Special Needs In Mainstream Schooling; A System In Crisis
I have been sharing yoga as a therapeutic intervention with children in education and the special needs’ populations for over 20 years. I have seen first-hand the demise of support for children with special educational needs as if they have no value as part of our society.
The system is currently in crisis. The government are not only failing a generation of children and young people with special education needs and disabilities, but also the parents and educators.
When did we become such an inhumane society that ignores the value of every human being, irrespective of their abilities? How have we lost the humanity to honour all human beings? My heartfelt belief is that we are doing the world an injustice to treat these children as less.
Just a few days back I ran into an old friend, who not only had children in the same primary school as my kids, but is also a speech and language pathologist and a great supporter of our work at Special Yoga. She talked a lot about neurodiversity. So, what is neurodiversity? I would suggest that this refers to anyone who functions ‘differently’ to how society expects them to; Children who are differently-abled, as opposed to disabled, and those who have a diagnosis or are waiting for diagnosis. We only have to look at Greta Thunberg or Albert Einstein to know that ‘different’ doesn’t mean bad, ignorant or useless.
Imagine yourself as a child in a classroom who struggles daily to fit into the required ‘box’ that our current education system puts them in; how does it feel, as you fail to cope? Navigating a school day requires a balanced nervous system and thus a calm mind and body that has self-regulatory tools and practises.
Even by the time these children arrive at school, they have already had a potentially overwhelming sensory experience simply getting out of bed, putting on a school uniform and hopefully eating breakfast. (Which also could contain vast quantities of sugar, colourants and stimulants.) They may not have slept well or deeply, or for enough time. Before they even enter the school gates they can be on ‘red alert’. They may feel that there are too many people around them, too much noise and be experiencing visual overload. Their delicate nervous systems cannot cope. So, what do they do? They try to meet their sensory and unmet emotional needs, perhaps by jumping, running, headbanging, screaming, hurting other children, throwing furniture or any other ‘unacceptable’ behaviour.
In response, what do we do as adults? We reprimand behaviour rather than seeing that their behaviour is a form of communication that tells us that they are in fear, fight and flight; They cannot regulate, and they don’t feel safe, heard and held. This is the daily dilemma in most schools today for teachers, teaching assistants, SENCO’s, pastoral care, parents and the children themselves.
The adults are also on ‘red alert’, either trying against all human ability to support 30+ children in a classroom without adequate, both human and practical, resource. Or, parenting a child who doesn’t want to go to school and spends the morning screaming following a night, for both the child and the parent, without adequate sleep. (Here’s a really quick and simple technique to calm nervous systems for children and adults)
What Can We Do?
We have to start to share practises that change the nervous system and bring regulation and calm for both the children and the adults around them. As a parent of a child with additional needs, I know just how much my state matters. Yet for most parents, they are so burned out with trying to make life work for their child and the rest of the family, that they have forgotten that they also matter. (We’ll continue to add in the moment practices to use on yourself and with the children to our Youtube Channel here.)
Science today tells us that our energy field has a marked impact on another. Our energy field comes from our thoughts, behaviour, and nervous system, i.e. our state of mental and emotional health. How can a child possibly learn to regulate if the adults around them are out of regulation?
If we were to follow that path, then we could all potentially see that these children have been brought to the world as healers. They are essential, and our role to them is to heal ourselves so that we can be the models that they need to lead future generations.
Teaching Yoga & Mindfulness To Children
Our Teaching Yoga & Mindfulness To Children training course runs over four weekends from March to June in 2020. Over the duration, you’ll be empowered to dramatically change how you show up in the world, dramatically affecting how you are able to help the children. The weekends are also packed with proven in-the-moment practices to share with the children. We’d love you to join us. Information and booking here.
Jyoti Jo Manuel