Telling stories about everyday things

I’ve just come back from a one-day workshop with Carol Gray, an American teacher and autism expert who developed an intervention called Social Stories™ in 1989. Instructional requests to comply with rules, tenets or behaviours are not effective if the rationale for doing so does not make sense.  Carol explains that because social rules or social cues are quite specific to the person, place, situation or event, there are billions of potential combinations of meanings and outcomes.  Therefore, the way in which we teach everyday skills, must be unique to the learner and their personal goals.

A personal social story should share information in a way that is completely accessible to the learner, and which enables them to make their own understanding of a skill, task, activity, context or situation.  So the author of the story has a responsibility to involve the learner as a person, and to make sure that it is a story that belongs to them, and not to a generic type of person or set of behaviours.

I had this conversation with a student teacher recently, let’s call him Bob.  Bob had asked me for advice about a young person with ADHD who was repeatedly rubbing out his writing at school, meaning that the his copy  / work books often had holes or tears in the pages.  Having directed Bob to look at Carol’s methods, he came back to me and said that they were interesting, but his student was not autistic. This misses the point that social stories are not specific to any one type of learner, or disability, or special need, or any other label.  Here’s a social story adapted from the Watson Institute that might help Bob and his student.

Letters Don’t Have To Be Perfect

Sometimes I copy words from the board in school. I try really hard when I write words down.

I like my letters to look nice. Sometimes I want to rub out the letters and make them look perfect, but letters do not have to be perfect.

It is OK to erase the words once or twice, but I will try to stop rubbing out my writing after 1 or 2 times.

Other children do not erase more than once or twice. Other children do not write
perfect letters. If I erase too much I will get behind in my work. Rubbing out my writing over and over again may tear the paper, or make holes.

I will try to write letters and then leave them alone, because it is OK if the words on my paper are not perfect.

Sometimes the words will be a little messy and that is OK.  Letters don’t have to be perfect.  As long as people can read them, that is OK.

If I try not to erase so much, I’ll get my work done more quickly, and my teacher will be happy. I will feel better too.

Nowhere in this story does it say ‘only people with autism can read this’, nor does it say ‘people with ADHD may not find this useful’.  My student teacher needs to work with his student and find out why he is anxious about his writing, or the presentation of his school work.  He may need to write  a completely different story.

A good story sticks to Carol Gray’s guidelines and as I mentioned at the  beginning of this post, there a great many social story resources, some commercial and some not, some better than others.  The TASN Autism and Tertiary Behavior Supports website is part of the Kansas State Department of Education’s Special Education Services.  They have a collection of stories or social narratives for all age groups in Word, Powerpoint and pdf.  The Special Education Technology (SET) in British Columbia also provide templates for stories and storyboards.

easy-on-the-eye

Of course you can write your own stories for use with iPad or Android tablets, and there are plenty of apps that can help you do this.  However, it is just as easy to type, word process or handwrite these, and to illustrate them using EasyRead graphics and icons that are freely available from the NHS resource bank Easy on the i.

I’m working with several young people aged 18 to 22 years at the moment, and we usually begin our sessions with a conversation about the mysteries of common social behaviours, such as shaking hands and ‘ the point of passing the time of day.’  We have started to write a series of social articles – together –  formatted as a short newspaper article, as a way of understanding the building blocks of why humans do what humans do in social situations.

the-daily-planet

 

 

 

Writing a social story takes a lot of preparation, practice, editing and revision, but  writing unique stories that are specific to the needs of a child, young person or adult makes all the difference.

10 minutes with …

lisa-marie-clinton 

…. Lisa Marie Clinton, CEO, Avail: Assisted Visuals Achieving Independent Living

 

 

 

1.  What does avail do?

avail is an educational platform that promotes independence for children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, Intellectual Disabilities and Developmental Coordination Disorder. avail provides personal step-by-step instructions of tasks through the use of videos, pictures, audios and text prompts. These are delivered on our avail app, while our avail web portal tracks and reports progress.

2.  Why did you choose to create this kind of support / product?

I have worked within the disability sector for the past 10 years, the majority as an ABA Tutor in a school for children with Autism. I witnessed many teenagers transition into adulthood and seen a need to provide an approach that can promotes lifelong learning and opportunities within and outside of the educational system. At the time I was completing my Masters and questioned using the advances in technology “How can I help people be independent?”

3.  Where did you train and how long did it take?

I completed a 4-year Honours degree in Social Studies in 2008. After many years of supporting people with disabilities, I wanted to take a step back and study the research conducted in the field. In 2014, I returned to college and completed a Masters in Child, Family and Community Studies with DIT. I loved the variations of modules and the broad experience of the lectures and fellow classmates. Adamant to make the most of the opportunity, since I had taken a career break from school and made financial sacrifices, l completed my dissertation on the use of assisted technology for people with disabilities. I knew l could use the research in my work and raise awareness on the use of assisted technology, an area l always had a keen interest in. Although, l wasn’t expecting to development avail from it, that just happened as a result of seeing an opportunity!

 4.  What qualities and skills did you bring to this initiative?

There are real benefits to gain form building a product from the ground up. From my experiences l obtained valuable insight into all of life’s transition: home support, education, day services, employment and residential/independent living.

Having worked 1:1 with students and adults, l developed the motivation and courage to want to do more for the fantastic people and family that l work with but also for the others who also have dreams and personal goals. Other skills l bring to avail, l would like to think a positive attitude and open mind. I started avail with student load and a big dream!

5.  Have you always worked in the area of disability?

Mostly yes, when l was completing my Master’s l worked part time with teenagers in care. I found this area challenging and alien to me, within my other roles l could witness the progress and impact l was making on an individual’s life although it was difficult to make such an impact within this role. It was a valuable experience, but l knew my passion was working in the disabilities sector.

6.  How can avail support college students and / or school leavers?

avail can support in many different ways, and this is based on the person’s goals. We actually have one student using it to support him in travelling to his college, he is now travelling independently! He receives instructions on the task e.g Picture and audio prompt of his bus, video of how to hand over his ticket, picture of his stop is, video of how to cross at the traffic lights and then a picture of his class.

School leavers can use avail for independent living e.g cooking, cleaning or community skill e.g purchasing items, going to the gym etc. It is built around the person, so there are no limits on the skills that can be learned.

7.  What do you like most about your job?

Ok, well that’s an easy one. I love that l have changed and will continue change many people’s lives! As l say this l am cringing but that is what avail has done for the people who are already using it, and we haven’t launched yet. From travelling independently, cooking your own dinner, living independently. These may seem like small things to a lot of people, but for a person and their family this could be like winning the lotto! I love presenting avail to people, as afterwards l hear about all the possibilities that are an option now as a result of avail. I am so fortunate and thankful l didn’t give up, these stories are my motivation that got me to this point.

8.  Are you working on any projects at the moment?

Yes, at the moment we have various Day Services and Parents trialling avail ahead of our launch at the end of October. We are also speaking to Employability Services who have also seen the potential of avail as an aid to support people in employment. While I am building our avail library to include a variety of tasks and social studies that can be downloaded.

9.  What is your top tip for students starting college or entering employment?

I know it can be a major adjustment for many young people, so familiarise yourself with the building, course content, classrooms, canteen, community if the student is staying up or the bus route if traveling. This will hopefully reduce anxiety or sleepless nights, and help you settle in. Also, choose a course that you are interested in!

10.  How can parents help?

I believe preparation is key, and this is probably related to my background. So start talking about college early and explore what is needed for a successful transition. If you have any questions, don’t be afraid to contact the college, they are there to help.

www.availsupport.ie Continue reading “10 minutes with …”

I’m on the wrong course, get me out of here!

Already?

I’ve just come back from visiting a young man  who has decided, at the end of Week 1,  that he simply cannot return to his course. Whilst for most students the disenchantment period might drag on for a little longer, there are implications for future choices and funding.

Recent reports estimate that up to 80% of students on some college courses in Ireland, are withdrawing from college within the first year, with a general withdrawal rate in first year of 1 in 6 students.   As I pointed out in an earlier post, national and international studies suggest that the principal reasons for dropping-out are:

1. Course choice: inaccurate understanding and awareness of course content in terms of modules, learning outcomes and the curriculum across all three or four years of study.
2. Personal factors: self-awareness, self-management, insufficient competence in study skills, a general lack of preparedness.
3. Financial burden: costs associated with attending college, including the need to seek part-time work, and late payment of student grants.
4. Medical and mental health difficulties: exacerbated by anxiety, self-esteem, a sense of ‘not fitting in’, social isolation, homesickness, and feeling overwhelmed.
5. Family influences.

There is a great deal of work to be done around items 1 and 2, an increasingly impossible task in the light of cuts to career guidance in secondary schools, as highlighted in Lest we forget: Lessons learned in Ireland following Budget 2012.

The seeds of self-awareness, self-determination, and self-advocacy, need to be sown, watered and nurtured by competent gardeners.  Exploring options and choices are physical activities that require the support and engagement of knowledgeable adults.  These things do not happen by chance, and using a transition planning tool such as MyUniPlan, can help to get the ball rolling.

Phew.  Rant over.

So IF you discover that you are on the wrong course, what is to be done?

  1. Transfer to another course within your college.
  2. Transfer to another college, university or Institute of Technology.
  3. Re-apply to the CAO to begin another course in the following year.

BUT it’s important to bear in mind the financial implications… 

In Ireland, students receive ‘free fees’ meaning they pay a ‘contribution’ towards their university education, currently c. €3,000.  The remaining fees (c. €3,000) are paid by the Higher Education Authority.  For this reason, changes you make to your registration status as a student, may incur a financial penalty.  A comprehensive explanation of how fees work for repeating a year in college can be found at Student Finance.

Bottom line: the HEA pays their share of fees in each of the years of your undergraduate degree.  If you withdraw after one year, you are deemed to have used up one year of your ‘free fees’ contribution from the HEA, so if you begin the year again in the same or another institution, you will be liable to pay the ‘student contribution’ PLUS the ‘HEA contribution’, in other words, about €6,000.   So you need to be sure about your decision, and the timing and method of transfer or withdrawal is crucial.

IMPORTANT: Although the HEA will not pay tuition fees if you have to repeat a year (for example, if you failed exams or decide to switch courses), they may do so if you can provide evidence of ‘exceptional circumstances’ such as a certified serious illness, for example, one that might have resulted in a period of hospitalization.  Very stringent regulations on this, check with your college or university.

Transfer to another course within your college.

Most colleges, universities, institutes of technology have explicit regulations about this, and, in general, you must follow the procedures to request a transfer  within the first three weeks of beginning college.  Check the rules in your college.

Transfer to another institution.

If you want to switch to the same or a similar course in another college, university or institute of technology, you must meet the subject entry requirements for the course either through your Leaving Certificate results, or from the study you have completed on your existing course.  You do not get extra points for having been in college already. Students apply to the CAO as usual by 1st February, although there is a special late closing date of 22 July.  Read the CAO handbook, and check the rules in your institution.

Re-apply to the CAO to begin another course in the following year.

In the usual way.  If you applied to DARE the year before and were eligible for a DARE place, you can ‘carry over’ this eligibility for one year.  You still need to follow some of the DARE application procedures through your CAO account.  Follow the instructions carefully.

myuniplan-avatar-journey

 

 

This can all be avoided with early, staged, person-centred transition planning.

 

10 minutes with ….

susan

 

…..  Susan Madigan, Occupational Therapist, Disability Service, Dublin City University.

 

1.    What does an Occupational Therapist do?

Occupational Therapists work with people in relation to their daily activities or “occupations”. We work with people who are not currently able to do the things that they want to do, or the things that they need to do. We work with people to build their own skills, but we also look at what can be changed in the physical and social environment, to enable people to be more independent. Occupational Therapists work in a variety of settings for example; with children in schools and clinics, teenagers and adults in mental health settings, and older people in hospitals and in trying to enable them to stay in their own homes.

2.    Why did you choose Occupational Therapy?

I was involved with lots of different voluntary work since my teenage years, even using most of my annual leave from my bank job to volunteer with different groups, including Barretstown. All of the volunteer work I did was involved with facilitating or enabling people to do the things they wanted to do. When I was looking for a change of career, there was only one job that appealed to me – variety, fun, working with people, and definitely not a typical desk job!

3.    Where did you train and how long did it take?

I completed the four-year undergraduate course in Trinity College, Dublin. There is a mix of academic work, practical projects, and work placement – 1000 hours over the four years. The Occupational Therapy course is tough, but very varied, so there’s always a new module or topic to get stuck into. Though financially it was a struggle, as I had already completed a degree, and so had to pay for my course, it was the best decision I have ever made. I will still be working and enjoying my work for years to come!

4.    What qualities and skills does an Occupational Therapist need?

OTs need to be great communicators, love working with people, and have a knack for creative problem solving – a big part of our job. For me, a very important quality is being non-judgemental. We don’t know who our next client will be, and it’s important for us to leave our biases at the door, and work with our clients to reach their goals.

5.    Have you always worked with young people?

Yes, I have always enjoyed working with young people since training the 1st year netball girls at school! I love working with young people, it’s so much fun, and really keeps me on my toes. I have been very fortunate to work with young people over the past 20 years as a cinnire at Irish college, an inner city tutor at college, and a Cara at Barretstown. As an Occupational Therapist, I worked for a year in a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Clinic, which was great as I got to work with small children right up to school leavers. As an Occupational Therapist in third level, I  have worked in Trinity College, Dublin Institute of Technology, now DCU.

6.    What kind of support do you provide to college students?

My main role is to support students to participate in everyday activities that are important to them. We generally support students to make changes in their academic habits, communication, time use and well-being areas. I do this by facilitating students to identify changes they would like to make in their daily life, coach them through reaching their goals, work together to develop their skills, and reflect on the positive outcomes. An important aspect of Occupational Therapy is that we encourage the development of a person’s own strategies and skills, to enable them to manage life’s ups and downs after college. The Occupational Therapy process is very practical and functional, and focused on getting things done now and in the future. It is about doing!

7.    What do you like most about your job?

I enjoy the variety of working with a diverse group of clients especially at third level. We have school leavers up to retirees, international students, and work with people managing physical, neurological and mental health conditions. I like meeting with new clients and introducing them to the ideas of Occupational Therapy, and the best thing is seeing students graduate with their well-earned degrees after working together over a number of years.

8.    Are you working on any projects at the moment?

We are always working on lots of projects 🙂 One that we are quite excited about is a programme we piloted in the summer, to support people repeating exams. It is an intensive week of interactive workshops and structured study sessions. We are now going to roll it out for the annual Christmas and Summer exams, and is especially useful for students with exam anxiety or those who have difficulty performing well in exams for any reason.

9.    What is your top tip for students starting college?

Pick the right course! Get some advice from people you trust, and be happy with your choice. Take some time out before college if you need to, this is an important decision. Once at college ask for help if you need it. There are lots of resources to help people settle in.

10.  How can parents help?

Parents can really help by supporting their young person to choose a course that will suit them. Of course you should pick the course you are interested in, but not all courses are created equally. Some courses are extremely academic, with little group work or interaction. Some are highly practical and focus more on building functional skills, rather than academic learning. Arts in NUIG may look very different to Arts in DIT. What will suit you best? Encourage your child to do something they are interested in, remember, they have to study it for 3-4 years (not you) and doing something they dislike because “there’s a job in it” does not make for a successful student.

 

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Getting started on transition planning 1: primary to post-primary

There are two parts to successfully completing the move from primary to secondary school: forward planning by parents, and building trust, confidence and familiarity in children.

A Plan for Parentsschool-building4-1

Finding out involves making checklists for phone calls, organising meetings and school visits, and gathering any information or formal paperwork that is needed.  Start a file or folder and create a checklist for issues or concerns with:

  • School environment
  • Safety and social relationships
  • Academic tasks including homework
  • Transitions and routines
  • Personal belongings

 

Talking about change is crucial as the transition to secondary school coincides with the onset of adolescence, a period of significant emotional, physiological and psychological changes. Inevitably, this has an impact on friendships, social groups, environments and methods of teaching and learning.  Starting these conversations early, rather than at the moment of impending transition, will help to tackle worries and concerns before they become problems.

Communication in the classroom is particularly important for students who experience difficulties with receptive and expressive language, and might include agreeing verbal and non-verbal tools or strategies with school staff.  It is important that these are determined before school begins.

Coping strategiess include activities and resources that will assist your son or daughter to manage potentially stressful situations within the school environment. These might include making communication cards or developing behavioural scripts for scenarios such as:

  • Feeling unwell
  • Changes to routine
  • Getting lost
  • Forgetting homework
  • Transition between classes
  • Sensory overload

Managing the school environment is a significant task for both parents and students, particularly during the first year of secondary school. Changes to the practical aspects of school-based learning include an increase in academic subjects, organising the books and materials associated with those subjects, an increase in workload and in particular homework, and maintaining high quality communication between home and school.  You need to be clear about how you are going to manage these changes at home, to reduce any stress or confusion for your student.

Individual Transition Plans completed by the student, their parents, and support professionals are a very useful method of transferring knowledge about strengths and challenges.  Indeed, in the absence of an Individual Education Plan, it ensures that needs and reasonable adjustments to the learning environment are communicated well before the moment of transition to secondary school.  Nowhere does it say that this is not allowed.

Activities for Children

The following activities can be completed over the course of the final year in primary school.  You should do these activities together, and use a scrapbook to gather any information that is needed.  If you are handy with word processing you could make a workbook and have it spiral bound at a printing shop.  If you are an all out creative type, an eBook will make it extra special.

Finding out more concrete information about the physical surroundings and features of their new school can be enormously reassuring for young people.  This activity also provides opportunities for meaningful conversations that can address anxieties, and indicate areas for further discussion or action.  Answering basic questions such as:

  • What does my school look like?
  • Who will I meet?
  • What will I do?
  • Where will I go?

ensures that students become knowledgeable and confident about how secondary school works.  Here’s a tip. Find out if the school hosts a Summer / Christmas Fair, Bake Sale, Car Boot Sale etc etc.  Make sure you go to them all.  Develop a sense of familiarity (and have a sneaky look around the classrooms, dining room, toilets etc).

Talking about changes should encompass all aspects of change in people, activities and environments, including:

  • Clothes
  • Friends
  • Homework
  • Lessons and subjects
  • Teachers
  • Sports and PE

Knowing where to go and what to do during break and lunchtime periods can be a source of great anxiety.

Getting organised and managing time needs to focus on getting to grips with:

  • school bags
  • books and materials
  • lockers
  • timetables
  • homework

What time do I need to get up in the morning, how will I get to school, how will I get home?  You can use checklists, visual timetables or a whiteboard to help with this.

Things that can help me are activities for developing coping mechanisms.  Identifying and using ‘safe spaces’, or ‘go to’ people in the school environment is an activity that can take place closer to the move to secondary school, and should form part of the school visit. Introduce school rules and why they are important. Now is the time to talk about differences in social situations, for example, what happens at break and lunchtime, managing large groups, teasing and bullying, and who to go to and how to ask for help.

front cover

 

You can read more about planning and preparing school transitions and the resources I have created for each of these activities in Ready, Steady, Go! Planning the Transition to Secondary School: A Workbook for Children and Families.  I hope to have this published in January 2017 😉

 

10 minutes with ….

Andrew
……. Andrew Costello, Assistive Technology Officer,  Disability Service, Trinity College Dublin.

 

 

1.       What does an Assistive Technologist do?

An Assistive Technologist, or AT for short, supports students in the use of  technology as “scaffolding” to enable independent learning, and to overcome barriers to learning.

2.    Why did you choose to work in this area?

I really get a kick out of helping users to see technology as an aid in their daily lives, and not something they are afraid to use.

3.     Where did you train and how long did it take?

Well,  I completed a BA in Information Technology and Management, and recently graduated with an MSc in Assistive Technology and Universal Design from DIT in Kevin Street.  All in all, I’ve been working specifically on assistive technologies for the last 8 years (feeling old now !!).

4.     What qualities and skills are required for your role?

Being a good listener and communicator.  The role involves matching technology to different users with all types of skills and abilities. I feel a key component is allowing the student to bring those abilities to the forefront through their use of technology.

5.     Have you always worked with young people?

No, my first role was working on web-based data analytics for hotel satisfactions cards, the technology that allows hotels to rate how they are preforming against other hotel brands.

6.     What kind of support do you provide to college students?

When it comes to technology pretty much anything that can be plugged in!! Typically, note taking supports, academic text-to-speech tools, and more 1:1 tools such as screen reading and magnification software.

7.     What do you like most about your job?

The buzz of seeing a 1st year student progressing through college to graduation, and the change in personality and confidence that academic life can bring.

8.     Are you working on any projects at the moment?

I am presently working on the Trinity Inclusive Curriculum (TIC) which aims to form a key part of the Trinity Education Project looking at curriculum re-design, and ensuring that inclusive practices are built-in from the ground up.

9.     What is your top tip for students starting college?

Try to get a plan in place for all of the things that you want to achieve in a week, like study, lecture, sports and of course socialising. Try not to let them get on top of each other, and set clear – and achievable! – goals for the week.

10.  How can parents help?

Try to keep a healthy communication route open with your young person, read up on the course handbook so you have an idea of the workload and how much pressure they might be under throughout the year.  Also make sure you are aware of all the supports available to students at 2nd and 3rd level, so that you don’t feel isolated if problems arise.

For more information on how AT can help in college, visit Andrew’s Assitive Technology page.

Drowning not waving, or, how to get help in secondary school

A lot of enquiries this week about supports in post-primary school for children who have only recently received a diagnosis.  This is a difficult time for parents, especially where it coincides with the beginning of secondary education.

Step 1.

Your most important task is to take care of your own support needs by finding some allies, and arming yourself with the right information.  Contact a parent or community support group local to your area, attend their next meeting, download any leaflets, get involved, talk to someone. I don’t have the space here to list every organisation, but the Disability Federation Ireland has an alphabetical listing.  Spectrum Alliance is an umbrella group for ADHD, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, and Asperger’s Syndrome, and you should most definitely browse the website of the Special Needs Parents Association.

Step 2.     

Set aside at least a week to read and digest all of the publications linked in the next three steps (sigh). This is where the experience of other parents is invaluable. They have already travelled this road and can summarize all of this material, extract the key truths, and point you towards shortcuts and useful people.

Step 3.

Read the guide on provision for children with special educational needs a
NCSE children with SENnd disabilities
written by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE).  If you have a difficulty with reading printed material, you can listen to an audio version by following these instructions.  The NCSE provides a network of Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENO) within designated geographical areas.  Each SENO has responsibility for specific primary, post primary and special schools.

The SENO ensures that a child with special educational needs receives the supports they are entitled to. SENOs keep parents informed about levels of support and decisions about resources. The SENO will also discuss any concerns that you have about the present or future educational needs of your child. You can find out the name and contact details of the SENO in your area by checking this list.  You should contact them as soon as possible.

Step 4.

Read the NCSE guide on moving from primary to post-primary school.  If your child has significant needs, they may require an Individual Education Plan.  Discuss with the SENO.

Step 5.

NEPS bookletThere are three levels of support implemented in school and these are explained in a leaflet for parents – the Student Support File – written by the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS).  You get a heck of a lot more detail if you read the guide for schools and teachers 😉 NEPS provides a network of Educational Psychologists within designated geographical areas, each having responsibility for specific primary, post primary and special schools.  The School Principal will consult them about a support plan.

Step 6.

Insist upon a meeting with your SENO, NEPS psychologist and the School Principal.  If you agree on a School Support Plan and / or an Individual Education Plan, make sure that you receive a copy.  At the meeting, arrange a review date to discuss your child’s progress and their Student Support File.  Include a query about an exemption from Irish if this is necessary, and examination accommodations.

 

If you are not already sick of reading, the NCSE has guides for parents specific to each special educational need and disability.

AT pearltrees screenshot

I’ve also collected some study skills resources together with links to digital text books and you might like to investigate Assistive Technology solutions, including converting text to speech to alleviate the reading burden.