Learning Programme 1: Chris (Special School)

Background

Chris is a gentle and affectionate 15-year-old boy. He lives at home with his mum, dad, twin brother and older sister. Chris has a very happy disposition and loves to be in the company of family, friends and familiar adults. At home Chris enjoys going for walks with his mum and the family dog, playing on his swing and watching Sesame Street on the iPad.

Educational setting and services

Chris has a diagnosis of Down syndrome and a severe to profound learning disability. He is in a post-primary class of 4 students with severe to profound learning disabilities in a local special school with a population of 37 students. Chris’ class are supported by 1 teacher and 2 full-time SNAs.

In school, Chris enjoys musical activities, intensive interaction, one-to-one communication activities, bouncing on the physio ball and a range of tactile-related activities (e.g. body brushing and Tacpac). Chris accesses his learning best through sensory-based lessons. His daily routine also incorporates recommendations from his speech and language therapist and occupational therapist.

The whole-school ethos emphasises the importance of valuing the uniqueness of each student, ensuring their needs are met and potential reached by focussing on developing and celebrating strengths, interests and talents. Regular input from a specialised psychology team supports school staff to use positive behaviour-support techniques to recognise the function of a behaviour, seeking and addressing the underlying communication from that student. This team work in collaboration with Chris’ class team to support him with some of the things he finds more challenging at school, including transitioning and sensory-seeking behaviours.

Chris receives periodic input from the onsite occupational therapists, physiotherapists and speech and language therapists based on referrals from his class teacher (in collaboration with Chris’ family). There is also a school nurse on site at all times for medical support. At present, apart from routine overnight respiratory support, Chris is in good medical health. Chris and his family also avail of the onsite respite facilities one evening each week and on occasional weekends. He is reported to enjoy his time here and has developed good relationships with the staff team.

 

 

 

Communication

Chris’ school fosters a ‘total communication’ approach that includes the use of objects of reference, photographs, symbols and Lámh signs throughout all areas. These approaches are then individualised for each student to suit their needs.

Chris indicates good understanding of the familiar daily routine and, when given adequate processing time, is developing a good receptive understanding of a limited number of familiar photographs (locations/activities/people). He offers and engages in excellent eye contact and appears to make choices using eye gaze when shown two familiar objects or photographs (the consistency of the application of this skill is still being assessed). Chris also demonstrates the ability to use a BIGmack or Big Point switch to participate in repeated phrases during circle time or request ‘more’ of an item or activity. Chris is currently working on generalising this skill to a range of activities and settings.

Personality summary

Chris is a pleasure to teach and interact with. He has an infectious and hearty laugh that he happily shares during pleasurable joint activities with familiar friends, family and staff members. Chris easily develops unique relationships with individuals around him, reacting differently with each and demonstrating an appropriate uncertainty when interacting with a stranger. These strong relationships support Chris in his learning as he thrives during one-to-one interactions, seeking out eye contact, appropriate touch (reaching for your hands gently) and offering huge, warm smiles.