We view our relationship with parents as invaluable and they, initially, help us in identifying their child’s specific skills and needs.
We pride ourselves on having high expectations of what our pupils can achieve and have a ‘can do’ approach where we look at what children can do rather what they cannot (High But Realistic Expectations).
We recognise that our pupils learn best when they are enjoying themselves and we, therefore, work to incorporate special interests into each child’s curriculum when needed (An Emphasis on Fun & Enjoyment). We work closely with parents and all parents of Foundation Stage or Reception pupils are offered a comprehensive set of workshops throughout the first year of attending Uffculme School. Different children may need a different ‘mix’ of the best known approaches to meet their needs.
This view was echoed by R Jordan (2001): ‘in terms of an ethical approach to a child, an eclectic mix may offer the best opportunity’.
Our ‘mix’ is partially based on principles, or elements, from the following well-known approaches.
We firmly believe that effective intervention must be based on accurate assessment of skills and needs. We have, therefore, produced a number of ASD-specific assessments which aim to pinpoint individual levels of functioning (Comprehensive Assessments) . Pupils are carefully assessed and a programme of intervention is then designed on the basis of the findings (Personalised Teaching & Learning).
As all pupils at Uffculme School have a primary diagnosis of ASD, staff are keenly tuned into the communication aspects of this diagnosis. All staff are trained in implementing augmentative communication programmes in order to develop pupils’ language and communication skills (Developing communication Skills) . However, we also develop language skills through our own pre-phonics literacy programme which, at the higher levels, dovetails into the National Curriculum (Pre-phonics Literacy Programmes).
Pupils’ behaviour is generally exemplary, which has been consistently confirmed by OFSTED in the last 4 inspection reports. There are a number of factors that contribute to high levels of emotional well-being. The school ethos is underpinned by respect for the individual (pupils and staff) and fosters an understanding and practical application of what are summed up in British Values We thus pre-empt challenging behaviours via the physical environment (sensory factors and placement of pupils within a teaching space), the individual curriculum (personal interests, learning styles, attention skills, sensory needs etc), the implementation of language and communication programmes (Developing Communication Skills) and also skill our pupils to recognise their emotions and providing them with strategies to prevent negative emotions from reaching crisis point etc. Social Stories or Social Scripts, depending on language comprehension skills (Behaviour Programmes & Social Scripts), often contribute to the high levels of well-being and the successful outcome of behaviour programmes.
Developing Communication Skills
What about speech and verbal skills?
Functional and meaningful verbal communication is the long-term aim for all pupils at Uffculme School. All pupils who are non-verbal on entry to the school are introduced to a method of communication which best fits their level of communication development. This is reviewed regularly to ensure optimal functionality.
‘Picture for Object Trading’ is a picture based communication system developed at Uffculme School and is closely linked to the school’s ‘Sentence Building Programme’ which is not reliant on verbal ability or verbal comprehension. Pupils’ vocabulary and language skills are further developed using the school’s pre-phonics literacy programmes.
‘Picture for Object Trading’ (‘POT’)
We believe that a child’s method of augmentative communication must not only help with communicating basic wants and needs, but also assist in developing skills which are essential for effective verbal communication e.g. approaching people and attracting their attention, taking turns, responding to requests, making, requests, negotiating, commenting and rejecting items in a socially appropriate manner etc. The ‘POT’ communication method provides a means of communication for non-verbal children and young people who have severely restricted intentional communication (approx skills of 10-12 months upwards). The early stages of ‘POT’ communication are entirely based on the act of requesting and centers initially on the person’s wants and later on his/her needs. Further on, this basic form of communication is extended and developed by means of the ‘Sentence Building Programme’ where the vocabulary is extended and he/she also learns to construct sentences in answer to specific questions.
Why ‘POT’ and not ‘PECS’?
Uffculme School has developed the ‘POT’ system since the 1990s. It is a ‘work in progress’ and evolves in the light of new research findings in order to continue to suit the needs of our individual pupils. POT is only implemented if assessment indicates that this is the most beneficial/functional method at that time. The communication method is then regularly reviewed to ensure that it remains appropriate.
Whilst there are similarities between ‘POT’ and ‘The Picture Exchange Communication System’ (PECS) there are also some fundamental differences which, we believe, makes ‘POT’ more suitable to meet the needs of our children. The ‘POT’ communication code includes: photos, line-drawings, abstract symbols or even written words – in accordance with pupils’ level of symbolic understanding. The symbol meaning is taught in conjunction with the method of communication to ensure that the system is meaningful and functional from the beginning of its implementation. The immediate aim is always to establish functional communication in the shortest possible time. Regular re-assessment ensures that the communication method used is the most appropriate for the child at any one time.
Careful use of language
School staff are trained in using appropriate level of language as well as in maintaining an appropriate pace of delivery when communicating with individual children. They know that children’s levels of verbal communication are not necessarily accurate indicators of the extent to which they understand language. The range, and level of language that staff use vary considerably from pupil to pupil and this is not necessarily linked to chronological age. For instance, when pupils function at a very low level, staff use language which consists of a few single key words which accompany object and picture cues together with Makaton signs or gestures. Pupils who understand and use language at much higher levels may understand language that is only slightly modified. However, they too may require that staff adjust their language quite considerably particularly at times when they experience stress and are slightly anxious or upset. Staff may in these situations cut down on their use of sentence length and complexity of language (vocabulary and grammar) and make more use of pauses in order to facilitate processing of the information. All pupils need specific assistance with how to communicate and interact in different social situations and with interpreting and managing emotions.