6 hours ago I was sat on a bench in some leafy suburb of Oxford. It was gorgeous sunshine, but I was pretty aprehensive. How was I going to teach these teens with learning difficulties and autism. How should I pitch the class??? Help!
My experience with learning difficulties is very minimal and I have to say until today quite negative. My Grandma would have an annual party at hers and a friend of hers would bring her boy with learning difficulties who was young enough to play with my sister and I but as he got to be older he would chase us around the house and in our child like way we got spooked. The whole situation reminded me a lot of my grandparents actually, a leafy red bricked suburb, a school (my Grandma taught), it was autumn, somehow we always went there in autumn. Even the dragon motif on the school brought her back- my Grandma embraced the Welsh dragon of my Grandfather’s country and loved it as an emblem. Her (or her friend) would collect dragon ornaments.
So memories were flooding in and I had no idea what to expect from these teens.
What pace should I go at?
Music.... yes or no?
Distraction or sensory stimulation?
Full Up dog or Cobra?
Quick talk or slow?
Interaction or not?
Adjustments or demo?
How the hell do you pitch for Autism at the same time too?
I perceived Autism to be about high functioning mathematic genius kids with emotional detachment. Not learning difficulties. This was going to be a weird class to go midway between that. However Anna very quickly put me at my ease and educated me!
I met her outside the class, she introduced me to all the teens who were eating lunch, and as soon as I’d met them, shook hands and they chatted to me- I knew it was going to be ok!
Anna and I set up the room when she explained how the parents are going to love us doing this (we will chill the teens out!)..... why she was in youth work (she ran retirement homes and found it too bureaucratic)..... why Yellow Submarine was founded (Rob had an uncle with learning difficulties and took him and his uncle's mates on holiday- and it went from there!)...... how Dragon school were really generous and gave Yellow Submarine run of the school during half term. And she told me a few of the EPIC activities they had been doing. Seriously imaginative and fun. Such as making jelly brains for Halloween, karate, rounders, swimming…yoga.
I was so pleased to be able to sit and play and chat with them before the class because it helped me with my empathy. I like to know where my student's heads are at before I go and teach or present or meet people!
My class that I had designed was very colourful and imaginative, and I was worried teenagers just wouldn’t like it and may feel patronised. But these teens were joyous and playful and kind to me so I knew it was just the ticket.
We went into the yoga room. And except two teens (one who just wasn’t feeling it, the other who was enjoying giggling at me instead!) everyone seemed to love yoga. Sun salutaions turned into ‘waving at the sun’ and we made the sun come out brighter! The leaves I’d picked up from the street to hold during Tree pose went down particularly well, especially with Will who you can see in the photo with the leaves and some bigger and better ones he found afterwards. It even drew one of the chaps who didn’t fancy it into the group. Warrior poses were also well received (well they are teenage boys after all!) some menacing warrior faces, humble warrior when they saw a princess or a king they appreciated, warrior two with bow and arrow and peaceful warrior when they’d killed the dragon! Cobra with hisses too.
They didn’t like child’s pose but that was because I blundered and said you’ll look like a child in it- durgh! Teenagers are NOT going to want to look like a child! We moved on quickly from that.
I got on with Sean (that’s an Irish name I was informed) who had a penchant for cricket and a knowledge of countries. (Namaste – that’s Indian! he declared!) but all of the teens were a wonderful intriguing group of people and I’m pleased I met them.
So I thoroughly enjoyed myself and am invited back for more classes. Which I will do in a heartbeat. Yellow Submarine are really giving these teens such an awesome half term. And I particularly love their passionate aim that Adults with Learning Difficulties should be treated exactly the same as everyone else. Thus their scholarships into catering, employment in their café and help with CV writing to land jobs.
It was really moving. Yes I cried on the way home! I had to listen to Radio 4’s gardeners hour to settle myself (strange innocent lives gardeners have very distracting and alien to the lives of those teens!)