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Special unit staff win national award 9 July 2008

SPECIAL needs unit staff have won national recognition for their work in encouraging each other to teach communications skills to children with severe learning difficulties.

Jackie Fargher and the team from Alfie’s Room at Onchan Primary School have been named Practitioners of the Year by the Intensive Interaction Institute.

The award was announced at the Intensive Interaction conference in Birmingham, at which Jan Gordon, Clinical Lead Speech and Language Therapist for Learning Disabilities, gave a presentation about the work being carried out in Alfie’s Room.

Jan explained: Alfie's award

‘Intensive interaction is an approach to teaching the pre-speech fundamentals of communication to those with severe learning difficulties and/or autism who are still at an early stage of communication development.’

She added:

‘The fundamentals include use of and understanding of eye contacts, facial expressions, non-verbal signalling, turn-taking, concentrating and attending to another person. The learning takes place with enjoyable and repetitive interactions – activities where the teacher generates the content and the flow of the activity by letting the learner lead and responding to and joining in with the learner’s behaviour. Intensive Interaction is the only approach that focuses on the fundamentals of communication at its core.’

The approach was developed during the 1980s by staff educating those with severe learning difficulties at Harperbury Hospital School, Hertfordshire.

Jan and Jackie were invited to speak at this year’s Intensive Interaction conference after a group Jan chairs won the Practitioners of the Year Award at last year’s event for its work implementing the practice in schools in the Island. That group included Jackie, who manages Alfie’s Room, Pauline Killey (Peel Clothworkers’ School) and Carole Williams (Scoill Phurt le Moirrey).

Jan explained:

‘I implemented a development programme with Jackie, looking at supporting staff through peer review. Jackie and I put together a presentation on the subject for the conference. Unfortunately, when Jackie had to pull-out, I had to give the presentation alone. I had been so impressed by the effort the staff had committed to this programme that I nominated them for a Practitioner of the Year Award, and I collected it on their behalf when they won.’

On her return to the Island, Jan kept the latest award a surprise from Jackie and the staff in Alfie’s Room, who were thrilled when Education Minister Anne Craine MHK presented them with a certificate at a ceremony in school today.

Headteacher of Onchan School Sally Farrell said:

‘I am delighted with the positive communication developments taking place for the benefit of a number of our children in Alfie’s through the commitment of these particular members of our School. It is wonderful to have their efforts recognised at the conference again this year as well as by our own wider community. Well done to them all!’

Dave Hewett, Director of the Intensive Interaction Institute, said he was very impressed by the work of practitioners in the Isle of Man.

‘People who have severe learning difficulties and autism have the best opportunities possible for continued communication learning due to the work of Jan Gordon and the group. They are in the forefront of knowledge in our field,’ he said.

Jan and Jackie will share the conference presentation with health and education colleagues at the Keyll Darree Education Centre on 21 July.

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