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Teaching children with profound learning disabilities about Breck’s story

Early in May I was invited to teach a PMLD class about online safety. PMLD stands for profound and multiple learning disabilities. These students will have a significant disability that affects their ability to communicate and be independent. The disabilities can affect the senses and movement or multiple areas.

So why teach a child with these disabilities online safety? Children like these deserve as much education on safety as any other child might. It might not be internet safety in literal terms – often it can be more to do with educating about the feelings and emotions that are attached to online safety.

This particular class I was teaching are being educated on the basic understanding of feelings and facial expressions. The actual ages of the six students range from 12-14. The cognitive age was much more lower at 1-3 years old.

To be able to educate this group, I had to strip back the book ‘This is Breck’. This story is targeted at children of 4+ but I needed to make it lower. I wanted the students to feel that they were friends with Breck and feel dislike for Lewis, and to grasp that Lewis had hurt Breck by lying. Tactile work for this seemed the best way to show good friendship and negative behaviour. To make a protective boundary between staff and pupil I needed a middle person. Enter the puppets. Puppets offer PMLD students a stimulus in recognising social codes and facial expressions. It also allowed me to interact with students in a tactile way showing positive and negative touch.

As mentioned in my earlier blogs music is powerful in creating a mood, and to help students express and understand feelings. I used the new ‘Songs for Breck’ singles to help support the story I was telling and get across the mood I wanted the students to feel.

I had pre-warned staff that this was going to be a different lesson from our usual drama sessions.

We began the lesson by being introduced to Breck. The puppet went round and said hello to the students and shook hands. One student within the class, Connor (not his real name), instantly took a liking to the Breck puppet, offering a very tight hug to Breck and staring at him and smiling. Staff very quickly noted that he was showing a great reaction to a new stimuli.

From this we mocked playing a video game with broken controllers, with a video of a car game playing on a screen. Students loved pushing the buttons and sensing the fun from the single ‘This is my World’. When we introduced Lewis, I changed the music to ‘My Game’ and Lewis (puppet version) refused to interact with the students as he went round. Connor began to frown at this new mean puppet and his staff noted a real change in his behaviour.

As I explained how Breck changed and behaved mean like Lewis, I had to change the interaction. Connor again reacted to the change of this puppet’s mood with frowns and concerned looks to his staff.

When it came to the point of Breck’s murder, I simply put the ‘What If’ single on and placed the Breck puppet away in a cupboard. Using basic signing I explained that Breck had been hurt and had died; that Lewis had hurt him and Breck wasn’t coming back. Connor’s face changed completely from his usual smiley character to clear sadness. Around the room many of the students’ postures, expressions and mood had changed. Whether this was because of the story, the music, or the reaction from their support staff, we will never know. However, there was clear evidence that a reaction had been felt by these students.

When speaking to staff after the lesson, they were very emotional about Connor and his reactions as they hadn’t seen this kind of interaction from him in most of his first year with them. One staff said, ‘Connor clearly felt something, he visibly changed and it was as if he was hurt by what had happened to Breck.’

This half-hour lesson has shown me how powerful this story is for so many, on different levels. The emotional side of the story is equal to the teaching of online safety in some cases. The combination of music, story and interaction had a powerful effect and changing effect.

‘This is Breck’ is available at the Breck Foundation Shop. ‘Songs for Breck’ is available on all streaming platforms.

If you would like a visit from me or to discuss how to use the SEN resources please do not hesitate to contact the Breck Foundation, who will

put you in touch with me.

Mark Harrington



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