In 2012, Falkland House School in Fife was the first Scottish independent school outwith the National Autistic Society to gain autism accreditation. In order to achieve and maintain this recognition, we have to provide evidence to the NAS that we have a specialist knowledge and understanding of autism, and that this knowledge and understanding informs all our practices and planning.
Autism is a complex life-long neuro-developmental disorder that affects how people communicate with and relate to others, and how they make sense of the world. There is no cure for autism and some people with accompanying severe learning difficulties will need life-long assistance. However, with the right support, help and encouragement, some are able to learn strategies which help in managing their condition. Many, particularly those with a diagnosis of Asperger’s, will go on to lead independent adult lives.
The causes of autism are complex and continue to be researched. There is a genetic factor. Autism may affect as many as 1 in 100. The majority of those affected are boys. The average age of Asperger Syndrome diagnosis is around nine years old, although some young people have traits of autism but do not have a formal diagnosis. Autism sometimes occurs alongside other conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive Compulsive disorder (OCD), epilepsy or a specific learning difficulty like dyslexia or dyspraxia.
There is a range of problems in autism and some may be more or less severe in each individual. Each person with the diagnosis will be affected in a different way and has a unique profile. High functioning autism has no relation to academic ability level.
Triad of impairments:
- Social & Emotional
- → Difficulties with friendships
- → Difficulty working co-operatively
- → Difficulty managing unstructured parts of the day
- Language & Communication
- → Difficulty processing and retaining verbal information
- → Difficulties with body language, facial expression & gesture
- → Difficulty understanding jokes & sarcasm; social use of language
- → Literal interpretation
- Flexibility of Thought (imagination)
- → Difficulty coping with changes in routine
- → Difficulties with empathy
- → Difficulties with generalisation
The characteristics of autism vary from one person to another but people with autism may have:
- A love of routines
- → The world can seem an unpredictable and confusing place to people with autism, who often prefer to have a fixed daily routine so that they know what is going to happen every day. This routine can extend to always wanting to travel the same way to and from school or work, or eat exactly the same food for breakfast.
- Sensory sensitivity
- → People with autism often have heightened (hypersensitive) or reduced (hyposensitive) sensitivity in a number of different areas. This may be with sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, balance, or body awareness.
- Special interests
- → Many people with autism have intense special interests, often from a fairly young age. These can change over time or be life-long. Some people may eventually be able to work or study in related areas.
- Learning disabilities
- → People with autism may have learning disabilities that can affect all aspects of life, from studying in school to learning how to wash themselves or make a meal. As with autism, people can have different ‘degrees’ of learning disability, so some will be able to live fairly independently – although they may need a degree of support to achieve this – while others may require life-long, specialist support.
All people with autism can, and do, learn and develop with the right sort of support.
The Autism Accreditation award provides a seal of quality. Three times a year, an Autism Accreditation advisor visits Falkland House to observe the school’s practices and develops an action plan based upon the outcomes. The school has to go through reaccreditation every 3 years.
Here are some of our areas of strength that have been noted and commented on during inspections:
- Transition to life beyond FHS: “A small number of pupils (4) travel independently (quite considerable distances over a range of transport systems) from school to home following a process of risk assessment, supported travel and planning for unforeseen eventualities with a pre rehearsed contingency procedure. This encapsulates the schools drive and commitment to developing independent skills essential for life in the real world.”
- Playing a full part in school life: “Pupil opinion and voice does have an impact and pupils do feel valued and listened to. The school is truly pupil centred.”
- The environment: “The school is situated in stunning surroundings with fantastic potential to exploit the outdoor environment. The building presents quite a unique learning and living environment which is utilised to the advantage of the pupils.”
- The curriculum: “Pupils benefit from an excellent overall curriculum that provides a range of motivating and real life experiences that is appropriate to this academically able group of young people.”
- Teaching and learning: “The approaches and curriculum work for the pupils who attend Falkland House School has enabled pupils to ‘reset’ themselves, following difficult previous school and non-school provision, to be part of a likeminded community which values them and in which they are able to play an active part.”