Technically, Asperger’s Syndrome no longer exists; since May 2013 it comes under the general umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), in DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, version 5, used for making diagnoses of ASD). However, we are concerned here with children with an ASD diagnosis who are capable of managing to thrive in a mainstream school- socially and academically- given the right levels of support.
We are not using ASD as a label, however. Instead we use ASC, Autism Spectrum Condition, because Disability as a label suggests impairment, whereas Condition suggests difference. Many ASC people have skills which neuro-typical people do not have, so they are different, not worse. ASC is preferred as a label by people who would previously have had a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome
ASC is a lifelong disability. There is currently no cure. Its causes are not entirely certain, but it is thought be genetic, and perhaps in some cases to be the result of environmental triggers. It is characterised by impairments in social communication/interaction and imagination/flexible thought, which are known as the Dyad of Impairments. The students we support do not have significant impairments in cognitive ability or core language relative to their neuro-typical peers, or to other people on the autistic spectrum who would need support in a Special School.
Additionally, there is often a degree of motor difficulty (i.e. clumsiness or physical awkwardness). Because of the subtle nature of ASC, people with the condition are often first diagnosed with related conditions such as dyspraxia and ADHD.
The Function of the AsC Base
The function of the Base is to support the inclusion of twelve 11-16 year-old Dorset students with ASC in the normal curriculum of Budmouth College. All Base students have additional, co-morbid conditions such as ADHD and Tourette’s Syndrome. All require considerable levels of support and care to thrive, and have tended to have had a difficult route through education prior to coming to us.
This is to be achieved by addressing the individual needs of each student in relation to their areas of difficulty through:
- the use of in-class support
- 1:1 sessions
- Social Skills groups with Speech and Language Therapist input
- the provision of a controlled environment during non-lesson times.
Admission is via the Admissions Panel, which meets three times every year, and is convened by a Principal Education Officer at County Hall. Potential candidates for admission are presented to the panel by the Educational Psychology service. Parents may request that their child be referred to the Panel, by contacting their Education Psychologist or SEND Caseworker. No staff at Budmouth has any power to grant admission to the Base as there is no admission via normal College admission procedures.
In order for a child to be a likely candidate for admission to the Base, these criteria must be met:
- S/he must have a diagnosis of ASC
- S/he must have an EHCP
- S/he must be a Dorset resident
- S/he must have a pattern of behaviour which shows that s/he is unable to access the curriculum without substantial 1:1 in-class support, and her/his behaviour is likely to have a negative effect on the learning of classmates
- Age Related Expectations for academic progress are not being met
- There is a vacant space in the Base
It is true to say that ASC students who are admitted to the Base are not “straight-forward” ASC people. They tend to have ASC plus other conditions; or they have patterns of behaviour which make them extremely difficult to include into mainstream education without the expertise we can bring to bear.
Budmouth has a long history of successfully including ASC people, which is one of the reasons this Base is sited here. As well as the 12 Base students, there are many other ASC students in the College being supported in various different ways.
We intend for each of the students in the Base to be:
- properly supported in their college work
- valued as an individual
The Base is a place of safety for vulnerable children, but we do not shield children from the real world of the classroom. Most of our students spend up to 90% of their lesson time in the classroom. They will not be in the Base, but following a timetable in mainstream classrooms.
We aim to provide for each child the skills and strategies:
- to face the realities of college life
- needed for transition to the adult world when they leave the College.
We cannot cure ASC, but we will try to help each child to face the future positively through becoming more:
- aware of their own strengths and weaknesses
All of the students who have been through the Base to the end of Year 11 have achieved a measure of academic success in line with their targeted grades and academic potential. If you visit the Base, we can show you the destinations (academic or otherwise) of all of our ex-students.
Staff comprise one Specialist Teacher, and eight Teaching Assistants who support our 12 students in classrooms. Each student is supported according to her/his specific curriculum needs, with the aim being to provide what we judge to be the necessary minimum support in the classroom.
Because we recognise the importance of increasing independence in our students, not all of them are supported for 100% of their time. We look for places in the curriculum where they have to ‘do it for themselves’. The more successful they are, the less we support them. Our support is flexible, however; should a student need their support increased or reduced, then we will do that quickly. The staff meet and discuss our students daily, so we are very quick to pick up problems and successes.
We also recognise that our students are inevitably at some point going to find it hard to be members of a very large and busy institution. There will be times when they will become more agitated and be less likely to function successfully. Base Teaching Assistants are skilled at recognising signs of distress before they become too serious, and are trained to take appropriate action to support the student. This might include moving within a classroom, taking a short break from the lesson, or removing the child completely and bringing her/him to the Base to complete work there.
The staff have the following specialist support from outside College:
- One day a week a Speech and Language Therapist works alongside Base teachers with groups of Base students on social interaction and social communication skills
- An advice and problem-solving session involving Base teachers and the County Educational Psychology Service
- Each year we access training from a range of professionals within Dorset
- Some staff are trained in TeamTeach Positive Handling skills, in case of the need for a physical intervention with an agitated student.
The Special Educational Need of each Base student is managed through the standard process of Annual Review of the EHCP, and a termly review of the Provision Map. The provision for each child is flexible, and designed to cater for individual requirements.
As a basic entitlement, each student receives:
- A weekly 1:1 session with the Specialist Teacher, Director of Inclusion or Base TA, which focuses on pastoral and curricular issues, and may employ Brief Therapy techniques
- in-class support from Teaching Assistants
- a weekly Social Skills Group session, which focuses on social interaction and social communication, run by the Specialist Teacher and our Speech and Language Therapist
- Mostly, students receive considerably more support than this, including:
– additional 1:1 time to support their studies, especially for a student in KS4 (Years 10 & 11), including revision sessions
– individual sessions to engage with specific social interaction difficulties or physical difficulties
The Base consists of a suite of rooms within the Learning Support area of the College. In the main teaching room, each student has a screened desk with individual storage. This allows privacy for working as well as facilitating the display of student-specific materials such as schedules and social stories. We also have a Quiet Room and a kitchen. The Quiet Room is designed to allow an agitated student to have a space where they can calm themselves before returning to lessons.
There are five computers connected to a printer and to the College network, which students may use for work purposes at any time, and for leisure purposes at breaktimes. We use simple laptops (AlphaSmart 3000s) or tablets in classrooms in cases where handwriting is a particular difficulty for students.
Students are free to use the Base before school, during breaks and lunch, when they are provided with drinks. They are encouraged to interact socially and not use screen-based technology, as many of them use screens extensively out of school and do not interact face-to-face with other people very much, which prevents social skills developing naturally. These are important controlled social experiences for the students, where their social exchanges can be monitored and discreetly guided by Base staff on duty.
This is a vital part of the ethos of the Base. We recognise that parents are in many ways the experts on their own children, and we try to use that expertise by keeping in close contact with parents. Some have a diary/planner, which is used by teachers and Teaching Assistants to inform parents about events in the day, and by parents to comment on relevant issues at home or at school. We like to see parents/carers regularly face-to-face for the Annual Review and at other times, and we keep in regular telephone and e-mail contact with parents, particularly if a child is having an episode of difficulty and stress which requires rapid contact.
Given that students with ASC find it harder than most to cope with change and lack of routine, we do not have an “open house” policy, but we are more than happy to accommodate visits of small groups of parents or professionals every term provided they are booked in advance. It actually helps our students to get used to change by coping with visitors.
Please contact the Base via 01305 830552
or e-mail us at:
Rhayward@budmouth-aspirations.org (Rose Hayward, Specialist Teacher)