The role of the school’s Occupational therapists is to support, promote, maintain, and develop the skills learners need to functionally take part in everyday school and home activities. They support teachers within their classes to develop learners’ handwriting, gross motor, fine motor, perceptual and independence skills. Teachers consult with the therapists to compile specific IEDP goals for each learner after a full assessment is completed. The occupational therapists play a pivotal role in the vocational phase and after school placement of learners.
Learners with ASD often exhibit difficulties in sensory processing. Sensory overload can present itself in different ways such as challenging behaviour, withdrawal or complete shutdown, which all add to these learners’ barriers to learning. Therefore another essential role of the occupational therapists at Vera School is to assess and target learner’s sensory processing difficulties. Adding the right sensory support and intervention within a learner’s learning environment assists in decreasing barriers to learning and helps the learner’s nervous system to become more organised or regulated and therefore can augment the learner’s attention and performance within activities. The Occupational therapists support teachers in implementing strategies within the classroom, to try to manage the sensory needs of each learner.
Learners are often prescribed a sensory diet by the occupational therapist. A sensory diet is a specifically designed daily activity plan, which aims to incorporate sensory activities throughout the learner’s day in order to improve focus, attention and ensure the learner is regulated throughout the day. A qualified occupational therapist can use their advanced training and evaluation skills to develop an effective sensory diet for the learners to implement throughout the course of the day.
The role of the school’s Speech therapists is to develop communication and social skills within context. The speech therapists are involved in the literacy, language, communication and social skills aspect of learning programme delivery. With a variety of techniques, speech therapy addresses a range of challenges often faced by persons with ASD. For instance, some individuals with ASD do not speak, while others love to talk but have difficulty using conversational speech and/or understanding the nuances of language and nonverbal cues when talking with others.
A key element in our learning programme delivery is the use of alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) systems. Preverbal learners with ASD can benefit from a variety of augmentative and alternative communicative (AAC) devices and methods. At Vera School we promote the use of The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and Makaton.
PECS is used to augment and support the communication development of learners. PECS is among the most commonly used AAC systems with learners and adults who have little or no verbal ability. Therapists, teachers and parents help the learner build a vocabulary and articulate desires, observations and feelings through pictures. This system can be taught and used at home, in the classroom and a variety of other settings.
Makaton is used to augment the communication of staff and parents. Makaton is a multi-modal communication system that combines speech with signs and symbols. Signing while speaking provides extra visual cues for learners to help them understand the spoken message. Makaton is always used together with normal grammatical speech.
The speech therapists are committed to support parents and staff to implement PECS and Makaton across the day. We acknowledge that most learners with ASD prefer the visual over verbal modality for learning. We are continually making efforts to create a visually explicit school environment that will enhance clear communication. Often the therapists will offer support and expert guidance in the classroom or other environments.
Teachers consult with the therapists to compile specific IEDP goals for each learner after a full assessment is completed. Such a program begins with an individual evaluation by a speech therapist to assess an individual’s verbal aptitudes and challenges. From this evaluation, the therapist and teacher set goals that may include mastering spoken language and/or learning nonverbal communication skills such as AAC systems. In each case, the goal is to help the person communicate in more useful and functional ways. The therapist support teachers in developing these skills.
Psychologist and Counsellor
The role of the Psychologist and Counsellor is to provide support and recommendations to teachers and parents with regards to a learner’s cognitive, behavioral, emotional and academic needs. Their role includes supporting teachers with specific challenges that arise for learners with ASD and their families.
Each learner with ASD is different and has a range of strengths and challenges. Teachers consult with the psychologist or counsellor to compile specific IEDP goals for each learner after a full assessment is completed. The assessment acts as a roadmap that identifies the learner’s strengths and areas of need to help guide intervention. The IEDP can help teachers and parents capitalise on an individual’s strengths and accommodate any challenges.
The Psychologist and Counsellor also provide recommendations or make referrals to help with:
Managing anxiety or mood disorders such as depression
Managing sleeping problems that often coincide with ASD
Social and life skills groups to help people with ASD improve conversational skills, nonverbal communication, sexuality education and emotional development