The philosophy that informs our autism education practice at Bright Futures School emerged from a study into the feasibility of a parent led special school for children with autism/ Asperger’s syndrome that was completed in 2009.
The feasibility study identified research published by the National Autistic Society that focused on over 200 young adults who had a diagnosis of ‘Asperger’s syndrome’. All had relatively high IQ’s and good language skills. Some 50% of these bright individuals had gone on to higher education after secondary school. Yet, at the time of the study:
- Only 12% were employed, full or part-time
- Only 3% could live independently
- Over 65% had almost no social contact outside of their family
- <span”>None were married or involved in a significant emotional relationship
These are disappointing outcomes for ‘successful’ pupils. They help explain why at Bright Futures School our priority is to support the social and emotional development of children with autism. We take the view that the above research shows that academic achievement without appropriate social and emotional development leaves autistic children with a poor quality of life, as well as poor life chances. We therefore focus our attention on the core difficulties that lie at the heart of autism. These can include problems with rigid thinking, managing uncertainty and change, social interaction and understanding and managing emotions. These are the difficulties that are at the root of distressed (challenging) behaviour.
At Bright Futures our projects and activities involve academic learning but our first priority is to better equip our pupils for the adult world of social/emotional relationships, work and independence. We therefore seek to ameliorate the core difficulties rather than just compensating for or working around them. We achieve this by using the development of typical children as our model. Our approach is strongly influenced by the thinking and research behind Relationship Development Intervention (RDI®).
Our practice – what we do
Our philosophy and practice is strongly reflective of guidelines published 27 August 2013 by NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) on best practice in the management and support of children and young people on the autism spectrum.
NICE recommend that providers of services consider a specific social communication intervention for the core features of autism in children and young people that includes play based strategies with parents, carers and teachers to increase joint attention, engagement and reciprocal communication in the child or young person. NICE recommends that strategies should:
- Be adjusted to the child or young person’s developmental level
- Aim to increase the parents’, carers’, teachers’ or peers’ understanding of, and sensitivity and responsiveness to, the child or young person’s patterns of communication and interaction
- Include techniques of therapist modelling and video interaction feedback
- Include techniques to expand the child or young person’s communication, interactive play and social routines
NICE recommends that this intervention should be delivered by a trained professional. We have an appropriately trained professional at Bright Futures School – our full-time ‘Head of Development’, a qualified (RDI®) Consultant, who has a key role in working with pupils and in training and supporting school staff in their work with pupils at the school.
In working predominantly one-to-one with our pupils we – as NICE recommend – focus on joint attention, engagement and reciprocal communication. In engaging with our pupils we use ‘declaratives’ rather than imperatives such as the why?, when? or what? that are common currency in orthodox school settings, including special schools. We allow time and space for a thoughtful response rather than placing performance demands on pupils which often lead to rote, meaningless responses.
For learning in areas such as literacy and numeracy, pupils who have difficulty in responding to traditional teaching methods and workbooks may quite readily draft out an appeal for donations for the weekly session at the Oldham food bank, calculate and measure ingredients for a cookery activity or work out the costs of items required for their latest project.
It is the interaction between teacher (‘guide’) and pupil (apprentice) that is key to pupil’s personal developmen..the amelioration of the core features of their autism. A video camera is used to record some of these interactions. The resulting footage is used each week as an aid to on-the-job staff training with each teacher/guide selecting a ‘clip’ for analysis that is shared and discussed with the school’s Head of Development and, occasionally, with a wider staff group.
We also use video to capture patterns of problematic behaviour. Video is uploaded by staff onto an internet platform where, if appropriate, it can instantly be shared with a second RDI Consultant who is able to provide a valuable external perspective on any one of our pupils.
Staff carefully build trusting relationships with pupils, finding opportunities during carefully planned joint activities to enable pupils to have experiences of competence. This increases pupils’ motivation to engage in learning and as a result, all pupils are now consistently achieving school attendance of 90%+. We have video footage that shows pupils’ progress in mastering some of the developmental milestones that lay the foundations for success in the adult world of social/emotional relationships, work and independence.
This high level of staff input, delivered mainly 1:1, at is why, in the ‘standard offer’ that follows, we identify at least 66% of all provision for each individual pupil delivered 1:1 (or 2:2 if undertaking a shared activity).
The following are features of our ‘standard offer’.
Each individual pupil will:
- As a full-time pupil, attend school each day with school hours of 9am to 3pm.
- Be provided with their personal timetable – tailored to their needs and interests.
- Be provided with their personal workstation, and ‘desk-top’ resources including laptop and access to iPad.
- Have the opportunity for academic learning across the National Curriculum areas of Literacy, Numeracy, Science, Humanities, PSHE and ICT
- Receive at least 66% of all timetabled provision delivered 1:1 (or 2:2) by appropriately qualified, experienced and skilled teaching staff.
- Receive regular ‘guiding’ input within some of the 1-1 sessions that target mastery of key developmental milestones.
- Be active during the week in a number of different locations within school and off site. This will include the opportunity for weekly swimming and other PE activity. Also, the opportunity for activities at our offsite farm and garden locations.
- Be provided with an Action Plan which is regularly reviewed and updated. The AP will identify targets related to (a) academic attainment and (b) social and emotional development.
- Benefit from external oversight and input from a named Education Psychologist under contract with Oldham Education and Child Psychology Service
- Have progress reviewed annually when pupil, parents, school staff and external professionals will take account of the objectives identified in the pupil’s Statement of SEN and of progress in addressing these.
Academic progress of each pupil will be measured by in-house assessment related to national curriculum literacy and numeracy targets. There will also be an externally provided annual measure of age related literacy and numeracy attainment.
ASDAN provides opportunities for qualifications that also serve as measures of attainment. B Squared provides on-going step-by-step target setting and assessment.
Progress related to social and emotional development of each pupil is measured by video recorded interactions (externally assessed) supported by annual completion of the Social Responsiveness Scale and VABS (Vineland Adaptive Behaviour Scale) by parents and staff, externally validated.