I have been a childminder for more than 20 years and have had a long history of working with children with additional needs. As a practitioner it has given me greater confidence and empathy and I think everyone in my setting – including my family – has benefited from that!
Recently I have been working with a boy who was held back from reception because of his complex needs. He had an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) and it was felt that he would benefit from being in an early years environment for longer before starting school. He had struggled in another setting before coming to me. We did wonders with him – he was with me from Easter until he started at a special needs school in September. He quickly progressed at school and it was so rewarding to hear of the rapid progress he made – that extra time establishing a good routine and key skills in my setting I think really helped him to settle.
It’s really important to develop strong and consistent relationships – particularly when working with children with more complex needs. I have two assistants working with me, so it means we were able to give him the attention that he needed. The same faces every day helped him: that’s the advantage of a small home-based setting.
Patience and consistency
The key to our successful approach is to focus on maintaining a calm attitude, being patient and consistent. We use signing in our setting and I find it’s helpful for all children, not just those with hearing impairments and communication challenges. Keeping our language really simple and making one request at a time works best, so I will leave plenty of time before we go out. We say things like ‘go get your coat’ and then ‘now get your hat’: if you break things down really simply it doesn’t overwhelm children.
I’ve always focused on what children can do rather than what they can’t. It’s important to be open to those skills and natural attributes that you can draw out so that the child can develop to their full potential.
Working with parents
Much of my work has been focused on supporting the parent. They can often find that they reserve their most challenging behaviour for when they are at home – it’s their safe space when they feel they can let off steam. But a consistent approach and lots of sharing and dialogue about what we’re doing in the setting can really help to minimise disruption at home.
One boy on the autistic spectrum came to my setting and his Mum explained that he would never walk anywhere. That first day, we got everyone to put coats on and went out for a walk. He held my hand – and we haven’t looked back since. His Mum was amazed and it really turned things around for them.
An inclusive setting
I’ve always ensured that children with SEND are integrated into the whole setting – an inclusive approach is important. Some children can be wary at first, but we’ve all learned together what works best and explaining to other children about everyone’s needs really helps to boost empathy and social skills.
This works in other areas of my life as well. I’m a scout leader and have been able to support children with additional needs in the group. It’s really good for other children to come across others with a wide spectrum of abilities – it’s been wonderful to see the effect it’s had on my own children too and it has enriched their upbringing.
Working with other practitioners and agencies
I have built strong relationships with other practitioners in Bexley over the years and they value my opinion. We very much work together to support children – for instance, I have a speech and language therapist who visits to work with one child who had significant language delay. He is really progressing now and I enjoy working with the therapist and understanding how we can support him further in the setting. His behaviour was very challenging, but now he can sit and do activities and has a good attention span being able to complete puzzles – he definitely couldn’t do that when he first came to me. We’ve encouraged him to say ‘help me please’ if he’s struggling rather than getting frustrated.
Through my experience of working with children with a wide range of challenges, I have become familiar with all the different agencies that are involved in offering support. I have also supported families in helping them to obtain an EHCP and also making them aware of assistance available such as the Disability Living Allowance.
Supporting other childminders
I am keen to support other childminders on their SEND journey. I have coordinated local support groups and training for many years and have introduced childminders to the services and groups in our area, such as the Bexley early autism service.
We are fortunate that Bexley offers grants to practitioners looking after children with SEND so I always flag this and other support services available to the childminders I connect with locally.
Importance of early intervention
It’s really important for children with additional needs to get the support that they need at an early age. One of the best things that families can do is to take up the two year old offer, but there can be low awareness that this is available.
A few years ago I went to a child protection meeting and they were discussing a child with SEND. I raised the issue of getting him into my setting with the 2 year offer and the team didn’t realise that was a possibility. With my good contacts, I was able to talk to the appropriate person and get him into my setting promptly.
I have a boy with speech and language delay with me at the moment who is taking up the two year old offer. I was looking after his sister so I talked to the parents about bringing her brother along early to take advantage of this. Some parents think 2 is too young to attend childcare setting, but with the right support early on, there is so much that can be achieved.
A learning journey
I have been fortunate that we have had such a lot of support in Bexley for training and development. I have taken advantage of every opportunity to learn more about SEND through the courses on offer – I have always felt I was drawn to SEND and felt that there was something I could offer to make a difference . I’ve also ensured that my assistants complete SEND training too so we have a consistent approach.
I’ve also been doing an online SEND level 2, 3 and 4 diploma – as a practitioner you are constantly on a learning journey, so I’m really keen to keep my brain active and learn new things.
A rewarding career
I have been proud of how I have helped my children get ready for school – helping them to be able to have the attention and focus to listen, sit and follow instructions. These are the building blocks for them to do well at school, and working step by step with each of my children I’ve been proud to see them progress. One boy had an attention span of a few seconds and would pace the room endlessly – the fact that he can now sit calmly and enjoy a snack with the other children feels like a huge achievement.
I would encourage anyone with an interest in SEND to seek out additional training and get involved. I’ve witnessed some real breakthrough moments with the children I’ve worked with which will stay with me for life – there aren’t many careers that you can say that about!