As I have previously mentioned in a couple of blog entries, I have worked in a specialist post-16 provision for young people with complex needs for almost 4 years. The last year or so of that, I have been based in a class for students with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD), so I thought I’d write a little about what that means and what it’s like to be a part of our class.
PMLD is very much an “umbrella” term that is used to describe a wide range of needs that tend to be quite complex and often involve long term medical issues. Several of our current students were born with rare and/or life-limiting conditions, which means they require physical and medical care as well as learning support. As you can imagine, daily life in our classroom involves an awful lot more than just lessons and everything we do has to be adapted to suit each student and their individual needs.
A bit of context for you:
All of our current students have some degree of visual impairment. One of our young people is registered blind and therefore needs to use other senses and tactile resources to explore and learn. He tends to identify staff members by their voice or by giving them a sniff! Several other students have very limited sight; we have one who can only see on his lower left, so we have to remember to position ourselves within his line of vision when sitting with him. Visual needs are just one of the sensory impairments that have to be considered when planning learning.
All of our students are wheelchair users and we have up to 7 in on any one day so space can be a big issue! Physiotherapy sessions and exercises also have to be incorporated into our day, according to individual needs. For some students, their physio is using a standing frame while taking part in class sessions. For others, it is practising walking, weight bearing or spending time on a physio bed to allow for position changes. When you also factor in the time needed for personal care and feeding support, it’s not surprising that our timetable generally consists of one learning session in the morning and one in the afternoon. Sometimes even that doesn’t go to plan! Given the complexity and diversity of our students’ needs, as staff we have to be adaptable and accept that the best laid plans may have to change at the drop of a hat.
About half of our students have Epilepsy...
Some more severe than others. For one of our young people, epilepsy presents as three different types of seizures, some of which can occur multiple times a day so she needs constant and careful observation. In contrast, we have another student who hasn’t had a seizure for many years but we need to be aware and prepared that it could happen. Seizures affect each person differently, generally depending on the type, how long they last and whether or not medication needs to be administered. If someone has had a seizure at home before coming to college, they may be sleepy when they arrive and simply need to rest for a while. In this instance, there would be no expectation to participate in a session and the student would be left to rest while being monitored by their staff member.
It’s safe to say that no two days are the same in our classroom
...which makes for an interesting yet challenging job. The key to success is getting to know each student and their individual needs, what is “normal” for them, what they like and dislike and any behavioural triggers. We do this through constant communication with families and carers; each student has a diary that goes home daily to let their parent/carer know how their day has been and also for families to let us know anything we need to. It also helps that we as a staff team work very well together and have a great rapport with our students and with each other. It’s hard work, but we do have fun too!