A new approach to Functional Curricula in St Paul’s Service

by Aoife Martin, Educational Psychologist, St Paul’s Service

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St Paul’s is an autism service for children aged between four and eighteen. Located in Beaumont, Dublin, the service comprises a hospital (under the auspices of the Mater Hospital), a special national school and three community houses. Two of these houses are dedicated to respite services and the third house functions as a community house through which the majority of these new functional programmes are operated.

The teaching of functional skills to people with intellectual disabilities is not new. The majority of students in St Paul’s have a significant intellectual disability as well as autism and therefore the amount of practice required in order that functional skills can be developed, retained and transformed into independent undertakings is enormous. A Person-centred approach was essential to the success of these programmes so that the starting point of learning focused on the student’s interests, strengths, and preferences while at the same time targeting the precise skills which the students’ future adult placements would require, e.g. using public transport, using money, work skills and time management, etc. Many students are nonverbal and parents rightly fear that on their transition to adult services, students may find themselves dependent on others to do things for them which they are able to do for themselves—but cannot communicate or have the opportunity to demonstrate.

We chose to adopt a series of programmes created by a UK body called ASDAN. ASDAN stands for The Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network and it was established by a group of teachers, lecturers and trainers to share ideas and promote good practice in relation to personal and social skills development. ASDAN developed a number of award scheme programmes and qualifications, that lead to recognised and accredited qualifications for learner’s across the ability spectrum, from modules for students with special needs right up to University courses. (It functions much the same as FETAC, in that ASDAN is an accreditation body that lays down a set of objective standards for modules of work and then awards and certifies work when it meets that standard.)

In St Paul’s we use a series of ASDAN programmes entitled ‘Towards Independence’ (TI), which presents a framework of activities through which personal, social and independent living skills can be developed and accredited. Containing over forty modules which can be undertaken separately and built into a profile of achievement, these programmes were developed for adult learners (16+) with multiple and complex needs. Titles include modules such as ‘Out in the Community’, ‘Independent Living’, ‘Using Public Transport’, ‘Money’ etc. Furthermore, specific modules are identified for students with profound and complex learning difficulties, e.g. ‘Sound, rhythm and music’, ‘Multi.sensory experiences’, ‘Creativity’ etc. The initial module ‘Starting Out’, which all students complete, provides the opportunity for the student and tutor to recognise the student’s existing achievements and interests and ultimately to identify new and desirable learning challenges which are then targeted and developed through a chosen TI module.

In relation to the teaching of independence skills, the core business of St Paul’s community house is to provide meaningful opportunities to our adolescent students to learn functional skills and to engage socially in a regular home environment within the community. The staff in the house work as tutors supporting students through the various modules of work. The programmes are run with different groups of adolescents residing in the community house for two consecutive nights each week. Anyone who has a positive relationship with the student can be the ASDAN tutor. The student and tutor identify the general level of support required for the student to engage in tasks successfully. This support can take many forms, including: physical help, spoken or gestural help, or no help at all. Support at this level is provided and the tutor is asked to make comments on the areas where this level of support is not necessary. This places the focus on the conscious reduction and the ultimate removal of this support, where appropriate, so that the emerging skill can develop. These goals are also linked into the student’s home environment.

Regarding outcomes, last year when St Paul’s Service started providing ASDAN programmes, a total of 13 completed modules were presented for external examination. This year a total of 44 modules of work was completed from a group of twenty adolescents, so this represented a significant increase. These modules were executed across the service, within the school, the community house and the hospital—demonstrating the commitment of tutors to our pupils and the flexibility of the programmes.

Parents of our service users were delighted to attend an awards ceremony and celebrate their child receiving an accredited certificate acknowledging his or her skills and abilities in a particular area. Certificates representing a diverse range of areas were received—from recreational pursuits including woodwork, pottery, horticulture and music to more classroom-based modules such as Current Affairs, and The Wider World, to more functional modules representing independent living skills such as using money, and public transport etc. Looking through the accompanying portfolio of evidence which showed their child demonstrating their level of proficiency within a specific area was quite a moving experience for many parents and it truly acknowledged the hard work of all the tutors involved.

Due to this positive experience with the ‘Towards Independence’ modules, and with the increased confidence of tutors, for this coming school year 2010 / 2011, it has been decided to expand our ASDAN portfolio and try some of the other Preparatory Awards which ASDAN offers. In the school, the ‘New Horizons’ programme will be trialled with some children aged 11 to 13, while the ‘Transition Challenge’ programme has been selected as being suitable for some of our older pupils (aged approximately 13 to 18). It is also hoped that the ‘Workright’ programme, which focuses on the acquisition of vocational skills, will be a valued addition to the learning needs of our older adolescent pupils. Having experienced the facility to easily differentiate these programmes according to the learning pace and style of the service user, there is a strong belief in our service that these programmes will continue to meet our learners’ holistic educational needs, while at the same time providing tutors with user-friendly curricula through which personal, social, independent living and work.related skills can be nurtured, recognised and accredited.

For more information on ASDAN in Ireland contact Suzanne Angel at www.asdan.org.uk

Glen O’ Connor successfully completed the ‘Using Public Transport’ module

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