“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” Fred Rogers.
The Teach Me AsIAm Early Years Programme was developed by AsIAm to provide an introduction to autism for professionals who work with young children (0-4 years.) The delivery of the programme has been divided into phases, with phase one delivered to early years educators and phase two delivered to early years support workers. This is to ensure consistency in the level of knowledge of autism across all professionals involved in the supported development of young children. We are delighted to have had this programme funded through Early Childhood Ireland’s ‘Pyjama Day’ initiative.
With the introduction of the second ECCE year in Ireland, and the implementation of the Access and Inclusion Model, more and more children with autism will be accessing early years education. It has been widely acknowledged that early intervention is of crucial importance for children with autism, yet our research has shown us that early years professionals did not feel equipped with the knowledge and tools to best support and include children with autism in their settings. 60% of educators who engaged in our research reported that they had never received any training in the area of autism.
The aim of this programme is to develop practical skills and tools for practitioners to make the early years setting as inclusive and accepting an environment as possible for all children. It will be very different from anything that has been carried out in the sector previously; early years educators have had an input into exactly which areas surrounding autism they’d like to learn more about.
AsIAm launched the ‘Teach Me As I Am’ Early Years Autism Training Programme in North Dublin on Monday 19th February 2019. This was the first training session of thirty-four to take place across the country until the end of June.
Speaking about the demand for the training, AsIAm’s Deputy C.E.O/Early Years Training Programme Co-Ordinator Fiona Ferris said, “The early years sector has really positively represented itself in its openness and eagerness to learn about autism. All 16 locations were booked out within 12 hours of launching the programme, with a further 400+ people on the waiting list. This shows us the extent of the need for knowledge and training in this area, and we feel strongly that we are addressing the needs of the sector in this training programme.”
AsIAm is delighted to have had extremely positive feedback from those who have attended the training sessions. One attendee from the Kerry training reported “It was one of the best informed workshops I have been to in a long time”, while another from North Dublin said “At last we have a course that explains so much about autism. I came away feeling that I understood a little more about how the classroom can affect the children in my service, who have not been diagnosed yet but clearly are struggling. My staff and I have felt so helpless not knowing what to do to make life easier, happier and fun for them. It helps to understand how the world looks and sounds to them”.
Phase Two of the programme was launched in October 2019, at which point a partnership between AsIAm and Better Start; the National Early Years Quality Development Service was formed. Early Years Support Workers from Better Start received two days training in October and November 2019, delivered by Fiona Ferris – Deputy C.E.O for AsIAm and Hannah O’Dwyer – Education Officer for AsIAm.
This training was delivered regionally in Leinster, Munster and Connacht and was very well received for its informative delivery and practical supports. In conjunction with Michelle O’Donoghue, lecturer in Speech and Language Therapy at the University of Limerick, a communication resource booklet was created and distributed to the EYS workers who attended the Teach Me AsIAm training. This resource was designed as an aid for them to assist practitioners in supporting young children experiencing communication difficulties. A similar resource booklet was created and distributed to the attendees to aid their assistance of practitioners in supporting young children experiencing sensory processing difficulties. This resource was created in conjunction with Megan Goodale, Occupational Therapist at Cork University Hospital. Phase Three of the Teach Me AsIAm Early Years Programme is currently in the planning process and will contain input from specialised professionals in specific areas relating to autism.
Training continues across the country, bringing knowledge and awareness to the early years education sector. We look forward to keeping everyone updated!