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Supporting children with autism and special needs – The School Edition

By March 9, 2017 December 31st, 2018 No Comments

Effective partnership between schools, families and other professionals

The partnership between schools,
families and other professionals (particularly the ABA therapy programme
supervisor) is very important especially when it involves helping a child with
special needs, in particular, autism, to transition to a new learning
environment. In order to have a fruitful partnership, schools and families are
encouraged to have regular communication so that a better understanding of the
child’s needs are formed, thus providing better support. Having regular updates
from the school, the family and other professionals will help ensure everyone
has a consistent and comprehensive support plan to maximize a child’s opportunity
to progress.

THE
INITIAL MEETING:

To begin with, prior to child’s enrolment, an initial meeting
should be set up between the school, the family and if
necessary, other professionals (for example, the child’s EAP Supervisor who
oversees his or her ABA intervention programme). Below are three main areas of
discussion that should be included in an initial meeting:

  1. Child’s background information

Parents need
to inform and communicate to the school regarding their child’s diagnosis and disabilities. This is to ensure that everyone
has a better understanding of the child’s abilities, behaviour and current skills.

This
information needs to be thorough and needs to include dietary, toileting and sensory needs as well.

Included
in this meeting will be a discussion of the child’s
strengths and challenges
. Through recognizing the child’s strengths and challenges,
the school and family can better support the child appropriate to his or her
level of ability.

Skills that the child has already
learned:
It is
important to follow up on the skills set that the child has mastered in the
home therapy with families and other professionals. For example, if the child
is able to communicate functionally and respond to instructions at home, the
child should be able to do the same in school. If the child is unable to demonstrate
these skills at school, the child is likely struggling to generalize the skills
and will need specific broken down strategies to assist with generalization.

  1. General
    recommendations for a successful transition to school

It is important to share the strategies that have worked
for the child in therapy and to encourage the school to implement a similar
strategy in order to provide continuity for the child. This includes in
particular a specific behaviour plan as well.

During the initial meeting, critical support strategies can be decided,
specifically when it comes to:

a. The
requirement for a transition shadow/personal learning assistant

We typically recommend a gradual transition for a
child with autism into school and thus the Shadow/PLA plays a vital role in
this transition. For continuity and the child’s overall progress, the
PLA/Shadow may also work with the child in the home setting depending on the
programme the child is on. (Note: It is
vital that this Shadow/PLA has been screened thoroughly, trained and provided
ongoing supervision. At EAP, our Shadows/PLAS are hired through a thorough
3-level Screening Process and receive thorough initial training at EAP before
working solo with a child. All EAP staff receive continuous training in ABA as
well as school shadowing. Ongoing weekly supervision is also given to the EAP
PLA/Shadow.)

The Shadow/PLA’s responsibilities include:

  • To implement a
    support plan for the child based on the EAP Supervisor’s recommendations.
  • Maintain communication between home, school and the
    child’s team (through regular data taking and during fortnightly team meetings
    at home)
  • To update EAP Supervisor on a weekly basis on the
    child’s progress, the effectiveness of recommended strategies and new
    challenging behaviors in school.
  • Provide information to the home therapy staff
    (through observation and note taking) regarding difficulties to address at
    home.
  • Fade and eliminate the transition shadow when
    mutually agreed upon by school staff, parents and home therapy program.

b. Gradual
transition into school

One of
the key principles of the ABA approach is to break complex skills down and to
start where a child is successful. This needs to be applied to transitioning to
school as well. Rather than throwing a child into the deep end (in this case a
full day at school), we could start the child off with a shorter day and just a
few days a week initially. Gradually this would build up to longer days and
then eventually every day as well. It is important to remember that school has
its own sets of challenges, for example, the size of the class, the noise, the
numerous transitions, the expectations as well as the lessons.

c. Having a trial class for child

During the
trial class, we would recommend that the Special Education Coordinator uses a standardized
checklist to note down the areas that child is successful in and the areas that
he/she needs support in. These areas should then be discussed during the child’s
Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting.

d. Dropping
certain subjects

In the
initial meeting, as the weekly timetable and subjects are discussed, there may
arise the need to pull the child out of certain classes that are irrelevant or
too demanding. Again, the principle of keeping the child successful and for the
child to have a meaningful schooling experience.

e. The requirement
to modify the curriculum

It is
important to discuss how the lessons will be taught and if the lessons need to
be simplified. This can be done by the school’s learning support team or by the
EAP Supervisor.

  1. School
    Policies

Lastly, to have an
effective partnership, it is important to check in with the school on their school
policies. For example reinforcement, some schools have daily Golden Time, some
schools have a policy that the students are not allowed to bring toys/rewards
from school, but depending on the child’s needs, reinforcement is key in a
successful transition, we would suggest using natural reinforcement such as a
break or to get to choose a favourite play activity. Other important policies
are on child safety, bullying as well as behaviour management (e.g. we may try
to extinct and redirect a behaviour but the classroom teacher may have a timeout
corner).

DEVELOPING
THE IEP:

The IEP meeting enables the school,
parents and other professionals to work together to develop an IEP based on the
collective information from each party. It is important to set goals for the
child so that all parties involved are able to have a clear picture and to
implement the right strategies to help the child to achieve the goals. Reports
from parents and other professionals as well as evaluations on the assessments
provide the areas that need to be focus for the child. The IEP goals must also
include measurable term-based goals that describe what the child is expected to
achieve.

At EAP, there are 7 areas of focus
for each of our children’s school support plan:

  1. Following
    rules and routines
  2. Functional
    communication
  3. Responding
    to group instructions
  4. The
    ability to regulate behaviours
  5. The
    ability to be independent
  6. The
    ability to learn new skills in a group setting
  7. Social
    Skills and Social Interaction

Once the IEP is developed in these areas, consistent strategies can be implemented
at school as well as at home to help support the child learn as quickly as
possible. It is important to remember that it will take our children with
special needs a lot longer to learn basic concepts and the regular coaching and
practice in a 1:1 setting at home will certainly quicken and strengthen the
child’s grasp of new skills.

ONGOING SUPPORT:

It is important to note that because
the requirements and needs of a child with autism/special needs is so high, frequent
monitoring of the child’s progress is critical to the child’s treatment plan.
This information needs to be from all parties. The regular communication of
progress ensures we are moving a child along and making the necessary
adaptations. At EAP, we monitor each child’s progress daily and have regular
weekly, fortnightly and bimonthly reviews as well.

  1. Regular
    Monitoring of Progress by Shadow/PLA
    : Keeping track of the child’s
    progress daily is important to ensure that the needs are met and is moving
    towards the goals set specifically for the child. This ties in closely with the
    objectives set in the IEP. The EAP Supervisor in collaboration with the school
    and the family will set goals that the Shadow/PLA will note down. These daily
    data sheets help communicate to the family and the home team on different areas
    to focus and practice on in the evenings.
  2. Monthly school observations are typically
    scheduled by our EAP Supervisor in order to observe our child in their natural
    school setting and to tweak the support plan accordingly.
  3. Following this, a monthly school meeting with
    parents and the EAP Supervisor should be held to discuss the child’s progress. During
    this time we will be able to follow up more frequently about areas of challenge
    as well as new strategies to be implemented in the school as well as in the
    home.

ADDITIONALLY
FOR SCHOOLS:

We also suggest that schools host
regular Awareness and Acceptance
Campaigns on Autism
as well as other needs in order to create a culture of
acceptance in schools. This greatly helps other children become more
compassionate and tolerant of differences in their classmates as well as learn
to be more helpful and kind as well. This will greatly help our children with
autism and other special needs transition into school and feel accepted. Since
2016, EAP launched our Autism Awareness and Acceptance Campaign with the
tagline #lovesomeonewithautism. This year we will be focusing on
#kindnessstartswithme.

In closing, we hope that as a
society, we will demonstrate greater acceptance and support for the families
who have to cope with challenges of having a child with autism or other special
needs. While it may seem that it requires more effort to work collaboratively,
the benefits of the effective partnership will have such a significant impact
on the child’s overall long term progress that it is absolutely worth the
investment of our time.

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