Many students will integrate very well at school. Others may have various difficulties from time to time. Common sense and experience will see you through most of these, but we hope this page will help address a few specific difficulties that may crop up.
School ethos and attitudes are also critically important. The student will find it much easier to cope with both physical and learning difficulties if he or she feels secure and integrated in school life.
Ongoing problems can also, of course, be talked through with the student and his or her parents. They have probably been coping with hemiplegia for many years, and may have developed strategies for dealing with most problems.
Getting around school
Having hemiplegia means having limited use of one arm and hand and possibly poor balance and co-ordination. This can cause difficulties in various areas.
- Opening doors.
- Climbing stairs.
- Carrying a heavy schoolbag.
- Carrying sports equipment.
- Carrying a lunch tray.
- Use of a locker.
- Extra time to collect books between classes.
- Help from other students.
In addition some students have visuo-spatial problems and may have initial difficulties finding their way around school. Clear signposting of rooms, laboratories, etc. (with teachers' names) will help them.
- Face the teacher.
- Face the board or demonstration area.
- Be away from the main aisle or door, to minimise distraction.
- Have adequate space for the affected arm.
- Have unrestricted movement of the dominant arm.
Writing and drawing
- Stabilising of paper.
- Drawing of graphs, diagrams, etc.
- Setting out of work.
- Poor co-ordination affecting handwriting.
- A4 is easier to manage than A3.
- Use of a keyboard can ease problems with handwriting and setting out of work.
- Blobs of 'blu-tack' can help anchor paper.
- Loose leaf notebooks or sheets attached to clipboards may be easier to manage than exercise books.
- A magnetic board, used with rulers and geometry instruments also backed with magnetic strips, can help with drawing graphs, diagrams etc. (Pre-prepared diagrams and graphs may also be helpful).
- Extra time may be needed to complete tasks.
- Tasks may be broken down into more manageable units.
- Model making.
- Conducting experiments.
- Safety factors (the affected limb may have reduced sensitivity).
- Pairing with another student.
- Modification of equipment.
- Extra time to complete tasks.
The student may feel more self-conscious or clumsy during practical work and may need encouragement to participate.
Help with learning disabilities
Because of their physical limitations, most students with hemiplegia experience some difficulty and frustration at school and may need a little more time and attention to achieve their full potential.
However, some young people with hemiplegia have general or specific learning difficulties which may be slight or severe, and which can be more frustrating and disabling than their obvious physical ones.
Short concentration span
- Difficulty settling down to tasks.
- Frequent lapses of attention.
- Tendency to be easily distracted.
- Reconsider seating and position in classroom.
- Break down tasks into smaller units.
- Focus on short sessions of concentrated effort.
Short term memory problems
- Poor retention of information or instructions.
- Difficulty in sequencing a series of instructions or objectives.
- Give clear instructions, written if necessary.
- Give clear, written goals for all tasks, to help students to develop personal organisational skills.
- Encourage students to draw up a work plan for each task.
Many of the learning problems outlined above can be alleviated by the use of a computer.
Using a keyboard may:
- Help students with poor handwriting skills.
- Help develop the ability to present work effectively.
- Help develop personal organisational skills.
- Help dyslexic students correct spelling.
Physical fitness is, if anything, more important for people with disabilities than for their able-bodied peers.
- Poor balance.
- Weakness of affected limbs.
- Visual impairment.
- Poor hand eye co-ordination.
- A flexible approach, e.g. head starts, development of underarm serving techniques.
- Developing skills in weak areas, e.g. hand-eye co-ordination, balance, weight-bearing.
- Encouragement to try new sports e.g. sailing, fencing, contact sports.
- Extra time for dressing / undressing.
Help with growing up
Whole school support
In general, support from the whole school, from teachers and fellow students is vital if the student is to fulfil his or her potential.
Striking a balance
It is important to strike a balance between under- and over-reacting, to create a safe environment where the student can ask for help without losing face, or, equally, be challenged to reach heights he or she may not have dreamed of. Success even in one area can be an enormous boost to confidence.
Talking to parents
Many parents will be only too happy to discuss any difficulties their child might be experiencing. Similarly, some schools have found it helpful for a parent to come and talk to staff before their son or daughter comes to the school.