My Name is Linda Horn. I’m a Swiss Student living near the Lake of Constance.
I’m studying at a Teacher Training College at the moment. It’s very important to be fluent in English and so I decided to spend my summer holidays in England.
I’ve always had an interest in children with special needs and I’ve worked with a handicapped boy in Switzerland for several years. Before I came to England I didn’t know a lot about autism and I had no idea what to expect, although I informed myself on the world-wide web and also read some books beforehand but it was totally different when I was there.
Through relatives in England I was able to organise the work placement at Fullerton House School, an institution which is run by the Hesley Group. Fullerton House School organised my stay with a British family living in Denaby while I was working at the School. I was very happy to stay with a family because this gave me the opportunity to learn something about British culture and to practise my English speaking skills. The McSeveney family was very open and I felt like a member of the family from the first moment. They really took care about me and prepared good meals, showed me the English pub culture and showed me a lot about their life. I was very pleased to stay with them and would like to thank them for everything.
Learning to interact
I remember my first day at the School very well. It was a very special moment because I’d never been in touch with children with severe learning difficulties and autism before. I had difficulties knowing how to interact with the young people at first. I was overwhelmed with how differently they experience the world and how different it is from my own experiences.
I had to learn a lot about the way they interact with people. It appeared strange to me that all the doors had to be kept closed all the time, and that almost every student had staff who were responsible for them. It was all different for me because the children looked different from normal children, and some of them were able to speak while some of them weren’t. Some of them couldn’t walk and they had their own facial expressions.
I tried to interact with them and I learnt fast that I had to change my own behaviour so that they could understand me. I think I have learnt to be open-minded and to face the fact that these people showed me a lot about myself. It was a very big challenge for me and sometimes I felt very sad, especially at the beginning. But with time, I really came to like the young students just as they were.
My way of handling the new situation was to ask questions. I asked the care staff and teachers a lot about how to respond. I had also to learn to control my fear because that was my first reaction. I guess now that it’s normal to have respect in the face of new situations.
I was very happy that all the teachers and care staff really helped me a lot and always supported me. They explained a lot about autism and learning difficulties to me and showed me how to react. I talked a lot with the teachers about how they deal with difficult situations. I read a book during my time in England and I think now that I’m back home I realise how important this experience is for me as a teacher, as there are tendencies in Switzerland to integrate people with special needs into the regular classes. These are new challenges for teachers and I think it is important to have a variety of experiences and to get to know people who experience the world differently. I’ve also learnt that it’s not for me to judge what’s normal.
Fullerton House School has about six classes; each class has about six students. The students have all the subjects as in a normal school, as they learn a lot by experience through their own actions, such as dancing or colouring. Some of them learn to write, read and calculate. Their speed of learning is in their own hands. There is no pressure to achieve in this school, which in my opinion gives incentive to really take time with each student. In this respect, there is a tremendous difference between Fullerton House School and regular school classes in Switzerland for normal kids. There is so much pressure in Switzerland, and achievement is all that counts.
I worked in the different classes and helped wherever there was something to do.
I helped with the laminating and I also worked with the kids, while they did some colouring, cutting and other works. I also accompanied the class in the dancing lessons and the sports lessons. Sometimes I was responsible for a student. That was very interesting for me, and as the time went on, I knew the names of all the students and I think they also knew me. I was more self-confident and I knew how to interact with the students after some weeks.
Normally I worked in the classroom with the teachers like a teaching assistant. During the School holidays I worked in the different houses, where the students live when they’re not in the School. I did cleaning in the houses, helped with the laundry, cooking and all the other housework. I played jigsaws with the kids or went out for a walk to Conisborough. I could also accompany the students on trips to the sea or we went to visit Sherwood Forest. I sometimes felt a bit bored because there was not a lot to do in the houses and once I’d done all the housework there was not a lot to do. I sometimes had the impression that the students also felt a bit bored because they didn’t have a lot of exercise.
One unforgettable experience was the camping trip with some students. We spent a night sleeping in the tents and I was so happy to see how excited the students were. They were very actively involved when we did a show-jumping course with some obstacles, and in another exercise we tried to identify some points on a map.
Through my whole time working there I really had the impression that Fullerton House School tried to enable the young students to be young students and to do things as far as possible as “normal” kids would do. I was very impressed that they organised a lot of activities for the students, such as the end of term party and other events.
On the other hand there were also things which really made me feel sad. During the three months I spent there I experienced sad moments with the students. I could witness how students went through difficult times with their illnesses. And I think that to work with kids like this it is very challenging and you have more things which are sad than ones which make you laugh.
However, I felt so much respect for the entire staff – teachers, teaching assistants, care staff and all the other people working there. I think that they all do a great job and I want to thank them all for making this experience possible for me.