Communication, language and literacy is a major area of need for Tara. Tara’s parents have expressed that the progression of Tara’s communication is important for all her daily activities and express their desire that her understanding and expression is developed.
To develop Tara’s communication, the school aims to extend personal and core vocabulary to include words associated with her wider and immediate environment. The communication of this vocabulary is done through Lámh. Her vocabulary is taught through pairing it with visuals and associated activities. When Tara looks through her talk book, she is encouraged to use her signs for familiar people, symbols, objects and activities. A number of teaching activities are completed throughout the day to encourage her use and understanding of such vocabulary. When indicating preferred activities, paint colours, shop items etc, Tara expresses a preference using her Lámh signs and will receive this preference after she has done so. She will also sign to request items or support using her Lámh signs e.g. asking for ‘help please’ when opening her yoghurt. Knowledge of vocabulary/signs is then extended through verbal instruction activities: ‘Will you get the book on the shelf?’ ‘Will you get the butter from the fridge?’ ‘Where is the pencil?’
For Tara to understand her environment around her it is important for her to have visuals to aid her comprehension with all that occurs on a daily basis. It is also important that she connects the visuals with their meanings. Using visual timetables Tara is able to understand what class/activity she will have next. Tara also responds to the meaning of these visuals by being excited when she sees the visuals for PE/cooking or sitting at her desk to do individual work etc. Tara also learns to follow a sequence of visuals in order to follow important instructions. This is important for systematic activities such as what to do when we hear the fire alarm and knowing the steps to follow for dressing yourself. Symbols found in her immediate environment are also taught to Tara; these include symbols such as toilet, wet floor, fire exit and stop. Meaning is given to these symbols by matching them to Lámh signs in the classroom. They are also taught through activities using these symbols in the local environment, e.g. stopping at stop signs, going through the fire exit during drill and recognising the toilet symbol for her toilets around the school.
To improve Tara’s recognition of money, matching activities were used. This was worked on using real money in order to promote generalisation of notes and coins outside the classroom. These activities ranged from matching coins to pictorial representations, matching coins to numerical/price symbols to working in the school shop and putting away coins into their assigned sections in the money box. Tara’s recognition of money has progressed so she now extends this knowledge on her trips to purchase items in the school shop but also during our trips out to the local supermarket and café. It is during these events that Tara will look at the price symbol of an item and try and pick the corresponding notes/coins in her possession. This activity will be continually reinforced in order for Tara to continue to develop her ability to use real money in everyday contexts. Such shopping activities also allow for her development in a number of other learning outcomes across the PLUs as well as her social skills targets.
Tara demonstrates great ability with the language of movement. Both inside and outside the classroom Tara can follow instructions in terms of walking, sitting, running etc. When it comes to the language of position, Tara can find it difficult to understand these concepts. Therefore, prepositions are used throughout numerous tasks across the PLUs in order to develop Tara’s awareness and understanding. To begin teaching the concepts, a number of games are played within the classroom. Using concrete materials such as a small ball and a box, Tara was asked to follow verbal instructions using prepositions: put the ball in the box, put the ball behind the box etc. Visuals and modelling are also used to reinforce the concept. Flashcard matching activities are also used to further strengthen her understanding. This activity was then further generalised to other tasks as part of her learning programme. For example Tara is taught to set a table setting in the classroom and is asked to place items using prepositions, e.g. put the fork beside the plate, put the cup on the saucer etc. This is also used during PE activities: kick the ball between the cones; stand behind the line; jump over/under the bar. An integrated approach to the use of these shape and space concepts will allow Tara a better opportunity to develop familiarity with the language.
An important aspect of Tara’s education is to become as independent as possible. Tara’s IEP targets reflect this in terms of personal care. Due to her physical disability, this can be a real challenge for Tara. Tara is encouraged daily to dress herself and take part in personal care routines. Visual approaches, modelling and different strategies are used to encourage and support Tara in this area. An example of this would be the flick approach when putting on her coat. Using a chair Tara puts her arms through the jacket sleeves and swings the jacket over her head independently. Dressing herself after using the toilet is also encouraged using verbal praise and rewards. A mirror is then used in order for Tara to identify areas that need to be focused on during her dressing attempt. This is an ongoing target for Tara and will be supported continuously until she masters these personal care tasks independently. Tara is continuously encouraged and motivated through positive reinforcement.
Tara does not recognise the difference between public and private places and the different behaviours associated with these. For Tara’s own personal safety it is important to explicitly teach her what is appropriate and inappropriate. Once again teaching this is done through her strengths of visual processing. The teaching strategies used are social stories, visual matching activities, modelling, modelling videos and incidental learning. This also branches to how we appropriately greet people, especially people we do not know. These teaching methods are reinforced weekly in order for knowledge and awareness to be fully demonstrated and continued.
For her home economics classes, Tara needs to relocate to the kitchen. In doing so, she is reminded using visuals of what she needs to bring with her—apron, rocker knife, lunchbox etc. Tara recognises the need to transition to a new environment and will thus make her own way and locate the home economics room. Within this different room, Tara will follow hygiene visuals by putting on her apron, tying back her hair and washing her hands before cooking. She participates in making a variety of snacks or meals and is assisted when necessary. With support, Tara recognises the function of the oven, toaster and oventop pans. She once again follows safety visuals of how to put saucepans on the oven top, what to use when taking items out of the oven and how to be careful when switching on/off cooking utensils. After participating in cooking Tara follows verbal and visual instructions to wash and put away the dishes and clean down her table. After a number of visits to the kitchen, Tara recognises where to store some kitchen utensils and will do so independently.
Within the base classroom, Tara has also become aware of the functions and behaviours associated with the different areas of the room. Following her visual timetable through repetition Tara is now aware of when break/lunch time is and will walk over to the lunch table and take out what she has to eat and drink. Similarly, after completing tasks, Tara chooses what sensory activity she would like to do. When she chooses the beanbag Tara knows to proceed to the relax area and lie down on the beanbag. Tara will then request to listen to her meditation music while she rests.
As part of her Level one short course, Tara also goes to visit the local pony stables. Here she gets to help out with feeding, grooming and exercising the ponies. She also gets to watch the professionals perform daily personal care routines and demonstrate what the health and safety risks are. As part of this course, Tara also had the opportunity to go to the local co-op and purchase food for the horses, thus allowing her to reinforce her numeracy learning outcomes.
As part of the Green-Schools initiative, Tara helps with ensuring our school is a green school. On our classroom’s assigned day, Tara and a peer will go around the school and pick up any rubbish that is seen. This is completed inside and outside the school premises. Before this task was undertaken a PowerPoint social story and modelling video was shown to the students. This demonstrated that protective clothes needed to be worn and the safety reasons, while also displaying the task itself and the steps involved in the activity. This allowed Tara to gain awareness of the job and how to take part. Engaging in the job itself also allowed for further incidental learning opportunities for communication, social skills, fine/gross motor and numeracy. For example greeting others during the task or answering questions like: ‘What colour?’ (is this can?) or following prepositions: ‘Look under the table.’
Once a fortnight, Tara also helps in the school shop. Learning towards this goal began with visits inside the school shop and becoming familiar with the items. This was organised by asking frequent questions such as, ‘Can I have a sandwich/bottle of water?’ etc. Once understanding was gained, we progressed to helping out at break time. Initially students would point and say what they want in order to promote Tara’s understanding. Tara will then proceed to locate and give them the item. Tara is supported in terms of the money but it is hoped that as a staged progressive challenge this will be introduced to her in the future, if deemed possible.
Using art as a means of expression allows Tara a way to reduce stress, improve awareness and enhance her communication. During art, Tara created work based on real stimuli through a multitude of materials and techniques. For example, with the use of paint and stencils Tara was able to create a butterfly painting independently. Similarly, Tara completed an art project on the season autumn. This also allowed for the opportunity of a full sensory experience whereby Tara engaged in a walk along a wooden area in order to choose her own leaf to use for the art project. This gave the opportunity to link with Tara’s ‘Being part of a community’ unit whereby she had to engage in rules of road safety and transition between environments. With support, Tara then used air-drying clay to create an autumn leaf bowl.
Using visual art to communicate is a major aim for Tara in order to support her communication skills. One such way to achieve this was by forming a talk book which contains photographs of Tara’s core vocabulary. This talk book was completed using a book creator app on her Ipad. It allowed Tara to learn and recognise vocabulary that she encounters on a daily basis but also as a means of communication with her peers. This talk book details Tara’s likes and dislikes, family and friends. It is a means of others around her getting to know and understand her better. At times Tara was also supported in taking these photographs herself. These photographs also included pictures of her emotions, detailing what makes her happy, afraid, sad and angry. Using the photographs allows for Tara to communicate with others but also enforces recognition of her core vocabulary and encourages the development of her Lámh signs. Furthermore, Tara’s learning of emotions through this talk book enabled Tara to create other art pieces depicting emotion. For example, Tara chose corresponding facial feature flashcards to the emotion asked by the teacher, and stuck these on to the empty paper plate faces that she was supported in creating.
Music is a big passion of Tara’s so it is an aim to incorporate music as much as possible, so her learning is enjoyable but also giving the possibility to use it as a support to achieve her potential. Tara’s communication and use of Lámh signs are taught and reinforced through a multitude of age-appropriate songs. This also encourages her to experiment with vocal sounds of corresponding Lámh signs or other core vocabulary. Music also gives Tara the opportunity to get involved with extra-curricular activities, specifically that of the school choir. During the school Christmas mass Tara took part in the choir and with support also played a small excerpt of ‘Jingle Bells’ on the keyboard for the school.
Teaching Tara about relevant sounds in her environment and associating them with the relevant stimuli also prepares her for transitioning to new environments. This matching activity used sounds associated with cars, church bells, animals, busy corridors, washing machines, pedestrian crossing sounds etc. This activity also allows her to recognise and build her awareness to stimuli in her environment while also giving her meaning to the world around her.
Refining fine motor skills is important for Tara in order for her to function in her surroundings. By developing such skills, she can also encourage further use of her prosthesis to aid her during everyday tasks. In order to develop such skills, Tara plays board games with particular fine motor/hand eye coordination properties or follows basic Lego designs which also helps with to the development of her number sense and mathematical concepts. During cooking classes, Tara is improving her skills at mixing, spooning and other fine motor skills. She is also becoming familiar with the use of a new piece of equipment specific to her needs—a rocker knife. Tara aims to continually develop the necessary movements to allow the knife to assist her with her cutting skills. Similarly, during art, Tara works on the use of a range of different tools such as pencils, paintbrushes, clothespins and scissors to create her art pieces. Throughout the day, Tara will also participate in tasks such as cleaning work areas, picking up small pieces of papers and opening and closing zips on her pencil case, lunch bag and coat. As a part of her mainstream PE class Tara also takes part in group exercise activities. Here she will work on her gross movement through warm up and cool down activities as well as a range of differing sports and games that are suitable and differentiated to Tara’s ability.
As part of her timetable, Tara takes part in yoga. Here Tara engages with a range of movements that enable her to work on her balance, coordination and movement. Using modelling or visuals Tara is able to copy poses to the best of her ability and each week she increases her strength and confidence in improving her movement skills. Tara thoroughly enjoys this class as it also allows her to respond to music in a relaxing way. In certain weeks, the teacher incorporates sequences of movements to music in a dance style to further the movement and coordination skills. Each class is done with other students, so Tara also has the opportunity to interact and work on her communication skills.