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Each child is loved by someone

05 June 2015

Dennis Richards reviews books about Asperger's, sport, money - and sheep

ASPERGER syndrome is named after Hans Asperger (1906-80), an Austrian paediatrician who identified a group of adults and children who had problems in the areas of social interaction and communication, and had sensory and adaptation issues. So says The Essential Manual for Asperger Syndrome in the Classroom, by Kathy Hoopmann (Jessica Kingsley, £14.99 ( CT Bookshop £13.50)).

Psychological research has given us far greater insight into the syndrome in recent years. That being so, currently up to one in 80 children is now diagnosed as having Asperger syndrome. Thirty years ago, we had barely heard of it. Consequently, all teachers will, at some stage in their careers, come across such children. 

Full marks, then, to Kathy Hoopmann. She has written a book that teachers, whom she winningly describes as "time-poor", will hugely appreciate. It is packed with information, giving jargon-free explanations why children with Asperger syndrome react as they do. 

The opening pages are invaluable. The "issue sorter" pages allow the reader to look through a list of up to 60 situations where school problems may occur. There is much to learn from this volume, and we should not be too proud to learn it.

Although I must have taught scores of children on the autistic-spectrum disorder scale, of which Asperger syndrome is a part, I did not know that Asperger children are highly likely to suffer from some kind of sensory disorder. Hoopmann lectures us a bit, but in a way that shows how much the subject matters to her.

"Never forget that you are teaching a child who is loved by someone. Read that sentence again," she instructs us. The best moments come when, suddenly, the penny drops, and we start to recognise children we have taught - their pattern of behaviour, and a rational explanation. Brilliant.

Since Asperger children do not find the social mores of a game of football easy, they are unlikely to be impressed by What Makes a Winner?, by Chris Hudson et al. (Barnabas in Schools, £6.99 (£6.30)). This is a revised version of an older publication with additional material. Five famous sportsmen and women, including a Paralympian, enable the author to focus on his three themes: discipline, dedication, and determination.

As with life, there are rules to follow, and there are other people around who are watching either to support and be helpful, or to make life difficult. As is usually the case with Barnabas in Schools publications, the focus is on storytelling with clear biblical links, and a resolve to do as much of the lesson-planning for teachers as possible. There are a couple of assemblies thrown in, too; so teachers will especially value it.

Another Barnabas in Schools production, hot off the press, has struck a topical note. Valuing Money, by Chris Hudson(£9.99 (£9)),tackles the subject of our attitudes to money head on.

It is curious how the subject that dominates political debate, and much of our thinking at home, rarely features in schools. It is almost "the elephant in the room". Economics at A level exists as an academic study, but there is little in relation to the ethical questions relating to hard cash. Having a great deal of it is assumed to be the good life; being hard up is not so good. Hudson's volume, aimed at Key Stages in primary schools, will set the standard for years to come. 

Financial education is the name of the game here, with a subtle message that most maths money-problems usually involve spending money, and only very rarely involve giving it away. It is almost as if there is something dangerous or slightly "iffy" about being generous with money. It is easier to talk about something else. 

As with the previous volume, each unit includes a story, a biblical context, an RE lesson, and pointers to how the same context can be used in both literacy and numeracy. The ten units in the book, therefore, will provide a year's financial education in an innovative and interesting way.

It won't be easy. From the time of Jesus onwards, we have been left in no doubt that meeting his standards on this one provides the biggest challenge of them all.

Regular readers will have spotted the endless search for good assembly material. As assemblies are not going to disappear any time soon, a good story is like gold dust. The Very Best Sheepdog, by Pinny Grylls (Pavilion Children's Books, £5.99 (£5.40)), is one of those word-of-mouth successes: a book that, after a slow start, suddenly starts to move up the bestseller lists. 

Ben is a sheepdog with high-flying, championship-winning parents. Ben, however, is a hopeless sheepdog, and his self-esteem is at rock bottom. Redemption comes through an unlikely friendship, and by being generous of heart and will. A numpty becomes a hero. The children will love it. Alleluia.

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