Structure provides stability, predictability and security. For many of our students these are crucial elements to ensuring they are ready and able to learn. The way in which students’ days are structured and organised depends on their individual needs. This can be done through areas such as timetabling, rewards, exercise, schedules, reflection, curriculum support and intervention.
Students all have individual structured timetables that can be presented in different formats. This enables each student to identify what to expect during the day and to help them become more organised.
Movement and sensory breaks happen throughout the school day. We believe that exercise is a key factor in increased attention and concentration and also contributes to an individual’s health and well-being.
Students take part in circle times. This gives them an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings about the day, greet each other and prepare them for the day ahead. It provides an opportunity to play some interactive games and teach social skills.
Planned transition times are an important part of our teaching. We explicitly teach all our students how to manage these times and how to prepare for change, including planned and unplanned changes.
Our students have access to a highly specialised learning environment specifically designed to meet the needs of students whose autism impacts considerably on their communication and learning needs. We promote a low arousal environment that facilitates a total communication approach to enable our students to predict and manage their day.
As a result, our students are able to predict what is happening, communicate their needs and interact with others, so developing and building on independent learning and problem-solving strategies.
Personalised Approach to Learning
Students have a personal profile that highlights individual strengths and areas of need. The profiles provide information on teaching and learning styles, strategies and responses. The profiles are shared between all staff so there is continuity and consistency.
Strong emphasis is placed on working with parents, carers and families. Targets and strategies are encouraged to be worked on outside of school. Parents and carers are supported to do this via home visits and training.
Every child has a Personalised Learning Plan (PLP). The targets are reviewed and set by our teachers, multidisciplinary team and professionals in collaboration with families and where possible, students. Targets reflect small steps; they are measurable, achievable, and realistic and identify a timescale (known as SMART targets). The PLP and student progress is reviewed each term and families are invited to a discussion following this. It is important that this is a shared process and targets that are being worked on in school can also be addressed in the home environment.
The annual review meeting is a statutory obligation for all children with an Educational Health Care Plan (EHCP). We run the annual review meeting in the style of a person-centred plan. Focus is child-centred and takes into account the views of the child and those involved with the child with focus on recognising areas of strength, difficulty, and importance.
Teaching and Learning Methods
At The Grove we apply a variety of teaching methods to suit students’ different learning styles. Some of our students benefit from multi-sensory approaches to accommodate their kinaesthetic and visual learning styles. Tasks and activities are broken down into manageable chunks to help students with organisation and sequencing skills.
Attention Autism is an intervention model designed by Gina Davies, Specialist Speech and Language Therapist, which we adopt as part of our specialised teaching and learning. It aims to develop natural and spontaneous communication through the use of visually-based and highly motivating activities. The aims of Attention Autism are to foster student engagement and develop their capacity to share and extend their attention.
Stages of Attention Autism
The Attention Autism programme progresses through a series of stages, building on each skill level.
Stage 1 Aims: To Focus Joint Attention
Focus attention on the adult-led agenda for 4–5 minutes
Engage attention and enthusiasm
Relax and enjoy this time to anticipate shared good times
Stage 2 Aims: The Attention Builder
Sustain focus throughout an activity led by an adult, from the start to the end in a group, for 5–8 minutes
Develop communication through non-verbal means and body language
Develop understanding in context
Build expressive opportunities in social contexts
Stage 3 Aims: Shift Attention
Shift attention to your own participation and then back to the group
Engage focused attention for at least 10 minutes
Stage 4 Aims: Shifting & Re-engaging Attention
Attend and sustain focus, experience a transition in focus and then re-sustain focus again, for 20 minutes
Structured teaching via the TEACCH method was developed by Professor Eric Schopler and many of his colleagues at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The TEACCH method provides the child with structure and organisation which supports the difficulties many of our learners have with receptive and expressive language, sequential memory, and coping with changes in their environment. This approach is based on five basic principles which we adopt primarily to assist understanding the environment. The techniques are not faded out over time; they are consistently used across a variety of environments and settings.
Physical boundaries are clearly defined supporting students to predict and access the environment. We make the environment predictable through clearly demarcated areas and structure, this supports students to be more independent and develop a sense of calm and predictability. Classes can be arranged differently depending on the needs of the students, all classes have independent work stations where a student can work in a calm and predictable place if they require. At all opportunities, students are encouraged to experience a range of learning skills such as working independently and as part of a group.
Our students have access to schedules and planners that help them predict what is happening in present time and what will be happening in the future. These can be unique to a student and maybe through symbols, pictures, words or any method unique to them.
A work system supports a student through enabling them to understand what is expected during an activity, how much is supposed to be accomplished, and what happens after the activity is completed. This enables the student to work independently and feel a sense of accomplishment.
Students have very predictable routines which are guided by the schedules, planners and work systems. These are implemented and can be used and generalised across the students’ day and within multiple environments.
Visual structure refers to visually-based cues regarding organisation, clarification, and instructions to assist the child in understanding what is expected. These might involve clearly labelled classrooms, visual supports or communication walls. Additional supports are implemented for individual students depending on their level of need.
The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
PECS is a functional communication system that develops important communication and social skills.
It is appropriate for people of all ages with a wide range of learning difficulties. PECS can be used anywhere and at any time when someone communicates.
There are six phases of PECS:
Phase I – How to Communicate
Students learn to exchange single pictures for items or activities they really want.
Phase II – Distance and Persistence
Still using single pictures, students learn to generalise this new skill by using it in different places, with different people and across distances. They are also taught to be more persistent communicators.
Phase III – Picture Discrimination
Students learn to select from two or more pictures to ask for their favourite things. These are placed in a communication book – a ring binder with Velcro® strips allowing pictures to be stored and easily removed for communication.
Phase IV− Sentence Structure
Students learn to construct simple sentences on a detachable sentence strip using an ‘I want’ picture followed by a picture of the item being requested.
Phase V – Answering Questions
Students learn to use PECS to answer the question, ‘What do you want?’
Phase VI – Commenting
Students are taught to comment in response to questions like ‘What do you see?’, ‘What do you hear?’, ‘What is it?’, etc. They learn to make up sentences starting with ‘I see’, ‘I hear’, ‘I feel’, ‘It is a’, etc.
Attributes and Language Expansion
Students learn to expand their sentences by adding adjectives, verbs, prepositions, etc.
Social stories were created by Carol Gray in 1991 to help teach social skills to people on the autistic spectrum. They are short descriptions of a particular situation, event or activity, which include specific information to the reader on what to expect in a given situation, enabling the person to have a greater understanding of what to expect or how to adapt their response.
Social stories have a huge range of applications, which include:
- developing personal skills
- helping to understand how others might behave or respond in a particular situation, and therefore how they might be expected to behave
- supporting changes to routine and unexpected or distressing events
- providing positive feedback to a person about an area of strength or achievement in order to develop self-esteem
- supporting the understanding of how to manage an emotion or behaviour.
Positive Behaviour and Rewards
We believe that positive behaviour is important for effective learning to take place. Emphasis is placed on teaching students how to regulate their emotional and behaviour responses. We apply a variety of strategies and always teach in the context of positive behaviour support. We ensure that the environment is safe and supports our students’ individual needs.
We use reward merit systems to keep children motivated and help them take responsibility and ownership for their learning. In all cases, we ensure rewards are individual and meaningful and are matched to student’s interests, so providing motivation for achievement.
Emphasis is on praising positive behaviours, attitudes and efforts. This helps students become more aware of the value of making a positive contribution to their school and wider community. Students’ achievements are recognised through praise, merits and the weekly achievement assembly where they are presented with certificates and awards.
Our approach and philosophy is reflected in the school’s behaviour policy which is consistently applied by all staff and visiting professionals who work in school. The work of our family support team supports positive behaviour at home and we work closely with families to implement consistent strategies between home and school through training, face to face support and home visits.