The Autism Extension Program (AEP) is one of four programs in WA set up and supported by the Department of Education’s Centre for Inclusive Schooling. The other 3 programs are based at Ashdale Secondary College, Ocean Reef High School and South Fremantle Senior High School. The program caters for students in Years 8, 9 and 10, who have a diagnosis of High-Functioning Autism or Asperger Syndrome.
The program focuses on the achievement of positive academic, social and emotional outcomes for each student to maximise access to further education and employment success. Due to their disability, many students with Autism Spectrum Disorder find the secondary school environment confusing and difficult to navigate. Research has demonstrated that without sufficient support, these students often drop out of school.
At Southern River College, a team of autism specialist teachers and education assistants provides support for the students in the program. The students also have access to a Home Room, where students are able to organise themselves for the school day, unwind to reduce anxiety when/if needed, complete schoolwork during agreed study periods, and to use as a safe place at unstructured times such as recess and lunch.
The students are all set up with an Individual Education Plan, which is established in collaboration with the parents, school staff and other relevant stakeholders. This plan is reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that the student’s needs are met and academic, social and other individual outcomes are achieved.
There are two integral programs offered within the Autism Extension Program. The first one is our Very Important Life Skills Program (VILS), which includes one-on-one or small group sessions in which the students gain knowledge, skills and understanding of topics such as “Social Thinking,” “friendships,” “expected- and unexpected behaviours,” recognising their own anxiety levels and other individually identified needs. The second program is our Community Access Program, which includes a weekly outing to the local shops, as well as two excursions per term. The aim of this program is to increase independence and put all learned skills into practice.
AEP staff are able to offer support for students through:
- in and out of class organisation,
- structured time for homework assistance,
- scaffolding for subject learning area tasks,
- adapting tasks or assessment items.
- mediation with peers.
- advocating autism specific needs.
Another role of the Autism Extension Program is to raise awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorders within the school community. The program and its students have positively contributed to Southern River Colleges’ inclusive education beliefs, where students’ differences are accepted and individual talents are appreciated and developed.
Selection of students to enter the Autism Extension Program (AEP) is monitored and determined by the Centre of Inclusive Schooling for the Department of Education.
The process of selection is completed in four stages:
- Parents/Guardians of the student are required to complete an expression of interest form that is available at the College.
- Parents/Guardians of the students are required to complete a specific questionnaire about their child and a subsequent interview with the College.
- The Autism Head Teacher visits the student’s primary school to undertake an observational visit plus obtain written feedback about the student.
- The information collated by the College is then presented to an independent panel that determines whether the applicant has met the criteria and is suited to the program and if so, is then offered a place in the program.
The College supports all applications and is present when the panel convenes however it is the panel’s determination that decides whether a student enters the program or not.
Although parents may wish to enrol their student in Southern River College’s program this decision is determined by the panel who have a holistic overview of the needs of each student in each of the four units spread throughout the metropolitan area.