At the Dolphins, school for children with Autism, the main goal is to offer children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders an environment in which they receive the stimulation, support and augmentative methods they need to develop themselves optimally.

We emphasize that no child with autism is the same, and translate this knowledge into creating individual programmes for each individual child, suiting their abilities and talents, difficulties and impairments, and their interests.

In order to do so, we use the TEACCH method (Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication Handicapped Children) as the base of our working method. According to this method, the following six steps are essential to execute when educating children with autism:

Step 1    Understanding autism

Step 2    Understanding the unique child, by sensitively assessing his/her
              competencies and disabilities

Step 3    Increase predictability and comprehension for the child by               implementing vast routines and schedules

Step 4    Instruction and expectancies are clarified to improve the               comprehension of the child

Step 5    Structuring and instructingof tasks

Step 6    Motivating pupils by means of using their special interests

At the Dolphins we make it our priority that both impairments and talents are respected and taken care off by means of stimulating the talents and trying to decrease the impairments. By means of this we not only want to offer the pupils a safe and stimulative environment, but also an environment in which they feel at ease, where they have a good time and are respected for the person they are.

What do we offer our pupils

Based on the information about autism as discussed above, we offer the pupils from the Dolphins, school for children with autism, a variety of augmentative and supportive strategies, to ensure their chance for optimal development.

  • A clear, concrete and tranquil environment (the Auti-class)
        • Balanced daily school programme (strenuous vs relaxing activities)
        • Customised contents of task (based on individuals level of functioning)
        • Augmentative and alternative communication (communicative support)
        • Social story telling (explaining social rules and situations)
        • Sensory Integration activities (stimulation of the different senses)
        • Speech therapy (stimulation of speech, comprehension and communication)
        • Music therapy (stimulation of brain development)

Clear and concrete interior – the Auti-class

Based on the fact that children with autism have a great need for structure and predictability,   caused by their inability to phase out unneeded information (information processing impairment), and their inability to see the bigger picture and not only details (central coherence theory), the setting in which these children are taught should be low on extra stimuli and have concrete and vast places where activities take place.

Balanced daily schoolprogrammes

In order to ensure optimal learning possibilities, offering pupils a balanced daily programme is a necessity. As many children with autism have difficulties regulating their sensory input (staying alert and focused on the task) and additional concentration problems, they need a lot of alternation between mentally demanding and/or strenuous tasks versus relaxing and physical activities.
Based on this knowledge, the daily school programme at the Dolphins has been created in such a way that after two or three mentally challenging activities, there is time for relaxing and/or physical exercise. This sequence offers the pupils the chance to unwind and refocus.

Customised contents of tasks

We at the Dolphins emphasize the individuality of each child, and stress the fact that, especially children with autism, may show a variability in level of functioning on the different domains of development. For example a pupil might show cognitive skills suiting his chronological age (like doing math, or reading), but have a severe delay in communication, social-emotional and/or motor skills. Based on these facts, offering pupils with special needs a customized educational programme is the only way to ensure the chance to learn and develop optimally. In order to create this customized programme, we take the results from the pupil’s assessment (all children are assessed prior to coming to the school, and look at the overall developmental age, plus all the ages from the separate domains. During the first weeks of school, we then observe the pupil, offering him/her materials from different levels of functioning (around his/her developmental age per domain), to find out about where he/she is. From thereon we draw up a plan of action, with goals that are hoped to be achieved. These goals will be evaluated regularly to keep track of the pupil’s progress and to see whether the offered education is set at the right level (challenging enough, but not overasking).

Augmentative and alternative communication

One of the main characteristics of people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is their impaired communication. Children and adults find it difficult to understand others (receptive communication) and express themselves (expressive communication). Especially in the school-setting it is important to ‘overcome’ this problem, as much of a child’s cognitive, social and academic progress depend on communication, by means of learning through listening and understanding, asking and answering.
Broadly speaking, communication occurs with at least one other person and in the context of the environment, and serves the following functions:

  • To indirectly control the environment, for example to obtain or reject something.
  • To regulate social interactions, for example to express an emotion or to interact with a friend.
  • To receive and convey information and ideas.

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is created to support children to achieve these functions of communication. Any concrete ´device´ can be used, such as pictograms, photos, writing, sign language and gestures.
There are many different AAC methods, each working in a different way. Which programme to choose should be based on the individual child: his/her impairments, needs and competencies.

Children who benefit from AAC, are children who are unable to participate meaningfully in day-to-day activities and events just because of difficulties communicating. Even when it is expected that a child will eventually be able to speak, AAC may be recommended in addition to speech therapy. A child who cannot communicate effectively now due to inadequate speech is still at risk for cognitive and social delays, excessive frustration, and behaviour problems.

Besides, research has proven that using an AAC programme does not imply condemning a child to a lifetime of abnormal and limited communication, having to use augmentative devices, nor does it mean the end of any hope of speech development. Numerous studies have found that the introduction of AAC frequently has a positive affect on speech; children who are given AAC often develop speech faster than they would have otherwise.
At the Dolphins, we for example apply AAC to clarify the daily agenda: what activities are to be executed that day. Depending on the level of functioning of each pupil, they are offered a board with either objects, pictograms, photo’s or cards with words, which refer to a certain activity. Using these concrete and permanent materials, when needed in the form of matching, makes it easier for the child to understand   what we expect from him/her during the day: which activities are taking place (and therefor where to go and what to do), plus he/she will get insight into the sequence of the schoolprogramme. While using this system, the speech is stimulated by means of asking the pupil what the, for instance pictogram refers to.

Social story telling

In order to teach and explain children with autism certain social situations, like an upcoming change in routine, the rules in class, or desired (social) behaviour, we at times use social story telling to make the communication more concrete and easier to understand (it can be seen as a form of AAC), and Social story telling is generally used to teach social skills to children with autism. A social story is a simple description of an everyday social situation, written from a child´s perspective. The idea is that the child rehearses the story ahead of time with the teacher (for instance during the introduction time at school). When the situation actually happens (for instance, the child shows undesired behaviour), the child will be supported with the story to help guide his/her behaviour.

We at the Dolphins spent extra care on writing and creating the story telling to match the pupils´ vocabulary and comprehension level. For instance, for pupils who have little comprehension of words, we offer them a story made out of pictures or photo´s (like a comic book). In that way, story telling does not only teach the pupils social skills, but also is enjoyable.

Sensory Integration activities

Many people with autism are hypersensitive or hyposensitive (under-sensitive) to stimuli like light, noise, and touch. They may be unable to stand the sound of a dishwasher, or, on the other extreme, need to flap and even injure themselves to be fully aware of their bodies. These sensory integration difficulties may be treatable with sensory integration therapy.

Sensory integration therapy involves specific sensory activities (swinging, bouncing, brushing, and more) that are intended to help the client regulate his or her sensory response. The outcome of these activities may be better focus, improved behaviour, and even lowered anxiety.

As sensory integration therapy is generally offered by a specially trained occupational therapist, whom is not (yet) part of the team at the Dolphins, we can not offer the pupils SI therapy. We do however offer them activities that stimulate the use of their different sensory systems, hence sensory integration activities. Many of these activities have been copied from the Orthopedagogical Day Centre (ODC) in the Netherlands (implemented by an ocupational therapist), and added by the orthopedagogue.
The activities are based on the sensory integration therapy, and focussed on stimulating the different sensory systems, like the visual- (for instance by means of playing hide and seek with materials), tactile- (for instance by means of handling/manipulating different textures, like water, foam, sand etc.), olfaction- (sense of smell; by means of introducing different fragrances/odeurs), and gustation system (sense of taste; by means of introducing different tastes in food, like sweet, salty, sour etc.).  (The other sensory systems, knowing hearing-, vestibulair- (movement detection and balance), and proprioceptive system (position and movement of the body) are being stimulated during other classes, such as music and gym activities like jumping on the trampoline.)