The A-Z of Saplings Special School

A – is for ABA or Applied Behaviour Analysis

This is a set of principles which underpin a lot (but not all) of the teaching and behaviour management strategies that we use in Saplings Special School for Children with Autism and Complex Needs, Kill. Through using the principles of ABA our school focuses on improving specific behaviours, such as social skills, communication, reading, and academics as well as adaptive learning skills, such as fine motor dexterity, hygiene, grooming and life skills. The same principles are used to replace maladaptive behaviours which the students engage in with functional behaviours which achieve the same outcomes. ABA is effective for children and adults with psychological disorders in a variety of settings, including schools, workplaces, homes, and clinics. It has also been shown that consistent ABA can significantly improve behaviours and skills and decrease the need for special services.

B – is for BSP or Behaviour Support Plan

When a student engages in challenging behaviour that needs to be reduced (and replaced with a functional behaviour) this will be addressed through a BSP. Our school’s Behaviour Analyst will work in consultation with parents, teachers and SNAs to assess the function(s) of the challenging behaviour, and to design strategies to reduce the frequency of that behaviour. In our school the BSPs focus hugely on prevention, which means giving each student coping strategies he/she can use instead of engaging in challenging behaviour. We also use positive behaviour support and rewards for non-engagement in challenging behaviour. We do this through the use of highly reinforcing items (see also R- reinforcers).

C – is for Confidentiality

Confidentiality is hugely important in our school. Everything that you tell us about your child will be treated with the strictest confidence. You will be given an opt in/ opt out option in relation to the use of your child’s name or photographs on the school website, Facebook page or elsewhere. School staff cannot discuss another student’s progress or difficulties with parents (even if the parents know each other outside of Saplings). Parents also need to respect the confidentiality of the Board of Management of the school, and should not ask the Principal or other Board members questions relating to confidential Board issues. If a parent becomes aware of information that they believe may be confidential in nature, they should share this with the Principal and the Principal only. The Principal can then follow up with the parties involved (be they parents or staff members) to ensure that similar breaches of confidentiality do not occur again.

D – is for Differential Reinforcement

This is one of the key strategies used by the school staff to achieve effective behaviour change. It is a combination of several procedures that uses the principles of both reinforcement and extinction to increase or decrease the frequency of behaviour. For learning to occur and for behavioural change to happen, it is important that if a child’s most preferred reinforcer is chosen for this procedure, it should only used as outlined in the BSP (see also B – BSP). School staff rely on the co-operation and support of parents to ensure that the child should not be accessing this one reinforcer at all outside of the highly controlled conditions at school. It is a core tenet of our school’s ethos that we use evidence based teaching and learning methods. We believe that the years your child spends in our school are precious and we need to maximise the learning opportunities that they access in that time. Therefore we only use strategies that can be backed up by empirical, observable, testable and repeatable evidence. We do not trial strategies that do not meet this criteria in Saplings.

F – is for Focus on the Positive

Every day your child will achieve something in school, whether it’s becoming more independent with an academic task, performing more work before receiving a reinforcement break or using a positive strategy instead of engaging in challenging behaviour. Your child’s successes will be communicated to you on a weekly basis, on their ‘Fortnightly Summary’ sheets. These Fortnightly Summaries are completed by your child’s teacher and checked by the school’s Behaviour Analyst, which again reaffirms our school’s commitment to marrying education and behaviour analysis, in order to achieve the best outcomes for each child.

G – is for Give It Time

The students of Saplings Special School for Children with Autism and Complex Needs, Kill, have diagnoses of ASD and often an additional learning disability. This can hugely impact their ability to process and compute information. Therefore it is important that we use consistent, systematic strategies both at home and in school, and that we don’t give up if the student doesn’t understand the strategy immediately. Through giving the children time to process what we are trying to teach them at their own pace, using consistent consequences and taking data we can more accurately assess if the strategies are working for a student, both at home and in school.

H – is for Have Reasonable Expectations

Don’t pitch things too high or too low for your child. The most effective learning occurs when a task is just slightly outside a child’s comfort zone, but they already have the pre-requisite skills to complete it. Support your child, allow him/ her to achieve successes without making him/ her prompt dependent.

I – is for IEP or Individual Education Plan

An IEP will be designed for your child approximately once a year. It will be based on the results of standardised testing and on priorities identified by parents. A draft IEP will be designed through consultation between you, your child’s teacher and the Behaviour Analyst and then you will be invited to a meeting to discuss the IEP and suggest any changes. You will sign off on the IEP before it is introduced into your child’s programme. You can contact your child’s teacher to discuss the IEP and how the identified goals are progressing during the school year.

J – is for Just Ignore

This is true in relation to your own child and to all other children within the school. Often children with ASD engage in behaviours to gain attention. By ignoring challenging behaviour you can often eliminate it (although there may be an extinction burst phase when the behaviour temporarily gets worse before it gets better). If you are unsure what to do with regards to a challenging behaviour it is often a good idea to ignore it (until another function has been determined through a functional assessment), as by doing so you will not inadvertently reinforce that behaviour. If you see another child within the school engaging in challenging behaviour please be aware that our staff are highly trained to deal with it and will be following a BSP. Please just ignore the situation/ challenging behaviour and do not speak to the staff involved in the situation.

K – is for Keep Trying

Sometimes your child’s progress can be slow, but that doesn’t mean there is no progress occurring. In Saplings we take data on all educational and behavioural tasks so we can see this progress occurring. We inform you about this progress via ‘Fortnightly Summaries.’ Please speak to your class teacher or Behaviour Analyst if you have concerns about your child’s understanding and/or progress.

L – is for Look at Things Differently

Your child with ASD may see, hear and experience the world differently to how you or I experience it. It is important that we accept these sensory differences and plan how to support each child. Some common supports to assist children with ASD include visual supports, ear defenders, headphones, weighted clothing/ accessories etc. Saplings regularly uses strategies such as those listed above to assist our children to succeed in environments that they find overstimulating.

M – is for Manage Your Own Behaviour

Often simple manipulations in our own behaviour can drastically change how the children relate to us. It is crucial to understand what tone of voice is most effective in what situation, when to/ not to use vocal instruction, how close to stand when delivering an instruction or when prompting your child etc. It is also a great help to share this information with your child’s teacher or SNA when your child is new to our school as it can help us to build a successful, meaningful relationship with your child.

N – is for Not Everything Works Out

Unfortunately, this is a fact of life. Some behavioural interventions, some communication devices, some educational plans etc may not work for your child. The school will look at a number of factors such as how long the strategy has been being trialled, age and ability of the child, possible alterations or alternatives that could serve the same function and the importance of the strategy both at home and in school before deciding that it is not working. We will then decide on a plan for moving forward which may include putting the strategy on hold to work on necessary pre-requisites, altering the strategy or deciding to stop the strategy entirely. This will be communicated to you via your child’s ‘Fortnightly Summary’ sheets.

O – Openness

Openness and transparency are crucial to the effective education of your child. We ask that you share information regarding your child’s sleeping habits, eating habits, behaviour, health and wellbeing with school staff. You can do this by writing in your child’s communication diary or phoning the secretary to relay the information to the relevant staff members. We also need to ensure that any information regarding changes to medication (and the date on which the change occurred) are communicated to the school’s Behaviour Analyst as this may have a significant impact on the child’s behaviour. The school are also committed to being open and transparent in relation to your child in so far as is feasible, and in this regard we share all information that we hold regarding your child, we are available for meetings regarding your child, we can take video footage of your child completing tasks in school and we also allow watching of CCTV in certain circumstances (Please see our CCTV policy for further information).

P – is for PCM or Professional Crisis Management

This is an evidence-based crisis intervention system designed to keep each of our students safe and to keep our staff safe. PCM is not seen by the school as a behavioural intervention but as a safety measure, which is only used as a last resort. PCM is part of the school’s Code of Behaviour which has been ratified by our Board of Management. Upon enrolment to our school you consent to all of the school’s policies, which includes the use of PCM. The school does not have an opt out option for PCM as it is only used as a last resort to keep our students and staff safe. If PCM needs to be used with your child in a crisis situation you will be informed that day, either in person or by phone. The school always works to reduce challenging behaviour through the use of positive behaviour support so in the aftermath of using PCM with your child our top priority will be to teach the child a replacement behaviour which serves the same function as the challenging behaviour. If you do not consent to the use of PCM we cannot enrol your child in our school.

Q – is for Questions

There are no such thing as silly questions and at Saplings we encourage parents to ask as many questions as possible. If your question relates to your child’s education you should direct it to your child’s class teacher and if it is a behavioural question you should direct it to our Behaviour Analyst. You can do this by email or by contacting our school secretary to arrange a meeting. If you are unsure who is the correct person to ask you can email your query to the school principal, who will pass it on to the relevant professional.

R – is for Reinforcers

A reinforcer is anything that increases the likelihood that a specific response or behaviour will occur again under similar conditions in the future. For our students, anything that they like can be used as reinforcers. Some of the most common reinforcers in our school are edibles (preferred foods), activity based (going on the trampoline, playing chase), preferred leisure activities (watching TV, listening to music) sensory based (access to certain textures/ smells etc), verbal (social praise) etc. We use reinforcer assessments to rate each child’s most preferred reinforcer and we then use this most preferred reinforcer to reward the absence of challenging behaviours (see also D – DRO). For learning to occur and for behavioural change to happen is important that this most preferred reinforcer is only used in this very systematic way, which means that the child should not be accessing it at all outside of the highly controlled conditions at school. All other reinforcers can be earned by the child for completing school work.

S – is for Substitute Staff

At Saplings we strive to ensure that your child has the consistency of the same staff member every day. However due to circumstances outside our control (illness, injury, family circumstances etc) we often have substitute staff in the school. It is a decision for school management on a day by day basis as to who the substitute staff work with, and it is not appropriate for parents to text members of our school staff to ask who a substitute is working with.

T – is for Teachers and Tutors

In Saplings your child will be in a class with five other students. Each class of six has one teacher and between 4 and 6 SNAs (or tutors, as we call them). Your child’s teacher will remain constant for the entire school year, and will be responsible for designing and implementing your child’s IEP (see also I – IEP). Your child’s tutor will change 3 or 4 times per year. Your child’s tutor will meet you at drop off time in the morning or take your child off the bus. You should pass on any information regarding how your child has slept, ate, general mood etc to the tutor in the morning via a communication email to the classroom. Any questions regarding your child’s educational progress, IEP, etc should be directed to the class teacher (see also Q – Questions).

U – is for Use School Structures at Home

Saplings uses evidence based strategies to teach our students educational, social and behavioural skills. We use visual schedules, visual prompts, timers, DRO rule boards and reinforcers to help our students to succeed and learn. When these strategies are measurably mastered in school they can be effectively transferred to home to ensure that a consistent approach to positive behaviour support exists at home and in school.

V – is for Views

Everyone has their personal views on what is best for a child and this can inform their thinking and decision making. However due to the nature of autism, sometimes our personal views do not paint an accurate picture of a child’s ability. In Saplings we place a higher value on the data we collect than on personal views, and therefore we make all of our teaching and learning decisions based on the objective data collected.

W – is for Work On What Your Child Struggles With

Your child is only in school for 4 hours 40 minutes (junior class) or 5 hours 40 minutes (senior class) five days a week for each school year. Therefore for your child to succeed it is imperative that parents continue to work with their children on the things they struggle with after school, on weekends and during school holidays. It is particularly important that parents work on social outings (trips to supermarkets/ playgrounds/ hairdressers etc) as it will be crucial that your child can access these types of places as they get older. Although we do teach some community participation skills as part of the school day as our students get older we cannot focus solely on this, as our primary focus has to be on curriculum based education.

X – is for Go The Xtra Mile

Your child/our student will need everyone in their lives to go the extra mile for them, in order to help them reach their potential. Use the supports of the school, our highly trained teachers and tutors and our Behaviour Analyst, and ask for help when you need it.

Y – is for Yardstick

Every educational, social and behavioural intervention that we put in place for our students is measurable, and data is collected daily to inform how these interventions are working. If you would like any information on the data collected, how it is being used to inform your child’s programme or how they are progressing please contact your child’s teacher for educational goals or the school’s Behaviour Analyst for behavioural goals.

Z – is for Zzzz….

Get some sleep! Being the parent of a child with autism is challenging, but by working together and using proven, evidence based strategies we can make it a little bit easier.