Looking into the void.. or How to survive 7 weeks of school holidays when it isn't really summer..with Autism
My kids attend an Evidence Based School which for the last 10 years has been privately managed and partially funded by charitible contributions. This last 12 months, the Department of Education and Skills finally "recognised' the school in order to fully fund it and give our staff some security.
Unfortunately the deal involved compromise and now instead of a time-table that suited the pupils, the school year is mandated by the Teacher's Unions.
So this July, instead of 5 weeks of standard education with an emphasis on social skills and integration we only get 2 weeks of excursions and jollies.
That leaves us with a long Summer to fill...
I know I sound a bit cross about this. But when you go from a place where the entire school system revolved around the needs of the individuals with autism, to something resembling the place we waited years to leave (their previous school) it just breaks your heart.
And yes we do get to apply for our additional 2 weeks mandated July Provision; but of course the department's preference is for a Primary Teacher registered with the Teaching Council, even though they have never even met ours or any special needs children.
And if you are reading this outside of Ireland, you may be shocked to learn that there is no requirement for a special education teaching qualification to be a teacher in a special needs school.
There are MANY excellent teachers in this country who choose to teach in Special Classes and are great at it. But they do it without specific recognition, and in fact many would be judged by mainstream colleagues as having taken a "time out" from "proper teaching"!
(my son really benefited from one of these teachers this year and I'm grateful)
And they have their place in Evidence Based Education, they just need to be trained and qualified in teaching our way; the way that our children learn because we know it works.
Now, to help Gracie cope with the 7 weeks of no school structure, I decided to prepare properly for once and establish a weekly schedule for her. Her Montessori trained Home Support teacher is going to come up with some daily educational and social activities to support Grace's development, while continuing to support her personal care and life skills - using the Task Analysis created by the Behavioural Support Team in her IEP. (see previous post on that) Montessori Angel has been a part of Gracie's development all year and knows exactly what she is doing.
I ordered this fantastic Wall Chart from Therapics - yes, another Special Needs Mum-entreprenuer who set up her business in response to the needs of her own child. Phillipa specialises in graphic design and creates hard copy visual supports for children with Autism. You can see it maps out the days of the week, with a moveable frame to show what day it is today. There are 3 sections in each day to imput with activity cards.
The kit comes with instructions for use and 3 A4 pages of ready made, laminated schedule cards to suit all occasions such as Christmas, St Patricks Day, going to Church, Horseriding, swimming and even visits to Grand-parents.
However, as Gracie uses a lot of photographs in her Communication App, I decided to use the same photos to make this new chart look familiar. This is called "pairing" where you take something the person is used to, and bring it over to help them understand something new.
I made the picture cards straight from her iPhone using the PicCard Maker App which sends the sheet straight to your email, where you can print it. Get it from www.picturecardmaker.com
This may sound crazy coming from someone who makes their living from a digital communication App but there are some times when only a hard copy visual support chart will do. I would never use Gracie's App to tell her what to do anyway. And when a schedule is NOT negotiable - it is best to have it in a format that you are in charge of. Because no matter how many times Gracie requests school - they are not going to re-open it for her until the 31st August. (Gracie really loves her school)
So I would rather have her using a small paper card when she is getting upset about that one, rather than a €500 iPad!
There will be a degree of choice as Montessori Angel will allow her to decide what order they do things in. But the goal of the exercise is to show her a week ahead, what each day is going to look like. It removes the anxiety of the unknown and helps her prepare for the change.
UPDATED: Phillipa has kindly given me a full Weekly Schedule Kit including all the laminated pictures and some question prompts to give away. So lets do this as a comment and share. Go to the Facebook page for Therapics: www.facebook.com/therapics and like it. Come back here and leave a nice comment and at the end of the week, say Tuesday 10th; I will draw one of you out of a hat to win the kit.