Melinda Elson

Therapeutic & developmental work with children with learning difficulties

Developing Thinking blog

A discussion of learning difficulties and disabilities, items in the news, and research on learning disabilities in children, young people and adults.

Responses to SEN Questionnaire on attitudes and beliefs about learning difficulties

The Times Ed SEN Exhibition was a great success and it was lovely meeting so many people. Thanks to all of you who filled in my questionnaire on attitudes and beliefs of and about SEN children, young people and their families. The results are very interesting and I am including them in this blog. I have written each question, then given the responses that were

put on the forms. Then I have written a bit about what I think about the responses and my own experiences.

 

Q1.   There is a wide range of learning difficulties, from mild to severe, to profound and multiple. Do you think that most children with learning difficulties have some awareness that they have learning difficulties?

Yes – 56%     No - 26%      not sure – 18%

 56% of you do think that children with learning difficulties are aware, in some way or another, that they have learning difficulties, or that they’re “different” from other children.  I know I included a large range of learning difficulties, so in some ways it might not be a good question as it is so broad. But on the other hand, it is showing that some of you think that children aren’t aware they are different from their non-learning disabled peers and less of you aren’t sure if they are or not. My experience is that many children with learning disabilities are aware they have some kind of difficulty. They may not be able to put a name to it, or describe it in ways we would clearly understand, but they can indicate that they are aware they are different and they feel the difference isn’t a good one. They would prefer not to have the difficulties they have, and many of them are ashamed and even deeply ashamed of their difficulties, so much so that when they can, they try to disguise them.

 

Q2.Do you think that children with learning difficulties can have negative feelings about themselves, that is, can feel shame or embarrassment about themselves and their difficulties?

Yes – 90%           no – 8 %       not sure or no answer – 2%

A large percentage of you agree with what I’ve just said above. Yes, my experience is that many I’ve worked with feel very ashamed and embarrassed and a lot of other complex feelings too. Such as blaming themselves for their difficulties, feeling that they have somehow caused their difficulties themselves.  And these children can be keeping these thoughts and feelings to themselves, never giving voice to them.

 

Q3. Many children and young people with learning difficulties aren’t aware of being different from their mainstream peers.

Agree -   32%        Disagree -   65 %       no answer – 3%

Similar to Q.1, but here a larger percentage of you (65%) thought that children with learning difficulties are aware they are different from their non-learning disabled mainstream peers. We can wonder about how this affects their self-esteem, and their ability to learn. My experience is that despair can often get a hold of children with learning difficulties as well as feelings of hopelessness, compounding the difficulties they already have.

Q4. Do you think that some learning difficulties could have emotional origins? That is, can be due to emotions in the child or young person which they are struggling to deal with or overcome?

Yes   82 %     No    3 %     How could I tell?     15 %

A large number of you do think that some learning difficulties have emotional roots. A few of you don’t think that at all and a few aren’t sure and wonder how would you be able to tell if learning difficulties had emotional roots? My experience of being a teacher of children with special needs and learning difficulties and now a counsellor and psychotherapist of these same children is that I do believe that some learning difficulties have emotional roots. How do I see it, or how do I know, you’re asking? My training involved learning to closely observe children in minute detail. At this level, and after knowing a child for a while, thinking and learning difficulties can start to be seen. I can see how thinking can be sometimes “blanked out”, thoughts can be jumped over, avoided or pushed away, when someone doesn’t want to think a thought. Sometimes I can gently point out what I’ve noticed and the child may be able to think about it. Other times, it may be just too painful and upsetting to stop and think. There are other areas, when number work isn’t understood, when numbers can’t be put together, joined up, to be added up, or numbers can’t be taken away, subtracted, separated. Personal emotions are involved in all of these, and often linked to other life experiences.

Q5. Learning is a cognitive activity only. Emotions don’t enter into learning at all.

Agree  1.5%   Disagree   97%     not sure  1.5 %

Interesting this, because a lot of you do believe that learning is an emotional experience as well as a cognitive one. The late child psychotherapist  Cathy Urwin wrote about learning being an emotional as well as a cognitive process. If schools really believed this, I think schools and especially special schools, and the teaching in them would be very different.

Q6. Children with many types of learning difficulties are on the whole happy.

Agree  23 %    Disagree   28%   not sure    49 %

The question behind this statement is: do you think that any child who has a learning disability, no matter what kind of learning disability, is on the whole a happy child.?  A little less than ¼ agreed, a little more than ¼ disagreed and ½ weren’t sure. Again, my experience is that yes, they’re happy in part, but not happy about their disabilities and difficulties. And some are miserable because of their difficulties. Their learning difficulties impact on them in ways we sometimes can hardly imagine.

Q7. Many parents of children with learning difficulties struggle to understand them and their difficulties and are often at a loss as to how to deal with their behaviour and learning.

Agree   74  %   disagree     9 %  nor sure  17 %

A large percentage agree and I do too. Parents struggle to do the best for their child with learning difficulties but often many are at a loss as to what can they do. When behaviour is challenging, it can be particularly hard.  Special schools provide educational advice, strategies for behaviour management  and also help with social activities, after school clubs, respite services, holiday activities and speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and OT. But there’s so much more than those things that make up their child. And then there is the parent’s uncertainty: am I doing the right thing? Can I be doing something more?  Should I have done so-and-so? And on and on it goes.

 

I drew up this questionnaire for the SEN exhibition, to see what people who are in the field of learning disabilities, as well as parents and carers, think about those they work with and/or live with, and to provoke thought and discussion about the inner world of children and young people with learning disabilities. What do you think they feel? What do you think they think about themselves? What are we doing when we are trying to help/teach them? What are the beliefs that underlie our actions? In the therapy room with a child with learning difficulties, or in the classroom, I can begin to learn about their thinking and feeling, and I believe there’s a lot more going on in their minds than many of us would give them credit for. Children and young people with learning difficulties need to know that there are people interested in what they are thinking and feeling about themselves and their lives.

If you want to contact me about anything in this blog or previous ones, please do so through the contact page of the website or use the email contact at the bottom of this page. 

 

Research into Learning Difficulties

Comments 1

 
Guest - Mousumi Deori on Saturday, 21 March 2015 12:13

Its great ma'am. Seeing the attitudes and beliefs of various people giving responses regarding learning disability of children. Ma'am here I would like to ask for your sincere help as because am doing a research study based on assessing the knowledge and attitude of working teachers towards learning disability of children. So if you can kindly provide me with some more questionnaires on attitudes of teachers towards these issue. Looking forward for your earnest support. Thank you.. Mousumi

Its great ma'am. Seeing the attitudes and beliefs of various people giving responses regarding learning disability of children. Ma'am here I would like to ask for your sincere help as because am doing a research study based on assessing the knowledge and attitude of working teachers towards learning disability of children. So if you can kindly provide me with some more questionnaires on attitudes of teachers towards these issue. Looking forward for your earnest support. Thank you.. Mousumi
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Tuesday, 19 March 2019

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