Starting in your ASD class: A look at some of the supports and courses available to help guide you on your journey.
I hope you are all enjoying the Summer holidays!
As much as this is a time to relax and take a break, I am also aware that there are a lot of stressed and worried teachers out there preparing to set up or take over their own ASD classes. I get so many requests for advice about setting up and organising an ASD class, in addition to supporting children within these classes, that I have decided to dedicate my next few blog posts to these exact topics. I can only speak from my own experience as somebody who has set up my own class and is now preparing to go into my third year. As I say again and again, I am by no means an expert in this field but am happy to share what I have learned on my journey so far!
As I think we would all agree, there is usually very limited guidance and support available for teachers before going into an ASD setting. As general primary teachers we are not explicitly trained to teach in these classes and yet this is exactly what is expected of us. Although great training and supports are given to teachers once working in the ASD class, I personally feel that this needs to be given to us, or at the very least offered to us, before we take up these teaching positions. I was only fortunate that in my own teacher training in the UK a large component of it was dedicated to Special Education. Having spoken to many teachers who have trained in Ireland I have gathered that many do not feel the same way about their own teacher training experience (though I am open to correction on this!) Before going into my ASD class I had undertaken CPD courses in my own time (in the UK) relating to ASD (TEACCH, behaviour management and ABA) as I had children with ASD diagnoses in my mainstream classes. Without having had this training I don’t think I would have been confident in applying to a job in an ASD class so I can only imagine how teachers must feel when they are not given a choice.
I know myself how hard it is to juggle setting up a classroom, building relationships with parents, settling in children and teaching all the while trying to attend CPD courses. It can also be incredibly hard to get substitute cover for our classes while we attend this necessary training. I myself had to cancel many courses in my first year due to this. Luckily, we were fortunate to have a fantastic substitute teacher to cover our classes last year. For me personally, the knowledge that the same, familiar teacher was in to cover my class, each time I was out training, made a huge difference to both myself and the children in class and is something I would highly recommend. Juggling it all however is something we must do in order to get the correct training. Luckily there is a wide variety of training to choose from and I am going to go through some of the options available here now.
Just to mention that the information here is based on my own experience or information that has been sent to me by fellow teachers who have shared their own experiences. If you have anything to add, a differing opinion or extra information on any of the below information feel free to pop it in the comments box.
Addition to this blog post Feb 2020: I am going to include some shameless self promotion here. Having run my Instagram page for 2 years, I have been inundated with requests for further support from many teachers, both experienced teachers and NQTS, some completely new to the ASD class setting envrionment so to provide this support I created my own online courses to share my own knowledge and to support you to develop your understanding , awareness and skills. I have 3 online courses available (just to note that these are not EPV approved) including one on setting up your own ASD class, one on the importance of assessment, which I feel is key to everything I do in my class, with a full look through assessing using the ABLLS protocol and a thrid course on timetabling within your classrrom. These are the major areas that I get requests for support in week after week so my aim in creating them was to give you the support you were all requesting. You can check all of these out here:
For any of you teachers who are going into a new ASD class that has been sanctioned to open this coming year, there is a 4-day course available for teachers through the SESS. I myself was not able to get a place on this course and was told that as the class in my school had been sanctioned the year before I started, the previous teacher had gone on this course so I was not entitled to a place. That said, I have been told that the application form now also has a tick box for new settings and teachers new to settings so definitely contact them to see if they can offer you a place. I have been told by other teachers that this course was invaluable to them in preparing them to go into their own classroom. You simply need to contact the SESS about this course, fill in the forms that are sent to you and submit your school’s sanction letter from the department with your application to avail of a place. I have also been informed that accommodation and food was paid for by the SESS and travel expenses to the course can be claimed back. In addition to this there are a huge number of courses available to all teachers and delivered from a range of providers. In this blog I will mention the SESS, Middletown Centre for Autism and Synergy Lifelong Learning as these are the providers I am most familiar with.
There are so many courses available on the SESS website for all teachers (mainstream, SET, special class). Each of these courses are free (except the PECs training, which you pay for initially but claim back costs) but only available to teachers. Your school is also entitled to a substitute teacher for these days. Specific ASD related courses can be accessed here: https://www.sess.ie/sess-primary-courses The dates for the courses for 2019/20 can be seen if you click on each individual course however, it is not possible to book onto them yet. Registration usually opens some time during the last 2 weeks of August so keep an eye out as the course are in demand and places go quickly. If you are not successful in getting onto a course, put your name down for a cancellation. I got onto 2 courses that way last year, so it is worth it. Most of the courses are 1-day, some are 2-days, TEACCH is 5 consecutive days and the C-ABA is a 5-day but spread over 10 weeks. For the TEACCH courses you must have the 2-day course done before signing up for the 5-day. As far as I am aware accommodation is not paid for any of these courses but you can claim back travel expenses (mileage). As I said there is huge demand for these courses and limited places. I have also recently been informed that due to limited places, there is also the possibility of signing up to the Synergy Lifelong Learning course for the PECs training and you can claim back the cost (claiming cost back is only available for the PECs training) but always double check this before signing up.
As I said, there are a huge range of courses available to support teachers and children in ASD classes. These courses range from introduction to Autism, accessing the curriculum, behaviour, assessment, social stories, social skills, speech and language, lámh, puberty and relationships, communication, TEACCH, C-ABA and PECs. I have not completed anywhere near to all of these courses but the ones I have done have been incredibly informative and have supported me in my own class. Here are some of the courses available (specific information on course content and overviews can be seen when you click into each of the courses on the SESS website, this will give you a better rundown of individual course content).
General: Introduction to Autism, Accessing the curriculum through Numeracy/Literacy.
I did the introduction to Autism myself and would recommend it to any teacher who is going into a class without any prior knowledge or experience of working with children with ASD or any mainstream teaching working with children with an ASD diagnosis. I personally found it a little repetitive as I had done similar courses in the past but definitely one to do it you are completely new to working in the area or wish to refresh your knowledge. I had signed up for the accessing the curriculum (Literacy and Maths) courses in the first year in my class but our sub fell through and I was unable to attend. I have however been sent many messages (and have spoken to other teachers at other courses) and unfortunately, those I have spoken to did not find these useful in any way, moreso finding them to be mainly a repetition of this intro to Autism course with a few curricululm aspects thrown in. I am yet to meet or hear from someone who found these helpful but do feel free to contact me if you have found them so as I can’t speak from my own experience.
Behaviour and Assessment: ABLLs, VB-MAPP, PEP-3, AFLs, C-ABA
I honestly can’t recommend these courses enough. I have done all except the PEP-3 but a colleague has done this one and found it excellent. The tutors delivering these courses are absolute fonts of knowledge and so supportive, insightful and helpful. The assessment books for ABLLs, VB-MAPP and AFLs are all provided to you at the course (one set of books per school so if somebody at your school has already completed these courses you do not get a second set, simply share!). Having done ABLLS training previously in the UK many years ago, what I would say is that the course here is very much caught for time. All credit to the course providers who got through a huge amount of the material but to get through two massive assessment protocols in the timeframe given is an almost impossible feat and I think you end up doing more of one assessment than the other. In the year that I did this training ABLLS was very much at the forefront of the training but I have heard from others who have done this course as well and they felt VB-MAPP was being pushed moreso so I think having more time dedicated to the courses would be a huge benefit to all teachers. Unfortunately, as you will find with many of the courses provided, the providers are really strapped for time, no fault of their own. They can only do what they can in the time they are allocated to run the courses but it can make the training feel a little rushed at times. The PEP-3 course also gives you a box of resources to support your assessments and the C-ABA gives examples of templates and explanations in the guidance notes. These courses are intense but informative and will really help to guide and support you in your understanding and implementation of assessment and behaviour in your own classroom. For me personally, these are the courses that are an absolute must and I could not recommend the C-ABA highly enough. It takes place over 5 days, usually 1 day every fortnight and it was fantastic.
Communication: Lámh, Lámh Module 1, DIR Floortime, Early Communication, Language and Communication, PECs.
Communication is key in any classroom and enabling your children to be able to communicate their wants, needs and wishes is one of the most important things that we can do as teachers. These courses support you to increase your knowledge and understanding of communicative supports and devices available for your children through use of AAC devices (Proloquo2go, tobii_dynavox), sign language (Lámh), picture exchanges (PECs) as well as helping you to implement speech and language interventions and strategies to support and encourage speech and language development.
TEACCH (2day and 5 day)
I did a TEACCH course in the UK many years ago and hope to do the 2-day TEACCH course this coming year as I find if you are not using it every day when you do the training, you forget aspects and so need to refresh your own understanding and knowledge. The 2-day TEACCH courses give information about learning styles, looks at structured teaching, assessment, how to teach communication skills, social communication and behaviour management. The 5-day course again goes through the theory of TEACCH but also allows for hands on practise of what you are learning. As the website states “An emphasis is placed on the use of Structured TEACCHing principles to teach children and adolescents with Autism, skills in the areas of – academics (literacy and numeracy), communication, independence, social and leisure, vocational, relaxation and coping strategies”. I have found these courses very hard to get a place on so apply as early as you can.
Social skills and social stories.
Again an area where our children need lots of support and explicit teaching of skills. These courses are designed to show you how to assess social skills and implement strategies to support the teaching of social skills to children with ASD in a practical way. The social stories course gives insight into the use of social stories to support understanding and guides you in creating your own social stories that can support the children in your own class.
Courses run in conjunction with the amazing Middletown Centre for Autism:
Supporting children as they transition through education, Puberty, Relationships, Sexuality and Autism, Autism, mental health and managing anxiety and Autism and co-occuring needs.
I have completed two of these courses and to say they were brilliant is an understatement. So much knowledge, advice and information was given through these courses. Middletown in their own right offer huge amounts of support to children, adults, parents, teachers and professionals and their website is a treasure trove in itself. You can access it at https://www.middletownautism.com/ and if nothing else check out their research bulletins here https://www.middletownautism.com/research/research-bulletins So much information is available in these bulletins regarding assistive technology, sensory processing, communication, social skills, relationships and sexuality, autism and play, autism and girls and so much more. It is a one stop shop for information on all things ASD related for any parent or professional. You can also create a log in where you can then gain access to online learning materials; videos and pdfs about behaviour, sensory processing, communication and managing anxiety. A great starting point for anybody preparing to go into an ASD class or anyone already working in an ASD class.
Synergy Lifelong Learning
Synergy Lifelong Learning is a special education training and consultancy business that offers a range of training for parents, teachers, SNAs and other professionals. Courses do have fees but they are open to all (parents, teachers, SNAs, other professionals) and are well worth it. They offer a range of courses in relation to working in an ASD class such as an introduction to Autism, PRAISE Behaviour Support Training, PECs, TEACCH 2-day (as I mentioned earlier), Lámh and Multi-sensory Maths using Numicon courses in addition to a range of other courses. You can access their website here: https://synergylifelonglearning.ie/ I love that Synergy Lifelong Learning provides a place of training for all people working with children and adults with ASD (the SESS courses are for teachers only) They have been fantastically helpful in any of my previous dealings with them and I hope to attend the PRAISE Behaviour Support Training this coming year to refresh and increase my understanding and knowledge of behaviour.
So that’s my run through of some of the courses that are available to you as you prepare to go into your ASD class for the first time or are returning after the Summer break. These are only some of the courses that are available to us. Also remember that going on these courses and meeting other teachers in similar situations and settings is a type of CPD in itself. I have met some amazing and supportive fellow teachers at these courses who are willing to share ideas, strategies and advice from tehir own settign so definitely make the most of these occasions to learn from one another an dsupport one another. There’s no denying that it can be a very stressful job and you need to have a support system to offer guidance and support and who better thtn your fellow ASD teachers!
Also just to mention that these websites are not only there to showcase the courses that are available to us. The SESS website has so many downloadable resources available to support all teachers. Make sure to check out their Signposts and Resources sections too; a gold mine of resources and supports. There are also links to a book borrowing system provided by the NCSE (yearly paid subscription), links to Middletown courses (dates for 2019-20 not up as yet) and you can also apply for a school seminar or school visit from the SESS. Do this as early as you can though as waiting lists can be quite long. They will not observe children during these visits but will talk to you to give support and advice and again I would highly recommend this.
So that pretty much sums up the start of this blog series. I wanted to start it off by sharing information about these courses as I strongly believe that our own professional development should be our first port of call. We have a duty to the children we will be teaching to develop our own pedagogy and understanding as much as we can before embarking on this new adventure. I hope the information in this post is of use to some of you and can guide you towards increasing your own knowledge. As I have said the information in this post is based on my own experiences and those people have shared with me and is in no way an exhaustive list of the supports available to us all. Feel free to leave any comments in the comments box if you have any extra information or personal opinions to share. I want this blog to act as a place or forum from which we can share our knoweldge, opinions and information with one another.
My next blog post in this series will be about the importance of building a relationship with the parents in your classroom with tips on how to achieve this so stay tuned!