Mainstream post-primary

Background

S is a sixteen-year-old boy with a diagnosis of autism. He lives with his parents and two younger brothers. S is a very endearing young man with a fantastic sense of humour who loves to tell jokes. He enjoys watching films both at home and in the cinema and playing games on his Xbox. S also enjoys playing games such as Uno, Monopoly Deal and Dobble with family, friends, staff in school, and Middletown staff. Such games are an excellent tool for practicing social interaction skills, turn taking and how to manage when someone else wins.

Triggers

In line with S’s diagnosis of autism, he experiences some challenges when interacting with his peers in less structured environments. S is a very enthusiastic young man who sometimes missed the social cues about personal space. This was often misinterpreted by his peers resulting in them shying away from spending time with him at break and lunch, impacting upon opportunities for leisure pursuits outside of the family home or with other young people. Greater social/ leisure opportunities were an objective which S, his parents and MCA staff were keen to work towards during the summer months of the learning support period.

Strategies

During one-to-one sessions with MCA staff during school and home visits S had become accustomed to ranking options, e.g. whether to play a game first or do some work first. MCA staff used the same principle to encourage S to consider new leisure activities during the summer period. S was presented with a list of possible options for activities during the summer months and he chose his preferred options – Outdoor climbing wall at Carrowmena Activity Centre, Go Karting at Campsie, and the Riverwatch Aquarium, Derry/Londonderry. (Appendix 1)

S was prepared in advance of each outing with photos of the destination, and he also looked at the website of each place to learn more about it. MCA staff also provided details about restaurants which they would go to on each outing prior to the visit, e.g. through showing S photographs and a copy of the menu.

Summary

During the journey to each destination MCA staff gave S a phone with Google Maps on it showing the route to the destination and how long the journey would take. S enjoyed relaying the directions to the driver and the count down of time also helped to reduce his anxiety about the length of the journey.

On arrival at Carrowmena Activity Centre, S was a little apprehensive. MCA staff had brought some fidgets which he used while waiting for the instructor to set up. S thoroughly enjoyed the outdoor climbing wall and zip line. During the visit he also enjoyed talking to other participants about the activities. MCA took photographs during the trip and these were stuck into a positive memory book at the end of the summer.

During the journey to the Campsie Karting Centre there was a long tail back of traffic due to road works. S became a little emotionally dysregulated. Again, the fidgets which MCA staff brought along were very helpful and MCA staff also distracted S by playing a game of articulate using https://www.thegamegal.com/word-generator/. This was very effective as S enjoys playing board and card games. The Go Karting was a huge success. Photos and videos were taken to share with S’s parents.

In each of these settings where participants were to stand or sit was clearly marked on account of health and safety precautions. This really helped S to understand the concept of personal space. On returning to school S’s school staff were able to use some of the same strategies, e.g. markers of where to stand in queues. Of course, in more recent months the Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced the need to socially distance which inadvertently was a good teaching tool for S. 

Appendix 1

Summer Activities 

Pick your favourite 3 activities to do with … and … during July and August

  • The beach
  • Portrush – Barry’s
  • Go Karting
  • Fun Farm
  • Aquarium
  • Outdoor climbing wall
  • Walk at Roe Valley Country Park
  • Archery
  • Trampolining