Ange Anderson is an experienced educator and author who has introduced various therapeutic and technological interventions in her school to support students with learning differences. She emphasizes the importance of play in the development of neurodivergent children, regardless of their specific neurodivergent condition.
In today’s interview, we’re covering:
- What are play schemas, and why should we know about them?
- What is DIR floortime, and how does it work?
- How has Ange created a student-led environment in her school?
- How can other educators offer more therapeutical approaches for disabled kids at school?
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Episode 70 Therapeutics and Attunement with Ange Anderson Transcript
Danielle: Hello my friends and welcome back to the Neuro Diverging podcast. My name is Danielle Sullivan and I’m your host. Today we have a fascinating interview with Ange Anderson, who opened and LED an innovative specialist school in North Wales for 10 years where she introduced over 25 different therapeutic or technological interventions to support her students with learning differences. She also edited and Co wrote The Future of Special Schools and Therapeutic Interventions and is the author of several great books, all published by Routledge, about all sorts of things related to neurodiversity, sensory integration and other kinds of therapeutical interventions. She’s also written many educational articles and research papers and she contributes regularly to special education magazines. We are talking today about a bunch of different therapeutical interventions that you may not have heard of that might be helpful for your specific child and is also giving us information about play schemas and how they work and why it’s important for us as parents to understand what play schemes are. And we just have a really exciting, interesting conversation about how play is important for neurodivergent kids development, regardless of of the sort. Of specific form of the Neurodivergence. So I’m so excited to get you straight into this interview with Ange Quick. Right? Before we do that, I just want to say thank you so much to my patrons for supporting this podcast. These podcasts go out because of patron funds. We would not be able to do it without them. If you’re interested in becoming a friend of the show and supporting the podcast with a couple of bucks a month, please check out patreon.com/nor. Diverging. You can do a free trial to see if it’s a place that you would like to be permanently before you put in your credit card and give us the monies. So please feel free to take advantage of that free trial if it would be helpful to you. And now, without further ado, here’s my interview with Ange. Enjoy. Welcome to the Neurodivergent Podcast and I’m so glad you’re here today. Thanks for joining.
Ange: I’m thrilled to be on the programme. Thank you for inviting me.
Danielle: I’m really excited to talk to you today about how play is so important for students with any kind of neurodiversity and I know that’s one of your many specialties. So I think it’s a topic that is is ripe and that a lot of listeners will be really excited to hear about. So I know that you’re sort of work is rooted in this concept of schemas and I would love to start the conversation just if you could tell us a little bit about what a schema is and how it works for what you do.
Ange: Very young children want to do his play. And when your school caters to students who are neurodiverse, but it will also got a diagnosis of moderate to severe or profound learning difficulties, they’ve got the cognitive age of a very small child. So it therefore stands to reason that they’re going to learn best through play. So when we talk about learning through play, we need to understand what play schemas are and what is the schema? Well, we all have schemas. For instance, you’ve got a restaurant schemer in your head. Whenever you go to a familiar restaurant, you’ve got a schemer or a template or data in your brain in your previous visits that tell you how to behave and what to expect. But when you go to a restaurant that’s entirely new and different, you add that new information to the existing restaurant scheme or in your brain. So schemers are built from multiple experiences of making new neural pathways in the brain. Schematic play is when children need to repeat actions or behaviours to explore the world around them and find out how it works. Schematic play helps the brain to develop, and some students, particularly those who are neurodiverse, get locked into particular schemas.
Danielle: So these are like they’re in a sequence. Sorry I couldn’t English for a minute. They they as children, grow.
Ange: Schemas. They don’t necessarily happen in a sequence. A child that. There are lots of children who are new right of this who will constantly need to keep shutting that door. There are lots of of children who are neurodiverse who continually do patterns in blocks on the floor and might take up the whole classroom doing that. So there are some some they sometimes just need to get to grips with that schema before they can move into another schema. And and that could be a parallel schema. There’s no particular order of how these things progress. We just all developed schemas. Like I said, a restaurant schemer and so on. But play schemers are just a helpful way of children learning how to have schemas and and play gives them the opportunity to play in those ways you know.
Danielle: Yeah, absolutely. So a child might be, I’m thinking of my own children, who who certainly have preferences right for how they play in certain ways, and we might need to sort of help them tweak to expand or or develop into new ways of play.
Ange: Certainly if you’ve got a child who’s neurodiverse, it’s understanding why they are doing what they’re doing. So if they are constantly needed to turn on, you know, some of the boys I’ve had in school will will seek out the toilet to go and turn on those taps all the time because they need to see the flow of water, they need to see movement. There are other children who will who who might think it’s OK to throw a chair across the classroom. Now in the in the past people might have thought that that’s behaviour but it might be that if they’ve been allowed first thing in the morning to go into a soft playroom and have a go of throwing that falls around all things around or or even playing basketball they would have got rid of that schema that they were desperate to actually they had to get rid of it before they could do anything else. They they they’re in a world have to be sorted before they could actually cope in the the outside world that there was around them. So these schemes are very important in in and and certainly for parents and teachers to understand them. Teachers even more so because sometimes I mean parents have got to a more forgiving nature I would say and certainly a lot of parents might know certainly you yourself from the programmes I’ve listened to of yours, that you’re very into attunement and making sure you understand where your children are coming from and on your you get into their inner minds and and and parents are more likely to do that. Teachers are coming that way nowadays. They’re finding out about achievement and they’re certainly coming that way but they don’t always they there’s certainly been in the past a more needing to take control. Well we all know that the new neurodivergent child and needs to a very fearful of the outside world and and and for their inner world to be OK they need to make sure that they can control what’s important to them. And so if we try and take that control away then you may well have a meltdown because you being cruel to them in a way. But of course, a lot of teachers, certainly in the past it was all about control and certainty, when they’ve got quite a number of.
Danielle: Children, yes.
Ange: You know, it’s about, well, how on earth am I going to, you know, cope with all of these? It’s far easier as a parent to get into an attunement with your child than it is for a for a teacher who’s got 30 children in a classroom. Because unfortunately you can’t always give that child the attention they need. So This is why obviously teaching assistants and so on, and other adults within the class and other assistance within the class who can give that child some time is very important. But for me, um, it’s it’s very much about if a child isn’t learning the way that we are teaching them, we need to teach them the way they learn.
Danielle: Thank you so much. That’s super helpful and I think it will really help people understand why it’s so important to understand the sort of theory. I guess behind behind house scheme is work and you train a a lot of professionals on play therapy and other kinds of adjunct therapies. How do you introduce play therapy to school? How do you get people to start to use it?
Ange: Well I think for for me the most important thing is is continual continuous professional development of staff and to me that’s where you know the money needs to go in schools and and if it’s if it’s you’re having difficulty getting it from the local authority and and so on then fundraise and a lot of time a lot of my time as a head teacher was fundraising and finding charities that would give me would contribute towards certain things that I wanted to bring in. So the different therapies that I brought into the school, I researched extensively myself beforehand and then either I would go on the training and then train staff in those particular therapies or I would have other staff who volunteered to go and train in those therapies and they would come back and train staff. So a lot of staff were actually trained from one person going off originally and having the training and then coming back and training the rest of the staff because you can’t have that one member of staff away. And then that child missing out on something that they were used to having because that child could well go into a kind of meltdown because nobody had warned them that. And sometimes it’s impossible to warn them if if that that that teacher doesn’t inform the school until that day or that’s that’s school that they’re not going to be in. So you need to make sure that you’ve got others trained in in that particular thing and and and also that you you know that there are other opportunities for for those different therapies to to be on offer. Now as far as I was concerned, I was very concerned that the therapies were available. So I I had rooms in the school that were dedicated to these different therapies and technologies that students would go be taken out of the class and go to those places have therapy. So there was a a venture into play therapy room. There was a a different play actual play therapy room. So for instance you know we had people trained by PT UK organisation which is a play therapy organisation within the UK and we had teachers trained in that it’s it’s you need a degree to go and train in that. And so they trained and it brought it back to school and took students out for like 20 minutes at a time to have a play therapy session which was very, very good. But then I I I had staff who wanted to train in play therapy but didn’t have the necessary academic ability. But there is something called venture into play VIP and if you do any search engine you can find that venturing place very, very cost effective. It’s it’s fantastic value and what happens is that it’s got all the materials on that site that you can purchase and then staff could be trained in that and then we trained teaching assistants in it and then we had a enter into play therapy room and children. The good thing about venturing to play, it’s different from play therapy. Play therapy tends to be one-on-one venture into play can be grouped to six. So they’re learning to play alongside others and play with others and play parallel to others and so on. And sometimes it might be certainly we would have one little girl every morning she went straight to play therapy and she got off the bus. So before school started she went into that play therapy room with the play with the venture into play therapist. Who would she like that It’s a small world kind of thing. So she would play with those and then she was OK to go into class when when when the bell went or you know them to register and so on. But without that chance to have that venture into play beforehand she would not have been able to have coped in a in a classroom routine situation. Those kind of play therapies help will help children to develop most of the play schemes that we’ve already talked about legal therapies and other one that’s very good for the connections, schemas, play schemas. So we we tended we would introduce all these these different therapies to ensure that these play schemers they have the opportunity to develop them in the situation that didn’t have a detrimental effect on the other students in their class. Now this is this is great for individual therapies and and I mean I’m talking there’s a whole host of therapies and and I have given you a list of the of the ones that that we introduced as a school. So there there are loans that are that are played therapies, there are also others that are therapeutic. So something like vibroacoustic therapy was very good for one of our students who had behavioural issues and severe autism. But he was well aware of all the therapies on offering the school. And he would come and look for me actually of a of a lunchtime, which is when he would find it very difficult. So he would come and look for me and he would take me to the vibroacoustic therapy room. I’d got a charity to give me a very expensive water bed and then we had the sound system put into it and you can get that from so matron and then he would sit on that bed. You don’t listen to vibroacoustic therapy, you feel it and visibly alter his state of mind. He would calm down within 510 minutes. After 20 minutes he would take himself off that bed and walk back to outside play or walk to the classroom, whatever, by himself. Because he was perfectly fine and calm in himself. He had taught himself how to self regulate, you know, by by the use of having the opportunity of that therapy. So from my own personal viewpoint, I prefer to have these therapies in rooms that to be honest, when I opened the school, it was a brand new school and they had these breakout behavioural rooms which I had come from, you know, in England. I was working and I this was in Wales where I’d come to to to lead a brand new school. And straight away I I got rid of these breakout rooms and turned them into therapy rooms and and and one of the rooms became a virtual reality room. And so that’s another kind of therapy and you can use it with role play. So for a lot of our children who had anxieties, they would go into the virtual reality room, we would have recreated, say it was the dentist or whatever it was that was causing them issues, We would have gone and done that. So it’s a 360° version of that in that room and they would go in there with support, it would get used to it, They would visit it in that room for as long as we felt they needed to and then they would go to the actual place in the real world. It worked 100%. It enabled them to overcome that particular anxiety that they haven’t been able to cope with in the real world. So there’s loads of different things like that. But we were talking about play therapy and so if if we think about for instance the IR floor time, which is a a really big area of play. So for some of our students, particularly those with pathological demand avoidance, is is one of the ways it’s called and it’s also called. Can you help me hear PDA’s, also known as.
Danielle: Pervasive demand for autonomy, Yes. Is that the one?
Ange: That’s so much better, A much better way of saying it, yes. And so the structure class is tends to be too much for them, we found. So leaving that class for 40 minutes at a time to take part in any of the play and rich curriculum, including role play and so on, are using swings or climbing walls. Outside was fine for most students, but it wasn’t fine for them. So I found out about the IR floor time and I researched it. It’s developmental, individual relationships and I felt that this could be the answer for those students. So a couple of staff volunteered to go on the training for school based DIR floor time. We introduced it into a specific class and the results were amazing. Any search engine will find IR floor time for you. Schools can train in it, parents can train in it, you can do it at home. It requires a lot of planning because the students still have to have ISP’s, but they have to be delivered through play, instigated by the student, so they do not feel that they are being dictated to, but they feel in control of the situation. And it’s quite magical watching children who had been extremely disruptive in a structured class suddenly blossom because they were studying the life cycle of a butterfly, which was what they may have been climbing over chairs for, to watch outside whilst what was happening in the class that they’d been in was holding no interest because the butterfly caught their attention. So creating an environment where the student can be successful is the key as it’s sometimes the environment that causes the behaviour. So as I’ve said, you know, if a child can’t learn the way we teach, we need to teach the way they learn and there is no point in wasting your time and energy in an approach that has consistently failed. So teachers who had previously had those students in their class saw the changes in those students and began introducing the IR floor time approach into their own class. So it became a more play based approach to learning, a lot more work than the staff. And the teachers still have those targets, they still have to learn those skills whether they’re a particular, you know, numeracy skill or literacy skill or whatever, you have to do it through play. So it it requires a lot of imagination and certainly I would always recommend training in DIR floor time first of all, because once you’ve got the trade and it becomes, it becomes second nature, you know?
Danielle: Yeah well as a as a parent who is not a professional educator, when you said it’s a lot more work for staff, my personal experience as a parent is it’s a lot more work upfront. Like you have to prep a lot more but you’re fighting so much less and you’re struggling with the child so much less that for me it’s actually not more work it’s just the work is differently distributed. So just wanted to like you know it’s different when you’re in a classroom with 12 kids like it’s it’s it is more work. But if you’re a parent listening to this, I just want to encourage you that depending on your situation and your kiddo and what your goals are it it may not be more if you’re spending a lot of time in. Frustrating.
Ange: This sort of fun, it’s just getting into that mindset. It’s just changing the way you approach things. And once you’re into that mindset and you’ve changed our approach, as you said, it does become quite easy. And it’s just so much less hassle that there aren’t the behavioural issues, they’re just and they oh gosh, the things that they suddenly start to want to know about and explore and you know it, it’s it’s kind of like fascinating. It’s like, you know when you did that lovely programme where where you’re talking about your daughter going to trampolining and it’s very much attunement. You talk about in that in that programme where you’re know attuned to her that that that day could have ended so horribly but you turned it round so it became a fabulous day. And it’s the same with using Dr floor time and using a play approach to learning. It makes learning so much more fun, you know, and they want to learn, they want to do it. They they don’t want to have a hard time.
Danielle: And their enthusiasm is really contagious. Again in my experience as a parent that like once you are able to flip flip your perspective a little bit and start looking at what do they like, what’s the play based option here, what do they want to do? What do they want to learn. They’ll choose things to learn that are like so interesting and fast and at least my kids do that. I’m. I’m just like I would have never thought to teach you this. Right. But we can use this subject matter that you’re interested in to pull out all sorts of different you know subject matter or or you know even if we’re working on sort of what would be more traditional ISP goals. Right. Like fine motor skills or whatever. You can do that with their subject, their chosen subject and have so much so much success and so much less fighting. So yeah, that’s wonderful wonderful resources. Thank you so much. Would you be willing to tell folks where they can find out more about your? Books and. All the all the resources that you’ve produced over your strong career.
Ange: The the the book that we talked about today really is learning through play for Children with PMLD and Complex Needs, but it it’s actually, it supports all children who are Neurodivergent. I mean that was the publishers title, but it supports all children who are Neurodivergent. And that book, as well as and several other books that I’ve written are available on my website, as are my. I do YouTube videos to help parents and professionals understand certain therapies and technologies and so on. So that the YouTube videos are on that Channel as well my my website and that is Ange Anderson Therapeutic that’s all one word and Janderson Therapeutic dot co.uk and that’s got everything on there and links to all the other things as well.
Danielle: Thank you so much and I really appreciate you coming on.
Ange: Well, I’ve enjoyed it, and I’ve enjoyed listening to your programme, your podcasts as well.
Danielle: Thank you so much. Thank you so much for joining us on the Neuro Diverging Podcast today. I hope you learned as much from this episode as I was able to and has an amazing website with all of her books, a tonne of other podcast guests, appearances and articles she’s written all included. It’s a really great resource. If any of this spoke to you, I encourage you to go check it out. It’s that Ange Anderson therapeutic.co.uk. I’m going to spell her name real quick for you. It’s a Ng EE Ange and then Anderson Anderson therapeutic.co dot. UK It’s a great. Thank you so much to Anne for coming on. Thank you to the patrons for supporting this podcast. Remember that you can join us at. Patreon.com slash. Narrator Verging Access ad free versions of this podcast, Get lots of resources included and support our low income clients. And thank you so much for being here. Please remember we are all in this together.