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Attitude and aspiration – how ASDAN’s SEND programmes helped a learner achieve life goals

Centres delivering ASDAN courses can vary hugely in size, from mainstream schools with well over one thousand pupils, to informal community groups with a handful of learners.

Shane Goncalves is a young learner with profound and multiple learning difficuilties (PMLD) and holds the distinction of attending a setting with just one learner. Shane’s Annexe is a registered ASDAN centre where Shane thrived completing his course, building his confidence and positivity towards learning. We spoke to Shane’s mother, Sam Goncalves, to discover more about how this unique situation came to be.

“Shane attended a specialist secondary school where he achieved some sensory based ASDAN accreditation. He then went on to a specialist college, where the placement broke down and as a result, Shane went backwards. He chose to communicate through challenging behavior, showing us he was extremely unhappy. It was a very difficult time for us as a family. Our local authority did offer us an alternative placement but due to this bad experience, I had lost faith”.

Building for the future

“Once Shane had finished education, our long-term plan was to build an annexe for his daily living at home. So that’s when I thought – why don't we bring the plan forward? It took about three months to build and I spent this time supporting Shane to recover from the trauma he had suffered. Once Shane had recovered, I did still feel that Shane was missing out on education. That's when I contacted ASDAN. 

“I was able to discuss my concerns, that I wanted to do it myself, and what we needed to do. I studied the various ASDAN courses for Shane and decided the Preparing for Adulthood programmes were appropriate and something I could deliver”.

ASDAN offer a wide reaching provision for learners with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Preparing for Adulthood sits within this offering and is a collection of certificated programmes that provide a real-life context to reward achievement and foster the personal, social and work-related abilities of all learners.

From the Preparing for Adulthood suite, Sam chose to enrol Shane on the Transition Challenge course, which provides a learner-centred, activity-based curriculum available at two levels. The first is Sensory, which rewards very small steps of learning and achievement. The second is Introduction and Progression, which covers Key Stage 4 statutory study programmes and features activities to develop the skills required for adult living.

Sam explains her decision to place Shane on the Introduction and Progression level.

“When you have somebody with Shane’s level of very complex needs, we tend to go down the safe route – looking at sensory exploration options and how we could tick those boxes to give him accreditation. At the time, Shane was communicating through challenging behaviour and wasn’t leaving the house. I wanted to push him and try something that would be aspirational. We wanted to choose a programme that was going to get him out there, trying new things and reintegrating into society”. 

A flexible curriculum to suit the individual

Sam describes their approach to getting started with the course activities and how their flexibility meant they could be tailored to Shane’s interests.

“When first looking at the course, we said yes to everything. It’s always about having the right attitude. We know things don't happen overnight, but it’s about breaking it down. The first activity we did was the Science challenge, an eight week project to create something in the garden.

"Shane managed the process of creating a herb garden and flower planter, initially with hand over hand support and then with verbal prompts and encouragement. It’s very important to me that learning is meaningful, so we supported Shane to be actively involved in the whole process. He went to the shop, bought what he needed, brought it back, planted the garden, watered it and replanted it. Having eight weeks meant he didn't have to rush. With the support staff we brought in to assist Shane having the right attitude and allowing him to work at his pace, there is so much more that can be achieved – who cares how long it takes? ASDAN's courses gave us a structure to work towards".

As well as gardening, Shane has developed skills in the kitchen as Sam explains.

“Shane does lots of baking. We started off by focusing for three or four minutes, and now he bakes all the cakes for family birthdays. ASDAN courses features lots of arts and craft activities, where Shane was able to practice his fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination.

“We did a challenge specifically around transport; Sport and Leisure (Travel). I really wanted to increase Shane’s tolerance and resilience in this area. Shane’s starting point was not leaving the house following his college placement breakdown. Prior to this, Shane did enjoy community life and we wanted to support and encourage him to trust again. We started the activity by Shane travelling by taxi in his wheelchair, progressing to taking a taxi without the wheelchair, then standing at the bus stop listening to the bus go by, then riding one stop on the bus, and so on. 

“I would like people to take time to look at things that may seem unattainable for people, especially with PMLD, and not look at the whole picture. Look at one challenge and think, how can you adapt this so it becomes appropriate learning for that person and that it's something that's going to be meaningful? Shane now goes swimming weekly in the local leisure centre and takes the bus there and back. This is something many in the past would have said was unobtainable and an unrealistic expectation for Shane.

“An activity that comes to mind was the Feeling Good Community challenge. Various people in our community passed away due to COVID and there's a big memorial and garden in our local park. Shane looked after oriental lilies at home, and planted some of them at the memorial. That is his contribution to the community and it was really quite moving.

Rewarding success

Although Shane’s Annexe is smaller than most ASDAN centres, that didn’t stop it from hosting an award presentation. To celebrate his completion of the Transition Challenge programme, Shane was presented with his certificate by ASDAN’s Chair of Trustees, Rik Boxer. Sam explains why she pursued arranging this event for Shane.

“I've always tried to offer Shane the same opportunities as others, despite his disability. Next year, my other son is graduating from university, which people will make a big deal out of. Why shouldn’t that be the case for Shane? If Shane was at college, this would have been done in an assembly, and I didn’t want the occasion to pass without it being recognised.

“It was important for us that the presentation was done by someone from ASDAN. Having Rik present the certificate was wonderful, especially with Rik’s background in SEND and inclusion. It was a fantastic day”.

A happier life

Sam concludes on the impact completing the ASDAN course has had on Shane’s life.

“My ultimate aspiration for Shane with the ASDAN course is for him to have a meaningful, fulfilling and happy life, making the most of everything he can do. He is in the community, enjoying being present.

“When you are a young person with PMLD like Shane, everybody helps you and everybody gives you support. Shane has finally learned the gift of giving back, to his community and others. Giving to other people brings him so much joy and happiness. 

“On Mother's Day, he went out with the support staff and bought a wooden love heart and some plants. He came back and planted the plants and painted the love heart, all without me knowing. This was my Mother's Day gift and it really made my day, and he got joy out of making me really happy. These skills were all developed through the ASDAN course, and it's made for a happier life, not just for Shane but for me too as his very proud mum”.

Find out more about ASDAN’s SEND offering and get in touch with one of our advisors to speak about how ASDAN can help your learners.