Whilst recognising the importance of the academic curriculum, we take the view, supported by research, that academic achievement without appropriate social and emotional development leaves autistic children with a poor quality of life, as well as poor life chances.
At Bright Futures School we focus on the core difficulties that lie at the heart of autism. These include problems with rigid thinking, managing uncertainty and change, social interaction and understanding and managing emotions. These are often the difficulties that are at the root of distressed (challenging) behaviour.
Our activities involve academic learning but our first priority is to work on these 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®).
We acknowledge that autism is a developmental disorder. This means that autistic children have missed out on key communication and thinking milestones in the early stages of their development. We know that the more successful they are in mastering these milestones, the better their life chances in the years ahead.
In working with our pupils, usually 1:1 or in very small groups, we seek to replicate the special ‘guiding relationship’ that takes place between parent and child in the early years. The guiding relationship enables children to use their parents/caregivers as a point of reference to decide what to do in situations of uncertainty. At Bright Futures school, all our staff are training to become skilled ‘guides’, able to support pupils to master the developmental milestones that have been missed at the early stages of their development.
We use activities such as cooking, woodwork, building and making things as the vehicle for the guiding relationship, using invitational language, slowing down the pace of interactions, providing opportunities for competence, spotlighting success and ensuring both partners have competent and co-regulatory roles within the activity.
The ‘Our Priorities’ page of the school website www.brightfuturesschool.co.uk provides much more information about our approach to autism education.
Staff/guide – pupil interactions are filmed and key parts of the footage are then analysed by staff. Pupil (and staff) progress is thus monitored and supported by input from the Head of Development or from the school’s external RDI® Consultant. Their feedback supports on-going staff training. Most importantly, when the RDI Consultant reviewer sees evidence of mastery, the pupil moves on to the next appropriate.
It is through the processes described above that we seek to provide our pupils with the abilities that will enhance their ability to cope with the world of work; of independent living and the ability to make and sustain meaningful adult relationships.
Bright Futures School, November 2013