Paris Tavares began working with children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEN/D) back in 2012 on a school work experience placement at St Martin’s School. After falling in love with teaching, specifically to children with additional needs, she went on to work in various roles involving children with SEN/D and with many professionals such as occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and physiotherapists.

In 2017 Paris began a degree in Special Educational Needs and Disability Studies at the University of Suffolk. She transferred to The Open University and recently completed her degree in SEN/D mixed with Childhood Studies. Paris has also recently started her PGCE in Primary Teaching with specialism in SEN. An inspiring young lady raising awareness and fighting for inclusivity for those with SEN/D, Paris speaks to The Gibraltar Magazine.

“Harsh comments in these situations stem from a lack of understanding”

What made you decide to further your career in SEN/D specifically? (Are there any particular experiences that have stood out for you?)

From a young age I knew I wanted to work with children, specifically children with additional needs. After a work experience placement at St Martin’s School in 2012 I fell in love with teaching. Since then I’ve worked on gaining knowledge and experience to help me push children who need more support to their full potential. I have had many experiences that have influenced me, but to cut them down I’ll talk about three:

– First, I did a one-month school holiday work placement with the Occupational Therapists (OTs) at St Bernard’s Hospital – this has to be the experience that taught me the most. I assisted the Paediatric OTs during group therapy sessions, and amongst other things learnt about using Lego Therapy as a way to promote social communication. I also assisted other OTs with home visits, and group therapy sessions for older patients who had suffered a stroke, plus many more opportunities. This gave me the chance to understand the different therapies and methods being used with children, and how therapies can be used to promote independence outside of the therapy room.

– Second, I was a leader in the Guardian Angel Foundation After School Programme and as a part of a group of five leaders, we planned after school activities for children who attended St Martin’s School. This programme was the first time I was able to take a lead in planning activities and adapting and differentiating them to the specific needs of individual children. This included activities from sports games to messy sensory play.

– Third, this past year whilst finishing my degree, I have worked as a full-time child-minder for a four-year-old who has Autism. Working within a family unit has given me a huge insight into the family dynamics of a child with SEN/D, and working one-on-one I was able to work more intensely on increasing forms of communication with Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS) and Makaton Signing.

You said the public can be naïve about some aspects of SEN/D – can you elaborate?

The public can be naive because we are not generally taught anything about disabilities and their impact either in school or in general life. During lockdown I found some parents of children with SEN/D were getting unwelcome and unnecessary comments about why they were taking their children out. This may have been a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder who needed time outside the home to burn off excess energy, or a child with autism who needed to maintain the same routine to avoid excess anxiety. Harsh comments in these situations stem from a lack of understanding of what life is like for people and children with SEN/D.

“Don’t assume they need help; ask the question.”

Have you found this to be the case in Gibraltar too? What could/should we do more of here? What tools do we need?

There are many things people in Gibraltar can do, but I think education is at the heart of this. Not everyone is going to choose to study SEN/D, but I do think everyone should have access to information and a basic understanding of SEN/D, and information such as the correct language and terms to use and how we can all make small changes to make help make our society a more accessible place to live can make a huge difference to people’s lives. Websites such as scope.org.uk offer great information, and I will also be updating my Instagram and Facebook pages frequently with facts, figures and important information about how to treat people with SEN/D.

What led to the creation of your Instagram account, and what has the response been like?

I started the Instagram                (@send.awareness) and Facebook (facebook.com/send.awareness) accounts in May 2020. They were born out of a certain amount of frustration with how people with SEN/D are misunderstood and often treated inappropriately, and how small changes in our attitudes and approach towards them can make such a huge difference to their quality of life. Social media channels can be incredible educational tools, so I thought I’d use this to help inform and educate people about SEN/D. Since I was approaching the end of my degree, it felt like the right time for me to begin something new. I aim to create posts that contain bite-sized pieces of information to help people learn bit by bit. I’ve received an amazing response from the public so far, with over 900 followers on Instagram and more than 650 on Facebook. I hope my page will give the public a go-to place to learn about SEN/D, as well as a safe place to ask questions and be pointed in the right direction.

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