Eighteen professionals from Special Schools across the U.K. attended Helen’s talk in the morning at the NASS (National Association of Special Schools) Conference in Brighton, and a similar number in the afternoon. Those attending the talk included senior managers from a variety of schools specializing in Autism, SEMH and MLDs as well as physical disabilities. Linking with Helen’s work on the Incubator project, the opening discussion focused on challenges currently experienced by practitioners. Schools attended by students with a range of ethnicities mean that there are a variety of different beliefs and values of the families which must, of course, be factored in when teaching about RSE (Relationships and Sex Education). Parents who are understandably nervous about tackling sensitive issues at home, matching more traditional Functional Skills teaching with lessons about emotions and feelings, and teachers who aren’t always sure where to pitch the content of the lesson given the wide range of learning needs that often exist in one class – all of these issues were raised by members of the group. Helen gave practical guidance supported by theory, which was the perfect balance, and very relevant for this audience. Illustrated with her unique resources – the anatomically correct dolls, the Drama Circle, the vibrating snake and the film clips – Helen’s talk addressed a range of difficult topics within RSE for young people with severe and complex needs. These included masturbation, menstruation, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ touch, terminology, staff training and intimate relationships. Questions raised by the group were thought provoking. How do we ensure safeguarding when staff are involved in delivering these lessons? How do we check understanding of these abstract concepts in our students? Working with parents was a key aspect of Helen’s talk as she explained the work that she and her colleagues do to support and guide parents through the ‘unchartered territory’ of raising an adolescent who has severe and complex needs.
Covering how to teach about the physical and the emotional aspects of sex and relationships, Helen engaged her professional audience throughout, leading animated discussions that were a learning experience for all of those involved.