Having taught in mainstream education for 7 years, I am acutely aware of the positive outcomes possible from targeted, personalised intervention for young children. As anyone who has worked with children in this, or any other context will testify there are few things that offer a sense of reward quite like ‘making a difference’ (other than throwing in a cliché every now and then).
The achievements of the young people with whom I worked were wide ranging; whether they found a route into accessing a phonics programme, nailed their times-tables, got the hang of throwing and catching or developed a mechanism for talking openly about their feelings. Whilst each of these were major accomplishments, regardless of the additional input from myself or any other adults around them, they were a matter of course for these children. The expectation was there for them to achieve and that is what they did. Now, before I get struck off the Christmas card list of all the teachers I have worked with over the years, I need to emphasise that they do a wonderful job! Many children have huge barriers to overcome before they can meet the expectations placed upon them and it is the staff in schools who work tirelessly to facilitate this. The point I wish to make is simply that the expectation was always that these children were supposed to achieve these things.
But this, I have found, is the key: expectation.
Recently, I was given the opportunity to move away from teaching to explore the realms of Assistive Technology. My experiences in mainstream education had given me a very small insight into this field; I had seen some of the software available and was aware that there were various systems that allowed children to access their education in a different way. However, I had no idea of the scope of it and less so the potential. It is becoming rapidly evident to me, even in the relatively short time I have worked in this field, that with the advent of Assistive Technology, things that were at one stage deemed impossible, are being made possible (told you I love a cliché…)
This is the point at which we check our expectations at the door.
One of the first children I was given the absolute pleasure of meeting was Jack. I arrived at his house with a degree of trepidation — I had been told before I set off that he was close to being offered my job. Within seconds of meeting him it became abundantly clear why.
Jack, as you would expect from any 9 year old, loves his Xbox. As difficult it is for me to admit, he is also far, far better at it than I could ever hope to be. Jack’s needs were assessed by SpecialEffect who can offer bespoke gaming solutions for people with physical disabilities. He accesses LEGO Avengers using a switch interface connected to a standard controller via an access pod. This is a system developed predominantly for use with Playstation, however it has been converted for use with Jack’s Xbox using SuperNova This allows him the full functionality of an Xbox controller when playing his favourite games.
The most striking thing about Jack’s setup is the proficiency with which he uses it. Whether you are au fait with gaming or not, I’m sure you can see from the above video that LEGO Avengers is no match for him!
“I have completed it once already, I’ve just started again for practice.”
Not only was Jack comfortable and highly effective in using the equipment he has, he was also extremely confident in discussing it with me and explaining how it works (cue the job security anxiety). We spoke of his routine of getting home from school and having some down time before moving to his computer to complete the homework he has saved to his ownCloud at school. I could go on to explain how well Jack talked me through his PC set up and demonstrated how he navigates it but I am in danger of talking myself out of employment…
The relative ease with which he was able to conduct himself was striking. Whilst, of course, this wouldn’t be possible were it not for the fantastic input on Jack’s part; it became clear to me that the implementation of the technology is unlocking his potential, it is challenging any expectations anyone may have had previously and above all, it is allowing him to live his life on his own terms.
Whilst this is by no means the extent of the possibilities for Jack and the many other children with whom I now have the privilege of working. It is an indicator of the potential for success. There cannot be an upper limit to our expectations.