For children with special needs, early intervention can be the difference between succeeding in school and reaching their potential - and disengagement, struggling academically and poor social emotional outcomes.
In this episode of School Behaviour Secrets, we interview Jayne Wesler (who's spent her career supporting students with SEN) about what the best schools do to get early intervention right for their students.
Get our FREE SEN Behaviour Handbook: https://beaconschoolsupport.co.uk/SEN-handbook.php
Join our Inner Circle membership programme: https://beaconschoolsupport.co.uk/inner_circle.php
Join our FREE Classroom Management and Student Behaviour FB Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/school.behaviour
Download other FREE behaviour resources for use in school: https://beaconschoolsupport.co.uk/resources.php
Share this podcast with your friends:
Show notes / transcription
Jane Wesler 0:00
I have a story for you about a boy who was non verbal, and he was in the third grade. And he was acting out. And I got involved and figured out pretty quickly that this kid was frustrated. He could not communicate his wants and needs. He couldn't say whether he was hot or cold or somebody was pulling his hair or he was hungry or he had to go to the bathroom. And the school district had not given him picture exchange communication system. They hadn't taught in sign language, nothing. So no wonder he was acting out. So this child ended up going to a private school and learning sign language. And he was absolutely fine after that. And that really tells us how important early identification really is.
Simon Currigan 0:48
Hello, and welcome to Episode 24 of school behaviour secrets. We're recording this podcast from behaviour towers in the UK. We've got a huge back garden, the roses are magnificent, so careful where you tread. I'm joined today by my co host, Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma.
Emma Shackleton 1:42
Simon Currigan 1:43
Emma, I've got a question for you.
Emma Shackleton 1:45
Oh,you always have questions.
Simon Currigan 1:47
Have you ever waited too long for something and then lost out as a result?
Emma Shackleton 1:50
Well, I must admit that this does happen to me. Sometimes if I take too long to make a decision about buying something. For example, I remember when I was looking to buy a new car and I spent ages in the show room with the sales guy talking me through what a great deal this car was. I didn't want to make an on the spot decision. So I went home to think about it. So by the time I decided that I did want the car and I got in touch with the show room. Guess what? The car had been sold to somebody else. Is that the sort of thing you mean?
Simon Currigan 2:22
Yeah, I think it shows why it can be so important to take early action. And that's the theme of our interview today with Jane Wesler. Jane spent her career working with pupils with special needs and today she's going to talk about the importance of early intervention and what the best schools get right what they do that really makes a difference.
Emma Shackleton 2:40
Before we get to those actions though I've got a tiny request to make from our listeners. If you find today's episode useful, please leave us an honest rating and review on Apple podcasts. This helps other teachers and school leaders find us, helping them get the answers that they need about emotions and behaviour in school. It literally takes about 30 seconds. So now let's get on to our interview with Jane Wesler.
Simon Currigan 3:06
I'd like to welcome our guest to the podcast today Jane Wesler. Jane is a licenced clinical social worker and a partner in a law firm that specialises in representing students with disabilities in order to ensure they receive appropriate educational services. Jane also has worked as a psycho therapist, supporting children and teens in various settings and work within schools as part of multiple child study teams, writing IEPs, carrying out evaluations and managing the cases of kids with special needs. So she's got an interesting perspective on working both within school and representing parents around the area of additional needs outside school. And she's here to talk to us today about the importance of early identification of special needs in education and what schools who are successful at this, what practices they put into place. So Jane, you support families around the issue of the early identification of special needs. What is your exact role and how did you get into working with families in this way?
Jane Wesler 4:06
Great question, Simon. My exact role at this time is helping families with children with special needs get what we call in the United States an appropriate programme. It means that the programme is designed uniquely for their child. It takes into account their strengths, their weaknesses, their disabilities, their abilities, and it helps them to get what we call significant learning and meaningful educational programming which is designed to help them make progress and achieve their goals and objectives and also points them in the direction in the future becoming as independent as possible and helping them to get to the point where they can engage in post secondary education and gainful employment if that is possible. So that's my exact role. How did I get here, I was a child study team member, the child study team is a group of three essential professionals, which every public school in the United States has. A school psychologist, a learning disabilities teacher/consultant, and a school social worker. And those folks are charged with a duty to evaluate students who may have disabilities who have already been classified as eligible for special ed and related services and figure out what their educational programming should look like, what are their needs. So I was a child study team member, and I worked on a couple of child study teams full time and public school, I was very proud of that work. I think public schools do a great job. And I also worked as a consultant in that capacity, there came a time where I realised there was a lot of us and them mentality between the school district and the parents. And I wasn't comfortable with that. And I also felt that I could do more to help children. And so I decided, after much discussion and haranguing of my husband to go to law school, and become an attorney who practices exclusively in this area. And that's essentially how I got here.
Simon Currigan 6:24
What do the families have in common when you work with them? I mean, obviously, the needs of their kids are all individual, but what kind of struggle so they have in common,
Jane Wesler 6:31
I think their struggles are multiple, the struggles would be, first of all, to know whether or not their student has a disability, if that's already been identified, to know how that disability affects this student's learning, then at that point to struggle to determine with a child study team, what should the programming look like to help their student make progress. And I think if those things can be figured out well, and accurately then they're golden. However, you know, life is not black and white, there's lots of grey, there's lots of chaos. There's lots of messiness. And some parents believe their child needs certain things, and they are close minded. And that's all that they want. Alternatively, some child study team professionals, and some school officials can be closed minded, or even unaware of what they're seeing and won't listen to the parents. Sometimes it's a matter of you know, as a child, study team person you believe that you're experienced in this area, you really know what they're talking about. And, and I know not everybody does this. I'm not saying that. But I've seen it. And I've been doing this for about 30 years. So both as a child, study team member, and as a professional who works with child state teams, they tend to think that they know better than parents. One thing that we tell parents is that they know the student best they live with that child. And while the school psychologist, the learning disabilities teacher/ consultant, the school social worker, the veteran teacher, they can tell you things about your child that you might never have known. It's in a different capacity. So I think parents struggle with maybe not being taken seriously, and trying to get those programmes in place trying to get their child classified. And so I think those are mostly the struggles that I see parents having.
Simon Currigan 8:28
We work with a lot of parents, obviously, in the UK, and our system doesn't sound that dissimilar to yours. There always seems to be a tension between the parents and the local authority or the school. And the one word that parents use time and time and time again, to me is fight. They've had to fight for this. They've had to fight for that and they don't feel like professionals listen.
Jane Wesler 8:49
it's true.And I see the same thing here. It's just too bad. And unfortunately, that's the way it is. That's one of the reasons I wrote the book last year Handbook for Parents of Children with Special Needs- A Therapeutic and Legal Approach, because for decades, I have been watching this, as I said, from both sides of the aisle, it's a perfect way to describe it. There is a tension there. And some school districts are so fantastic working with parents and welcoming parents as part of the what we call here, the IEP team, IEP is individualised educational plan. Parents are supposed to be part of that plan. Parents can contribute things which the school district may have no idea about. And so there is a tension there shouldn't be. Unfortunately, it exists. And so that's part of the reason I wrote the book. There are some chapters in there. There are some exercises, parents can learn to help pave the way for them to be accepted and welcomed and cement their position as part of that team. And if that doesn't work, we have to take it forward, but we can talk about that!
Simon Currigan 10:01
Most of the challenging behaviour we see in schools is not exclusively but often related to an underlying need. So whether that's autism, ADHD, maybe a learning need. When that child's needs are missed or overlooked. What's the impact on the child? What do you see when you're talking to families?
Jane Wesler 10:18
This is so poignant to me, I have story after story about kids whose needs are missed or overlooked or ignored, the impact can be huge and lifelong. And that is really sad. And I have had parents come in very late. And I'll tell you the story of one young man who, whose parents came to me, both parents were smart and well educated. And they had a son who was having terrible behaviour problems in school and the local public school. And the public school was a pretty good school, the director of special services was a good guy, tolerant, open minded, wanted to always do the right thing. So the boy was 16 years old, when the parents came to me. And I do a few things, the beginning of a case, so long as I'm able, I meet the student, because parents don't always know what they're looking at. And I've had occasional cases where the student would come in, and I would, you know, my eyes would widen, and I would sit back and think, Wow, the parents didn't even tell me about this particular thing that is the elephant in the room that I'm seeing. So I met this student and I got all of the student's educational records. And you can imagine, by the time a student is 16, that it's quite a stack of records. And so I dug down through the records and found that this student had been evaluated in the second grade by an outside, quite reputable affiliation of professionals. And it was discovered that this boy had what we call a specific learning disability. So that meant that while his psychological scores, his intelligence scores, his ability was quite high. His achievement was statistically discrepant, and he should have been classified in the second grade as having a specific learning disability. Unfortunately, for some reason, that did not happen. And so I've seen kids like this in my career, who get to the point where their peers are rocketing past them. And they don't understand what's going on. They're not learning they can't read. So there's a lot going on in that young mind. And it's not good. And I have seen this on occasion. And it's what happened to this young man, he became the class clown, he started acting out. And guess what he got classified as a child who was emotionally disturbed. So that was the label that he wore in school. Everybody knew this kid, he was emotionally disturbed, he would be insolent, he would not follow directions. It got to the point where the school district was going to put him in a private school for kids with behaviour problems. I, as a young professional, worked in one of those schools, this kid really didn't belong there. But because of his behaviour, he was going to end up there. So the parents came to see me I went to a meeting was happening very quickly. And because I knew the law, I was able to stop them from putting him out because they hadn't done everything they were legally mandated to do. But unfortunately, at that point, this boy was in some way lost. He had lost the years in which he could have developed himself academically. And we did things for him. And he went to vocational school. This is a kid who could have gone to college and graduate school and because of the missed opportunity, he did not get to go. So that was a very painful thing to watch, to witness and not be able to fix because it was simply too late. I have another story for you about a boy who was non verbal, and he was in the third grade. His mother was a single parent. It was an urban school district, and he was acting out. And I got involved and figured out pretty quickly that skin was frustrated. He could not communicate his wants and needs. He couldn't say whether he was hot or cold or somebody was pulling his hair or he was hungry or he had to go to the bathroom. There was no way for him to do it. And the school district had not given him a picture exchange communication system. They hadn't taught him sign language nothing. So no wonder he was acting out. So this child ended up going to a private school and learning sign language and he He was absolutely fine after that, because he learned to communicate. And so his behaviour was not the problem. It was a symptom of the problem. And so you can see the difference in the two stories. And that really tells us how important early identification really is.
Simon Currigan 15:21
Just like to take a pause for a moment and say that if you're finding this podcast useful, then you're going to love what we've got waiting for you in our inner circle programme. The inner circle is your one stop shop for all things behaviour. It's a comprehensive platform filled with videos, resources and behaviour inspiration to get you unstuck with classroom behaviour. We've got training resources on de escalation, supporting kids with anxiety support strategies for conditions like autism, ADHD, and PDA. practical ways of helping pupils deal with strong emotions, assertive behaviour management techniques for managing the whole classroom, setting out your classroom environment for success, resetting behaviour with tricky classes, and more. Our online videos walk you through practical solutions, step by step, just like Netflix, you can turn an inner circle subscription on or off whenever you need to, with no minimum contract. Plus, you can now get your first seven days of inner circle for just one pound. Get the behaviour answers and you've been looking forward today with inner circle, visit www.beaconschoolsupport.co.uk And click on the inner circle picture near the top of the homepage for more information.
I think those two stories are really powerful because not so much the second story but the first story especially you're talking about wasted years and wasted opportunity in the self esteem sinking. I remember talking to a student who finally got an ADHD diagnosis when he was about 11 years old. And we're talking to him about what it meant. And he said I thought I was just bad. So making sure things don't get missed early on is so important. I think your story is explained that. In your experience, why do you think these needs get overlooked?
Jane Wesler 17:05
I'm surmising, but I'm surmising based on 30 years of experience and I think partly due to ignorance. I don't mean stupidity. I mean, ignorance or lack of working knowledge of what to look for. Some years back, the Paediatricians Association asked for me to come and present to them because they're working from a medical model. And they wanted to know, what should they be looking for in an educational model? And what constitutes a disability in an educational model? Because it's not the same? And so, can you call a paediatrician ignorant, very high level of education and yet, they were ignorant of those specific facts. And I think that was a really important interface, because paediatricians see children every single day, and if they have the working knowledge of what constitutes a disability, they can tell the parents, hey, you need to refer your child study team, or they can make the referral themselves as long as the parents allow that. I also think it's a lack of experience. I remember when I was a young professional working as a child study team member, I had the responsibility of an 800 student elementary school. And I remember this one young teacher, who was not married to had no children of her own thinking that all of the boys had attention deficit disorder, she meant well, but she was referring a lot of the boys to the child study team, and they didn't have a disability. They were just being rambunctious little boys. And so that's a lack of experience. And I think that's key. some school districts do very well to set up programmes where the veteran experienced teachers can mentor, the younger teachers, sometimes unfortunately, pride rears its ugly head. And the child study team does not want to be told what for. I had a number of cases with a particular school district, but the whole school district seems to be arrogant. And they just don't want to be told what to do. That's really unusual. By the way again, I have worked in a number of public schools, and I remember there was a convocation. They call that at the end of the school year, just before the seniors graduated. This was an urban school district in New Jersey, and we had a lot of minority students. We had a lot of poor students, and at convocation, all of the underclassmen filed in and sat in the bleachers inside the auditorium, and then the seniors paraded in, in their graduation finery, the boys on one side, the girls on the other and for hours, people from various organisations came and awarded the students wonderful scholarships and prizes. And it just made my hair stand on end. And I thought to myself, where are the detractors of public education? Now, somebody should be here reporting on this. And so I wanted to say that because in my conversation, I do talk a lot about the problems with public school, there is such good out there and so many devoted dedicated people in public schools, but there are pockets of people who just don't want to be told what to do. And they don't think that parents know better than they do.
Simon Currigan 20:44
I think for teachers, you you don't know what you don't know. And it's the school's job to provide you with training and the knowledge you need. And we talk a lot to teachers and they say, Are you expecting us to become paediatricians? And it's like, no. But you are the first person who is likely to start joining those dots together, so you can call for help and get that ball rolling? Once a child's needs have been identified What's the outcome? What's the change? What benefit does the child get? We've talked about when things go wrong. And we've talked about why it's bad for the child. But when things go right, what's the impact on the family and the child?
Jane Wesler 21:20
It's incredible. So many times in my career, and for the other attorneys in my law office, after we have gotten an appropriate programme, whether it's just a different set of services, or whether it's a different in district school, a different public school, a different private school, the parents would at some point, call me and say, I have a new kid on my hands. Because that child became a different child, I would tell parents, nothing succeeds like success. In fact, it is the first chapter of my book because a child who has been struggling, who suddenly sees in front of their eyes, the fog clears, they understand how to put letters together, form sounds, read words, read books, read to learn, instead of just learning to read, wow, what a difference it makes. And I can think of a number of cases, I had a blind boy. And I do write a little bit about him. I call him Jack in the book. Of course, that's not his real name. He was a child who was visually impaired, legally blind. This child, if he leaned over and got his eyeball close to the paper, he could see a few letters at a time. But there's no way you can read War and Peace like that. First of all, you can't hold your head like that all day long. The parents were amazing parents, they did everything they could do. They involved in National Federation of the Blind, what an incredible organisation that is, even then the school district was not listening. This director of special services was one of the most rude and recalcitrant directors I've ever met. Unfortunately, we had to file for due process. That's like filing a lawsuit against the school district. And we actually had a trial, the director testified on the witness stand that the child was not blind. And we were flabbergasted. But we won that case. And in fact, we set a national precedent in the way that students with visual impairments must be evaluated. And that child was given appropriate educational services, including a teacher of the blind and visually impaired, and we got a lot of compensatory education. So in the summers, the child went to a camp, and learned orientation and mobility, learned how to do all the household chores, including cleaning the toilets, and could function like anybody else like you and I function. And so that was the beauty of catching this child in early and getting the appropriate services. And the statistics show Simon that people who are blind, when that's not remediated, the large percentage of them are under educated and underemployed. And, you know, that's actually a drag on society, not to mention the ruination of someone's life. But statistics show and for every dollar spent on a child who has a disability, it saves $2 during that child's lifetime, and another student I can think of that is a good example of catching a student early was a young man who was refusing to leave his room. He was agoraphobic, he would not go outside and we were planning on probably putting him in a residential facility because he would be in a place where 24 seven, they would have the where with all to work. We discovered that unfortunately, this person had been sexually abused by a professional in his life. Ultimately, the school district agreed with us under some duress, we did have to file a lawsuit. But they settled, the district offered to send him to a private day programme. And the parents said, you know what we want to give this a try. We were a little concerned about how he would get on the bus. But that school was well versed in how to help children who are having these kinds of problems, school refusal, and he didn't get on the bus. And he went to school. And I remember getting a phone call from this dad about two years later. And he said to me, I just wanted to call you, I had to call you to tell you that my son is graduating from high school, and he is going to college. And he is going to take his first year in Japan. And this is a kid who wouldn't leave his room. And he was going to go to Japan. And so that was a huge success story. And it just made me so happy to know that this boy was not going to be ruined by this problem.
So you've got an interesting perspective here. You've worked inside the school, supporting teachers and evaluating students and doing assessments. And you've worked outside the school supporting the parents, from your perspective. What do you think separates the schools that do early identification well, and succeed with that from those that don't? I'm guessing there's an element of culture here.Attitude?
Absolutely. And you do see that and you do see schools, they're very well run, some people will say it trickles down from the top. And so it may really depend on the principal, what kind of leadership the principal of the school has, can that principal, motivate the staff within the school to do the right things? Are they familiar with all of the signs and symptoms? How experienced is the staff? are they paying teachers appropriately? Can they attract good, well educated staff experienced staff? How are the veteran teachers mentoring? Is there a programme set up? Or does it just depend on happenstance, you have to have some kind of programme set up or mentoring for accountability to make a safe place for the teachers. I think regular comprehensive training is really important. Good in-services, programmes cannot be budget driven. Yes, we all know there is a budget, but money has to get spent. And there has to be an investment in order to get a return. Right? So I think those are the essentials. One thing I'm just thinking is, I don't know everything, maybe I don't know what I don't know, right? I created a Facebook group for parents, for experts, for school officials, everybody is welcome. And the group is growing. And it is a place where people can come and ask questions, and also provide answers. So for anybody who's listening, if you want to join, people can send me a request. The group is called Parents of Kids with Learning Challenges. And so if you're listening and you think I'm wrong, tell me because I'm always willing to learn something and you know what, share your knowledge with other people, it makes the world a better place.
Simon Currigan 28:27
And we'll drop a direct link to that into the show description as well.
Jane Wesler 28:31
Simon Currigan 28:31
If you're a teacher or a parent, and you're listening to this podcast, what's the first step you can take to learn more about improving the early identification process in the school that your child is at or in the school that you work at?
Jane Wesler 28:43
This is a great question. And this is one of the reasons why I wrote handbook for parents of children with special needs. Because it's a concise guide. Everything is in there for teachers and parents to know, it's meant to to be a reference book, too. I mean, you can read it through it's an easy read. But it's there if you need to look up something. Another thing I would say is for parents and teachers to familiarise themselves with the classification categories in their school in their region or area to know exactly what is the standard for a classification. In the States, It is that a student has a disability that adversely affects their educational performance or achievement. So I would say definitely understand what are the symptoms of those classification categories. Think about what lies beyond anything that you're actually seeing. What is motivating the student? and you can also parents and teachers can also consult with experts. There's lots of experts in the world. I go through that in the book, know what to ask for. I talked about the symptoms but if your child is experiencing this Here's what you need to look for. Here's who you might consult. Those are all good things to do. Another thing I'm thinking of this might be slightly off point. But it's a really valuable treasure chest of information. In the United States, we have public school districts, and each district has their own website. And on the website, there is a area for the Board of Education. And the Board of Education meets once or twice a month. And there are a meeting minutes that are on the website, and it is a treasure trove of information. So I would encourage parents to go on the website and read through that you will be amazed at what you can find out.
Simon Currigan 30:50
And in the UK, you'll be looking at the local authorities website. My last question for you, who's the key figure that's influenced you? Or what's the key book that you've read? That's had the biggest impact on your personal approach to working with children,
Jane Wesler 31:03
I would say first and foremost, that my mom laid the foundation for everybody in our family, to be generous and kind and to think of others with compassion. My mom is 89 years old, and she was a nurse, she has the biggest heart and is the most generous person I know, and has the most compassion. And so she led by example. So I was very lucky to have her. As a child, I read a couple of good books that really moved me to seek some kind of a path in life. As a kid, I was lucky to have books available to me, and I love to read. And one of the books that was another sort of role model for me was a book called Christie by Catherine Marshall. It's a book about a young woman in 1912, who hears I think it's a sermon. A physician comes and speaks to the congregation about the need for teachers in Appalachia in the mountains, in poor areas. And she is a well to do young lady her family's well to do but she she lives in North Carolina, but she convinces her family to let her go into the mountains. And it's a great story very well written very poignant about her year there. And it had been giving up her affluent life, which was kind of superficial and empty. She was so rewarded. And she helped a lot of people, children and families, and they in turn enriched her life. And that so inspired me. One other book that had a great impact on me. And I read that as a fifth grader. It's about a boy who on a playground after school, and another student has a firecracker and the kid lights the firecracker and the boy cries No. And the other child automatically throws it in his direction because he hears the kid's voice and it explodes. And it blinds that boy, and you go through the story inside of this boy, sensing what he senses experiencing what he experiences and what it's like to go from being a sighted person to a blind person in a split second. And as a kid that had a very powerful effect on me, I tried some of the things that he was describing to see what does that really like. And in fact, it also inspired me later in my family to raise seeing eye dogs for the seeing eye in Morristown, New Jersey, which is a really fantastic thing for kids to do. These dogs, which go on to lead blind people, they're amazing. My mom, those two books had a huge impact on me. The other person who had a major impact on me was my husband, whom I met on the cusp of my career. So those have been my influences.
Simon Currigan 34:13
Jane Wesler, thank you for being on the podcast. I think you've really illustrated how important it is to get this right. And you can know some practical steps, how in schools, we can start to get early identification up and running correctly, in a way that it should to support the students that we take care of. Thank you very much.
Jane Wesler 34:30
My great pleasure.
Emma Shackleton 34:32
What an interesting guest and her story show why early intervention is so important
Simon Currigan 34:38
Emma Shackleton 34:39
If you want to know more about early intervention and joining the dots between pupil behaviour and possible underlying special needs. We've got a free download that can help.
Simon Currigan 34:50
It's called the SEN handbook and it will help you link behaviours you've seen in the classroom with possible causes like autism or ADHD. The idea here isn't for teachers to Make a diagnosis. That's for medical professionals. But if we can link behaviours to possible causes quickly, just like Jane said, it means we can get the right help and get early intervention strategies in place. It's a free download, go to the website www.beaconschoolsupport.co.uk Click on the free resources tab near the top, and you will find it near the top of the page. I'll also put a link in the episode description.
Emma Shackleton 35:24
And in next week's episode, we're going to look at why anger management strategies don't work, the common problems that trip up interventions, and how to get them right in your school.
Simon Currigan 35:36
So to make sure you catch that episode, open your podcast app now and hit the subscribe button and your podcast app will automatically download each and every episode of school behaviour secrets in the future. So you never miss a thing like Kronos, the Greek god of time, you will literally be harnessing the power of a better tomorrow. And that's not bad for a single finger tap.
Emma Shackleton 35:56
If you find today's podcast useful, why not be a great mate and recommend it to one friend. You could either send them a message or simply use the share button in your podcast app. And then teachers and school leaders can find the show and start getting the help they need to support the children in their schools too
Simon Currigan 36:14
Thank you for listening to today's episode. Have a brilliant week and we both look forward to seeing you next time. Bye
Emma Shackleton 36:21
(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)