I recently became a parent governor for my kids’ primary school. I think it’s an exciting opportunity to get involved with the school and perhaps help make it better for my kids and for all the others. I already run Code Clubs there and at another local school and have been doing that for 3 years. So I’m accumulating some experience of the different abilities and interests of the kids that come to my clubs. But as a governor I’ve been learning about SEND or Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. The children classed as SEND have a variety of different special needs. Any physical disabilities I feel I could cope with in Code Club as long as they can read and click and drag with the mouse.
But I find myself thinking about children with learning disabilities or autism. How do I make Code Club valuable for those children? I sincerely believe that education should be for everyone and that we shouldn’t be leaving SEND kids behind. Further, I think providing good education to the SEND kids will likely raise the level for the majority of kids in the school. So I don’t think Code Club should be just the preserve of the gifted and talented kids. Certainly we see a lot of those in Code Clubs but the ability to problem solve and construct algorithms or tell stories and entertain with code should be for everyone.
Anyone that has been part of the professional programmer community will know (whether they realise it or not) a number of very smart people that have some kind of autism. Often those different brain processes make for particularly talented coders. So I think it’s really important that as Code Club leaders we’re ready to embrace those kids.
So how can we help them? What can we do that gives them some value? Well of course is depends a great deal on the nature of the child’s special needs. Sometimes a child with ADHD or some form of Autism will take off in Code Club and love it with a passion. They might show a real aptitude – if we can win their trust and learn how to interact with them. And that’s one area where I feel very poorly equipped.
But in other cases, with learning disabilities for example, the child might just need longer to absorb what they’re being shown. They might need a lot of guidance. And this worries me because time is the one thing we don’t have a lot of in Code Club. It’s 1 hour per week and I’ve usually got a room with 10-15 kids in it, all of whom want and deserve my attention. And once again I don’t feel I know how best to interact with a child like that. I have no teacher training and no training in how to deal with kids that have special needs. I know I tend to go very fast with my explanations of things. I find it hard and somedtimes frustrating to slow down. I always want to cram the most value I can into my time.
So as I said, this is more of a statement of a problem or a worry than any kind of useful solution. If you’re thinking about this too or if you’re dealing with it then I’d love to hear from you in the comments below while, of course, avoiding discussing individuals.