Supporting SEND students: what you can do, not what you can’t

I’m Giselle Ruoss, a Careers Adviser with a passion for helping others see beyond their disabilities. My presentation, “My Life in Ten Pictures,” showcases some of my most action-packed moments: skydiving for charity, riding pillion on a superbike in Australia, experiencing a hot-air balloon flight over the Serengeti, and participating in a modeling shoot.

Through my initiative, Outside The Box Education, I aim to inspire individuals to succeed in education and employment. I offer tuition in various GCSE, A-level, and degree subjects, along with motivational speeches and diversity training. My academic journey includes a BA in English and Social Science, a Postgraduate Diploma in Primary Education, and current studies for a Master’s degree.

Living with cerebral palsy hasn’t defined me; instead, my positivity and determination do. I use an electric wheelchair and often joke about how long it would take me to write my Christmas cards.

 

Some of my adventures!

Becoming a Careers Adviser

My love for teaching and frequent inquiries about employment led me to become a Careers Adviser. “How you respond to any challenge depends on you and the support you’re given,” I often say. “If fifty people have the same experience, some will interpret it positively and some negatively. I can do a lot to help people view things positively.” My stubbornness, a trait from my parents, has been a key factor. They were advised to put me into care, but they didn’t. Their decision to treat me like any other child has driven me to be employed since I was 23.

Supporting SEND Students

I aim to encourage parents, teachers, and professionals to focus on the child, not the disability. My approach emphasises students’ abilities over their disabilities. This philosophy transforms traditional SEND education by looking at what students can do, not what they can’t.

“I grew tired of people focusing on what I couldn’t do when I was at school,” I recall. “SEND students face this all the time. It’s important to acknowledge and accommodate disabilities, but an approach of ‘what can you do?’ highlights a student’s abilities.”

Sympathetic Communication

Adaptability is crucial when working with students who have profound communication difficulties. I use creative methods like posters with “I CAN” in the middle, where students and I list or illustrate what they can do. This exercise helps identify career options or fulfilling activities based on their abilities.

Finding Your Why

Helping students find their passion is essential. Whether it’s gardening, IT, or photography, I encourage students to pursue what they love. For example, a non-verbal photographer friend who sells his photos is a powerful example for my students.

Students often achieve significant breakthroughs. One young man, who communicated by pointing to letters on a board, loved film. I suggested he upload his work to YouTube, and he was overwhelmed with the idea. He had always assumed he couldn’t have a purpose because he couldn’t speak. The possibility of having a YouTube channel gave him a new sense of purpose.

Seeing the Disability Without Tunnel Vision

It’s vital to acknowledge disabilities but not let them rule out possibilities. As I often say, “You need to see their disability; it can’t be ignored. But there’s no reason why a disability has to rule you out of everything.”

A Paradigm Shift in SEND Education

I believe that a positive approach to SEND careers guidance and education can change lives and challenge assumptions about what’s possible. Parents, carers, and teachers must reframe their thinking about SEND students. By focusing on abilities rather than limitations, we can create a more inclusive and empowering environment for all students.

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