Radlett Lodge School: “Connections” – A Review
Connections is an innovative, versatile programme that has been designed specifically for children and young people with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder, but is also appropriate for those with learning difficulties.
Written by Jessica Curry, Connections consists of two CD’s which, between them, encompass a range of stories, songs, music and rhymes. The CD’s can be used throughout the day in different settings, for example, home and school and reflect the routine and structure of a day from which young people with autism benefit.
Curry addresses a range of issues that are often difficult to tackle in young people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders. For example, concepts such as loud/quiet, traffic safety, friendship and awareness of self and others. The CD’s are accompanied by an informative booklet of extremely high quality that discusses each track in turn. The words for the songs and rhymes are offered with options and examples for alternatives and variations. Each track is accompanied by information such as aims, equipment needed and how to implement its use in one to one work and in group situations. For those not using the programme in an educational setting there is advice on how to implement it in the home, encouraging fun and positive interactions with all the family.
At Radlett Lodge School – a specialist residential school owned and run by the National Autistic Society, for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, aged 3-11, music plays a significant role throughout the school day. Instructions are frequently sung to the children, calming music is used to aid relaxation during some sessions and more upbeat music used during sessions such as Physical Education and Assembly. Children also receive weekly music lessons in which they are given the opportunity to explore instruments and different components of music such as dynamics, tempo, timbre, texture and structure.
The development of Connections will not only provide material to use in musical interaction sessions with the students at Radlett Lodge but will help to generalise the use of music throughout the whole school curriculum, encouraging all staff members to use music in different subject sessions. The framework for the programme is person centred and can be used in conjunction with actions, objects of reference, movement/dance, and visual forms of communication to both gain and maintain attention.
Sensory issues are a whole school focus at Radlett Lodge. The second CD in the Connections programme offers the children a range of sensory components. Our students developmentally cover a wide range of stages of sensory exploration. The lower functioning students are at the stage of “just being” – learning to accept and tolerate the world. In contrast, our higher functioning students have reached the “developing” stage – they use purposeful hand-eye coordination, have an awareness of cause and effect and anticipate outcomes. Connections allows for differentiation between students depending on stages of development and level of ability, focusing on relaxation and refreshment of the senses. It proves itself as a useful resource for all our pupils, regardless of ability or responsiveness.
A further school focus at Radlett Lodge is the promotion of independence, self help and daily living skills for both day and residential students. Connections offers a large number of action rhymes which are designed to establish routines for daily living skills. For example, getting dressed, transitions and mealtimes. The rhymes are ideal for frequent repetition and can be adapted to work as a narrative until the child has accomplished the task in question. The more musical activities reinforce the teaching of other basic social and independence skills such as traffic safety.
My professional interest in the Connections programme was primarily on how it could be implemented to develop functional communication and social interaction. It is in this area that Connections excels. Connections provides original musical material that can be used to aid the development of functional communication skills such as eye contact, listening, gesture, anticipation and cause and effect. It is designed to involve and compliment communication systems that students may be using already.
The many different elements of Connections ensure variety which in turn creates a motivating and fun environment for the child, offering them something worthwhile to communicate about at their level. The running commentary of the different materials helps to develop the student’s awareness by complementing and extending their interactions. The opportunity for cause and effect in structured social situations teaches the students that functional communication necessitates a reaction from another person. Songs such as “Hello” and “Waving” encourage the students to realise that their communicative behaviours can affect other people.
The diversity of the programme encourages early forms of communication and social interaction along with more complex concepts such as emotions and the ability to cope with change – fundamental issues for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders. Whilst the programme recognises the therapeutic value of music it also recognises that not every child responds to music based activities. For those who fall within this category there are not only the rhymes to use, but stories that encourage flexibility of thought and the development of memory skills.
Speech and Language Therapist