Wednesday 22 May 2019

Autism unit boost for McAuley pupils

Colourful unit is a sensory wonderland for children

Charlie Furling with teacher Janine McCormack in the new Glaisín autism unit in the Catherine McAuley junior school
Charlie Furling with teacher Janine McCormack in the new Glaisín autism unit in the Catherine McAuley junior school

David Looby

The first special needs class in New Ross at Catherine McAuley Junior School has been a sensory wonderland for pupils since it opened.

An Early Intervention Class was opened in September 2017 and a third class was opened last September. The classes are full, catering for 18 pupils.

Principal Elma Sutton said: 'Our special needs base is called Glaisín. The purpose built accommodation includes classrooms, a central activities area, a sensory room and a para education room.'

Each classroom has six independent work stations, one for each child. There are also withdrawal rooms for when the children need a break from the classroom and a toileting area where the school can support parents in toilet training the younger children. 'The Sensory Room is enticing for anybody who goes into it with soothing lights and sounds, a dark room, reflexology pads, a giant lava lamp and relaxing aromas. The children are timetabled to spend a block of time there each day.'

A sensory diet is designed for each child based on recommendations from the occupational therapists working with the children and this is done in the para education room with a trampoline, a soothing swing, therabands, gym balls and deep pressure equipment. 'This sensory diet is very effective in helping the children self-regulate. Glaisín is very much part of the whole McAuley school family. Each child is linked to a mainstream class and spends as much time as possible learning with his or her own class. Children from the mainstream classes also spend time in Glaisín. Glaisín means a 'little stream' and makes the link with the Maudlins Stream that flows nearby which has been part of the life of the people in New Ross for generations, particularly in the summer when "The Ponds" was a favourite haunt of the children of the town to cool off in the hot summer weather.'

April was World Autism Awareness month and in the school pupils learned more about autism all the time. To this end on World Autism day, April 2, all the classes watched child friendly Youtube presentations online. They met Marvellous Max and Sesame Street characters meet Julia, a little girl who has autism. Watching these presentations led to plenty of questions, lively discussion and a lot more understanding.'

The children also did some jigsaw art. 'The idea is that each bit of the jigsaw is different but you need all the pieces to make the whole picture. We are all different but we all have a role to play,' Ms Sutton said.

New Ross Standard