Whilst embracing the national curriculum frameworks for the different age groups, the school’s main priority is to address the autism-specific barriers to learning so that the pupils’ sense of well-being is improved and they are able to take advantage of learning opportunities and achieve to their potential.
Communication and language, social interaction and imagination and independence skills are taught through a range of teaching and learning approaches across the school.
A multi-modal approach to communication is promoted which includes speech, symbols, photographs, objects of reference and signing. Class teams work closely with speech and language therapists to assess pupils and develop individual communication programmes which are embedded across the curriculum. Their aims are to develop the pupils’ non-verbal and verbal communication abilities as well as social interaction, attention and understanding. The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is used very successfully in all curriculum areas to support those pupils with limited or no verbal language in expressing initially needs and wants and over time their opinions and comments.
The pupils’ sensory difficulties are addressed by the staff with the support of the occupational therapy team; a sensory profile assessment is carried out which informs individual pupils’ sensory diets. Awareness and understanding of the sensory issues related to autism has enabled us to make huge improvements to the well-being of individual pupils.
Routine and structure have key roles in the organisation of the school day, the classroom environment and individual work patterns; visual timetables, individual schedules, working towards contracts, individual work stations and clear routines establish and reinforce expectations for the pupils, help them to understand the day’s events, reduce anxieties and support the learning process.
Pupils of all ages at Thomas Bewick enjoy a wide range of physical and sporting opportunities both in school and out in the community. We believe that regular and frequent exercise can allay some of the difficulties and frustrations young people with autism suffer and has a positive benefit on communication, interaction and learning. Regular activities include swimming, horse-riding, PE trampolining and rebound therapy.
Extending our pupils’ learning into the community and increasing awareness and coping skills in a range of environments is very important to us. Regular and frequent visits support the transfer of skills across different settings and increase opportunities for pupils to socially interact with a wider group of people. In addition to using local facilities, pupils visit leisure and soft play venues, farms, the city-centre, cinemas and restaurants. We seek active involvement in the community and enjoy very good links with other schools, further education colleges, cultural venues such as The Custom House in South Shields and organisations such as Skimstone Film and Sound.