More space for learning

2013-05-14 00:00

PETER Pan Special School is to be expanded and upgraded thanks to a provincial government grant.

The school, which was built to accommodate 60 pupils with special needs and has specially trained staff, has been filled beyond capacity for the past 10 years because of the demand for its teaching skills. Many parents of children with learning and physical disabilities have nowhere else to take them.

Principal Sheila Wills said the expansion is a blessing as it will greatly alleviate the current situation which sees staffers using garages and administrative rooms as classrooms. The new classrooms will have en suite bathrooms and the plans include therapy rooms, which will provide space for exercise and other activities.

The school will have its first hall which will be incorporated into the the existing design that has the classrooms built around a courtyard. The courtyard allows the children to interact in the garden area and it helps them to feel safe.

Wills said that the growing number of autistic children is one of the reasons they need the new facilities.

“Recent research suggests that one in 80 children may have symptoms that are listed on the autistic spectrum disorder. It is common for the parents to start realising that something is wrong when the child does not reach the usual childhood milestones.

“By the age of three, there is an indication that something is not quite normal. The parents will usually go the medical route and try to identify what the problem is.” Wills said the challenge with autistic children is the range of symptoms that can be displayed by an autistic person, and can vary in severity.

“Usually they are not good at socialising and they prefer to be alone. We try to make it easy for them to interact by making activities appealing to them. It is a challenge for the teacher to adapt the lesson for each child so that he or she can grasp the meaning of it.”

She said that autistic children should not be treated any differently from other special-needs children and they are taught in a similar manner to children who have cerebral palsy or Down’s syndrome.

Wills said although they follow the basic education curriculum, the children are not expected to write exams in the traditional way and their performance is assessed by their application of knowledge.

One of the tools they use is a SmartBoard, which is a computer with a screen on the wall that allows the children to interact with the program. She says it has achieved brilliant results. However, they only have one SmartBoard for the whole school.

“Our aim is to turn out functional people who can read a menu, calculate the money they need to buy groceries, send an e-mail or bake a cake. For many of these children, mixing with other children who have disabilities makes them feel normal. They are not teased or bullied.

“After the school holidays, they are glad to be back here because they think of the school as their other home. The teachers know their limitations and they know when to push them and how to get results. We realise they need visual stimulation and a lot of repetition.”

Wills observed that children who are taken out with their parents and introduced to normal social activities are the ones who manage the best, while those who are left at home feel rejected.

“Three of our children have been hired and they are very good employees. If you want to have a loyal employee who does not mind repetitive work then our children are perfect for the job.”



THE U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about one in 88 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). No one knows exactly why there is an increase in this condition. It is possible that there is a greater awareness of the symptoms and it is being diagnosed more frequently, but that is not the total answer.

After compiling and researching factors related to autism, experts believe these are some of the common factors that may be related to the condition: premature delivery, low birth weight, multiple births, caesarean delivery, breech delivery and in-vitro technology for assisted reproduction.

Autism or autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are described as developmental disabilities characterised by abnormal social interaction and delayed or absent communication. Some people exhibit repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour.

Research shows that symptoms develop usually by the age of three and come to a head at the age of eight when the child cannot cope with schooling and typical interaction with peers. Autistic people are described as being “locked in their own world” and struggle to communicate with others.

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