the ability?
    I do like Jo's sensory beings and linguistic beings. but can all learners e placed in one of those categories?
    have no answers...
    JulesDaulby and Boogum like this.
  7. rosiecg

    rosiecg Occasional commenter

    Language plays a big part in how people view themselves and others, that's for sure. I think it would be incredibly difficult to find terms that absolutely everyone agrees with - for example, a y10 boy that I work with is proud to call himself autistic, because it accurately describes a large part of who he is, yet one of his teachers prefers to call him 'a person with autism' rather than autistic.

    I had an interesting question from another student recently:

    Him: "Ms Rosie, everyone always says that I'm special and I have special needs.... But I don't know what it is that's special about me. What do they mean?"
    Me: ?????????

    I think it's important that people have ownership of the labels used to describe themselves, and equally important that those terms are explained fully to anyone who needs to use them. We also need to create a culture where people feel ok about asking about what the terms mean, and what words are/are not ok to use if they're not sure. In my current international school I've had loads of conversations about what words are ok to use and which aren't.... A particular favourite of the staff here is to say a child is 'slow' for example. When I've explained how that's probably not the best term to use, they've told me it's because they don't know what other word to use. There's still a lot of learning to be done here, which isn't surprising given the culture around disability in Malaysia (and Asia in general).
    JulesDaulby and Dodros like this.
  8. Dodros

    Dodros Star commenter

    Agreed, which is why I tend to follow "official" usage, wherever possible, as found for example in the latest SEN Code of Practice. It's imperfect but it has the advantage of being a "common language" among SEN professionals as well as having equivalence in the national educational nomenclature of many foreign countries. I accept that official usage does change over years and decades. However, we have to interpret the terminology too and that may mean using more accessible synonyms for the benefit of the students themselves, their parents and their subject teachers at secondary level. The official terminology remains the law, though, which is why "additional educational needs" may be an acceptable and intelligible term to use with parents and other non-professionals, but everything ultimately has to match up with the original text of the CoP, where the terminology may be different. Our representative democracy gives us the option of standing for Parliament and if elected getting the official terminology changed if we feel so strongly about it.

    As a former linguist, I find it interesting that we don't have nouns in English in the strictest sense when we talk about people with needs and disabilities. We may talk about "the deaf" and "the blind" in general, but when we have to refer to an individual we have to use the need or disability as an adjective, e.g.: "a blind person", "a deaf child". Someone diagnosed as having learning difficulties has to be called "a person with learning difficulties", something of a mouthful, or we can borrow the American "learning disabled" and say "a learning-disabled person". "Speech, Language and Communication Difficulties" and "Social, Emotional and Health" issues present something of a nightmare when they are applied to a single person. This isn't true of all languages. In German and French respectively, you can call an individual with autistic spectrum disorder "ein Autist" and "un autiste". The term "autist" does exist in English, but I've never heard it used by the experts. Perhaps there is some comfort in the fact that English forces people to use an adjective (autistic) or adjectival phrase (with autistic spectrum disorders) when labelling somebody with a condition in a special educational needs context. In any event, all of us, with or without SEN, qualify to be described using a whole range of adjectives, just as we fulfil as individuals many different roles in life.
  9. rosiecg

    rosiecg Occasional commenter

    Exactly! A friend out here was saying recently that she has many labels for herself that she 'picks up' when she needs to, and is aware that she acts up to the stereotypes sometimes as it is easier for people to understand her that way. She could be described as: mother, wife, black, Muslim, African, expat, employee, and many other things I'm sure.

    I also had this conversation with an autistic student the other day, who felt he was being bullied when another student described him as white. I had to explain that in an international school where he is in the minority, using white to describe him actually is just descriptive rather than bullying - there are many students with the same name, so you need to distinguish between them somehow in conversation. He replied that he'd rather be known as (names have been changed!) Mark the singer, or Mark the brother of Sam, or Mark the actor, or even Mark with autism.... It was really interesting to hear how he felt he should be described.
    Dodros likes this.
  10. rosiecg

    rosiecg Occasional commenter

    Exactly! A friend out here was saying recently that she has many labels for herself that she 'picks up' when she needs to, and is aware that she acts up to the stereotypes sometimes as it is easier for people to understand her that way. She could be described as: mother, wife, black, Muslim, African, expat, employee, and many other things I'm sure.

    I also had this conversation with an autistic student the other day, who felt he was being bullied when another student described him as white. I had to explain that in an international school where he is in the minority, using white to describe him actually is just descriptive rather than bullying - there are many students with the same name, so you need to distinguish between them somehow in conversation. He replied that he'd rather be known as (names have been changed!) Mark the singer, or Mark the brother of Sam, or Mark the actor, or even Mark with autism.... It was really interesting to hear how he felt he should be described.
  11. rosiecg

    rosiecg Occasional commenter

    Oops - sorry for double post!
  12. mrmatt73

    mrmatt73 Occasional commenter

    I've stopped using 'special' for some time now and replaced it with 'additional' ... some students (and parents) get mighty prickly thinking they are 'special needs'. In my discussions with students I normally say that 'people learn in different ways' and if they have processing speed issues, say they need some extra 'thinking time'
    galerider123 likes this.
  13. dzil

    dzil Occasional commenter

    The huge diversity of need can lead to a major administrative nightmare and a resultant lack of support or understanding for anyone. When the term was first used, before it became soiled, it was considered that at least 1 in 5 people would have a special need at any one time in their school career. Some for just a short time, others for longer, but most people at some point.
    Maybe we should accept some simple lable for administrative purposes and clarify, Like Mr Matt (and I hope most of us) does, when discussing things with people who need to understand more.

    Also, I don't think any being IS special needs. They may HAVE special needs, but it's only part of what they are and even then for only part of the time... and sometimes it's the environment that is causing someone to need something special rather than the person "having" or "needing" anything..
  14. JulesDaulby

    JulesDaulby Occasional commenter

    Thank you so much for commenting. I will keep this response and refer back to it.

    Interesting your comment on how. Change of language becomes fulfilling.

    Hope to meet one day, your work sounds so impressive.
  15. JulesDaulby

    JulesDaulby Occasional commenter

    I want to dance in the rain in a sparkly outfit! Thanks for these comments and yes the history of SEN language is quite shocking and the beliefs of some people.

    An interesting area of discussion.
    galerider123 and dzil like this.
  16. JulesDaulby

    JulesDaulby Occasional commenter

    I love these comments. your final paragraphs could be a speech! You are so right about challenge and the utility of the word, differentiation, also how it's universally recognised.

    How do you feel about the comment that it's a 'stupid word' as why would you do things differently? I think Mary means give them the same work rather than a watered down version to put it in context.

    Thanks for contributing to what is a great thread
  17. JulesDaulby

    JulesDaulby Occasional commenter

    Thanks for commenting :)

    I can see the shift in language and how much better that sounds.

    I agree, I think 'special' is my least favourite part of the language of Send although it's recognised acronym!!

    Love your work - I'd like to see it go nationwide.
  18. JulesDaulby

    JulesDaulby Occasional commenter

    I completely agree - I like differences.

    I am quite fond of neurodiverse but I know some people hate this!
    dzil likes this.
  19. JulesDaulby

    JulesDaulby Occasional commenter

    Thanks for commenting from Malaysia! Interesting comments - I have had similar conversations about the word 'slow' but also from TAs calling their group 'my specials' - I think you're right that it is a culture shift and for those affected to feel ownership of the language. As we progress language shifts in perception and I feel 'special' has lost its impact and should join the relics.
  20. MrMedia

    MrMedia Star commenter

    I'm for personalisation because that brings all SEND into every other type of learner.

    My concern is why SEND pupils have to suffer increased exposure to lower setting due to the way setting relies on specific assessment points and strategies. I would be interested to see if there were schools who contrived to remove this glass ceiling to see what happens.
    JulesDaulby likes this.

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