Thursday, July 29, 2010
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Saplings is being supported by many hardworking and generous people at the moment.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Now in its 4th year, Dublin’s best charitable art exhibition is now calling on Artists for submissions incorporating all art forms such as Street art, Contemporary Art, Photography and Sculpture.
Please email Gene at: firstname.lastname@example.org for your submission form .
All pieces donated need to be ‘ready to exhibit’ and 100 % of the profits of this exhibition go directly towards funding Saplings School for Autistic Kids in Rathfarnham, a vital service for severely autistic children and their families.
Saplings takes these vulnerable children, who are at risk of social exclusion and institutionalisation, and gives them the chance to unlock and achieve their full potential.
With the help of Saplings, they learn how to participate in family and community life.
Be part of this.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
When Caoimh Connolly stopped hugging, it was the first sign that he was autistic, says Joy Orpen. But revolutionary therapy from the Saplings School in Rathfarnham, and a remarkable dog, have turned his life around.
By Joy Orpen, Sunday Independent Magazine
Sunday April 25 2010
An adorable dog with a diligent but sensitive nature has helped a little boy find the courage to move from a place of confused isolation into one of brightness and hope.
Caoimh Connolly, six, who suffers from autism, had become so impossible to handle that his distraught parents had stopped taking him anywhere. It was traumatic for Caoimh, and exhausting for his parents to deal with Caoimh's extreme tantrums.
Yet, today, that same little boy looks forward to his outings, while his parents are relieved to be leading a relatively normal life again.
According to Autism Support Ireland, and Irish Autism Action, autism is "characterised by severe problems in communication and behaviour and an inability to relate to people in a normal manner".
On meeting Caoimh in Rialto, Dublin 8, I can see that he has some of those traits. The little boy is constantly on the move, spinning, twirling, jumping and shouting. But he has made great progress too. His mother, Adrienne Murphy, draws him to her and talks to him with a loving, patient voice. The boy glances at her briefly before resuming his jumping, galloping and shouting.
Though his father, Dara Connolly, and Adrienne no longer live together, the wellbeing of Caoimh and his older brother, Fiach, nine, is their absolute priority. And so Dara and Adrienne are hugely busy fundraising for Caoimh's school and lobbying the Government for a more humane deal for children with autism. All this is on top of their jobs heading up finance and business development at the Temple Bar Cultural Trust, and journalism, respectively.
This frenetic road was certainly not one they had anticipated when their second son was born. "Caoimh means gentle in Irish, and we thought we had the best-named child in the world," says Dara.
But then things started to change, and Fiach, then five, was first to notice. "He told us that Caoimh didn't hug him anymore," says Adrienne, "and he noticed that his younger brother wasn't making eye contact."
Then the toddler "lost" the few words he knew, while his innate gentleness gave way to frustration and anger. "He used to tear pages from books, bite people and scribble manically on the walls," recalls Adrienne. "When a child regresses like this into autism, it is hugely distressing for the parents. It's like losing the child." Four years ago, an assessment revealed that Caoimh was autistic. The cause is unknown.
Lisa, who is a parent at Saplings Rathfarnham, the school where Caoimh is now enrolled, describes the condition on the school's website: "Autism is a sensory disability in which everything your child sees, hears, feels, tastes and smells is distorted."
She likens it to being in a foreign city where you don't speak the language and everyone is too busy to help you. The sights, sounds, and bustle become horrendously unmanageable.
It's a frightening scenario, yet Caoimh's parents discovered there was almost no help available for their son.
However, they felt that a certain system, applied behaviour analysis (ABA), offered Caoimh his best shot at a normal life.
In simple terms, ABA is a system of analysing behaviour and then modifying it by offering incentives for change.
The goal of ABA is to help the child find a link between their unique, very complex autistic world and ours. It's a very intense form of long-term, one-on-one therapy.
There are many other complex issues involved: the non-talking child may need to learn sign language, or to communicate using pictures; they may have phobias about clothes, food, sounds and smells, which are caused by their over-sensitive sensory perceptions.
They may have emotional difficulties and severe behavioural problems. So ABA has to address all of these.
The rewards ABA brings, according to some experts, far outweigh the effort and expense involved. A good percentage of children with autism who are exposed to full-time ABA become part of mainstream education and go on to lead productive lives.
Adrienne and Dara decided this was Caoimh's only hope. Eventually they were offered a place at Saplings, Rathfarnham, a small school that uses the ABA method. "We are so lucky to be among the small percentage in Ireland who will get a place at an ABA school," says Dara.
Already he and Adrienne can see phenomenal changes in Caoimh. He is trying to speak, he is learning to integrate in a normal environment, and, best of all, he is not terrified of the world around him all the time .
Like many of the other parents, Dara and Adrienne constantly have to raise funds to keep Caoimh's school going, since it is only partly funded by government, but it's a small price to pay for the positive returns they get.
Another godsend in Caoimh's difficult life is a German shepherd-golden retriever cross called Cosmo. He is the result of an initiative by Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind (IGDB) to train dogs to assist young children with autism.
Adrienne and Dara spent a week at IGDB headquarters in Cork learning how to handle the dog.
Dara says the staff were "unbelievably helpful and supportive"; and, in addition, they didn't charge them for their stay or for Cosmo.
When they brought the dog home, Caoimh would have nothing to do with him, but several months later he began tentatively touching the dog and then playing with him.
Today, Cosmo watches over Caoimh like a hawk, while the little boy has shown great courage in placing his trust in the dog.
When Cosmo is working, he wears a special jacket that has two leads: one for the adult in charge, while the other connects to a rucksack worn by Caoimh. The dog is so well trained there is no possibility of the little boy wandering off or running into traffic.
"Caoimh's anxiety is much less now he knows he is physically safe with Cosmo," says Adrienne. "The dog is also a calming presence. When Caoimh is stressed he strokes Cosmo's ear and this reduces his anxiety. This has also helped him to learn to regulate his own adrenaline levels caused by stress."
Adrienne says this is in stark contrast to the anxiety Caoimh used to pick up from her. "Cosmo doesn't care if people stare and he's not always in a state of acute anxiety in case something goes wrong," she explains. "It's thanks to Cosmo that Caoimh now has access to the outside world. I can't tell you what that means to us all; our lives are transformed."
- Joy Orpen
Monday, April 19, 2010
Saplings has proved to be a crucial factor in the development of Grace App that enables non-verbal and those with developing vocalisations to use picture exchange, on an iPhone.
ASHER MOSES: The Melbourne Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Brisbane Times and W.A. Today - Digital Life
April 16, 2010
Few can legitimately boast that an iPhone app changed their life but for 10-year-old Grace Domican, unable to speak due to autism, the touchscreen phone has given her a voice for the first time.
Her mother, Lisa Domican, created a picture-based iPhone application to help her communicate and the tool was so successful she is now trialling it in a school for autistic children in Ireland.
Domican, who was born in Australia and lived here until she moved to Ireland in 2001, is also planning to provide it to schools in Australia and is selling both iPhone and iPad versions on the iTunes App Store.
Aspect, Australia's largest non-profit organisation providing support for people with autism, has expressed interest in trialling the app with its clients, while Domican said she had also been in contact with the Woodbury School in Baulkham Hills.
The Grace app is essentially a digital version of the Picture Exchange Communications System - a book of laminated pictures attached to a board by velcro that allows children with autism to build sentences and communicate.
Children with autism are often unable to use and understand expressive language because the developmental disability means those parts of the brain don't work. Some children with autism go on to develop speech, while others never do.
As the child learns new words via pictures they are added to the PECS book, a system that quickly becomes unwieldy, particularly outside the home setting.
"You have to take the photo, print the photo, laminate the photo, velcro it and repeat this every time they decide they like something new," said Domican, whose older son Liam, 12, also has autism.
With the app, which is being sold for A$45 on the App Store with some of the proceeds going to charity, Grace has access to more than 400 symbols and photos in the palm of her hand. She can add new ones herself by taking pictures with the phone's camera.
Domican is able to share new words and interests instantly with Grace's carers and teachers so they can use them in their interactions with the child.
The iPhone's touchscreen was critical as Grace was used to pointing at the pictures in her PECS book, so it was second nature to open and operate the apps.
"With the phone showing exactly what she has requested, it is now very clear to all of us what she needs and we see a huge reduction in frustration behaviour as a result," Domican said.
"Grace is capable of a two- to three-hour tantrum that leaves your ears ringing, so this is a good thing."
Now the app is being trialled on several of Grace's fellow students at a Saplings school in Ireland, designed specifically for children who cannot be taught in mainstream schools.
Members of the public have been donating their second-hand iPhones, which are then cleaned up and donated to autism schools.
Domican even credits the app with improving Grace's verbal communication, saying she can now make many three- to four-word verbal requests, such as "I want to drink" or "I want purple chocolate" (Cadbury).
Anthony Warren, Aspect's director for children, young people and families, said he thought the Grace app was "a great idea" but suspected it would not be a substitute for the formal PECS program. He said he was sure Aspect's schools and speech pathologists would be interested in trialling it.
"It certainly sounds as though it would be very motivating and helpful for clients who have higher support needs and who are motivated by that sort of technology," he said.
Domican said she got the idea for the app after seeing iPhone ads on the sides of buses just before the device launched in Ireland. The telco O2 Telefonica supplied her with an iPhone after meeting Domican at a World Autism Day event.
Last year, Domican tracked down an iPhone developer, Steve Troughton Smith, who helped her make the app. Since the pictures used by Grace were owned by a company, Domican had to draw sketches of each image she would need for a basic vocabulary and then contracted an artist to make professional, digital versions.
Smith created a prototype of the app in September and "by the end of November we had four additional phones and we were trialling it with three more children in the school".
Domican and her family have lived in Ballarat, Melbourne and Sydney. They regularly fly down to visit family in Ballarat.
Liam was diagnosed in the Royal Brisbane Hospital in 2000 and attended the Autistic Association of Queensland school in Brighton for almost a year. Grace was diagnosed by a paediatrician in Ballarat in September 2001, just before the family moved to Ireland.
Domican said she would like to move back to Australia but said at the moment there were inadequate provisions for autistic kids in state-funded schools.
"A one size fits all special needs education would not suit kids like mine and their potential could be lost," she said.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Today sees the official launch of a new iPhone application (app) that it is hoped will help children with autism better develop their communications skills.
The development of the new app has been supported by O2, which supplied iPhones for the creation and testing of the app, and funded the original artwork used.
The app which was developed by a Parent of two children in the school; Lisa Domican; has already been successfully trialled here in Saplings and is called “Grace” after Lisa's daughter and co-developer 10 year old Gracie.
The new app is designed to be used in a similar way to the existing Picture Exchange Books which are used by parents and tutors of children with autism; allowing them to build sentences using a laminated pictures attached to a board by Velcro.
As the child learns new words through pictures, they are added to the book, reflecting the child’s growing vocabulary. However, while the existing system is very effective in the home or classroom, it is not very portable for everyday situations outside of these settings.
Gracie has emerging speech which cannot be understood by everyone, so it is important for her to always have a picture of her preferred items to point to and "read" with all her caregivers.
The iPhone app came about after Lisa saw an advertisement for iPhone, and approached O2 for a phone to try to use with Gracie, to see if her picture vocabulary could be transferred.
She then sought out an iPhone developer: Steve Troughton-Smith who converted their working prototype into a single application with the added ability to put a row of pictures together on screen in order to make a sentence. Steve listened to how Grace had been using the phone and created exactly what was needed.
Gracie was now able to request her preferences on the phone by size, shape and color. Steve also integrated the photo aspect into the App - after Gracie took the phone and tried to take a photo independently one day.
The main benefits of the new app are that it is simple and works in real time on any iPhone or iTouch. It can be customised instantly to the individual using their picture and photo vocabulary and the iPhone is compact but can hold hundreds of images.
Adding new images and sharing them with all users is simple and instant, and this encourages consistency in language development.
The app once created was then loaded onto a further 3 phones donated by O2 for testing with several other children in Saplings Rathfarnham.
The trial was supervised and implemented by our qualified Senior Tutors and overseen by our Director of Education. This ensured that data was taken and measured against the existing communication used by the pupils, and improvements noted.
O2’s charity of choice,Irish Autism Action, includes Saplings Rathfarnham as a Centre of excellence as a school for autistic children.
In addition to providing funding, O2 supports IAA in a number of ways, including employee fundraising initiatives, customer fundraising initiatives, employee volunteering and in this case equipment for improving the potential of all people with autism.
Anne-Marie Donovan, Director of Education at Saplings Rathfarnham said: "The grace app trials have been very successful for the children here in Saplings and this app will have endless possibilities for so many individuals. We are delighted to have been a part of the development the Grace app, Congratulations to Lisa for envisioning such a brilliant technological tool for our children"
Communications Minister Eamon Ryan, speaking during a visit to the School said “The potential of new technology is limitless, constrained only by our imaginations. I congratulate Lisa and wish her well in her continuing work.”
The new app is now available in the official iPhone App Store. It will retail at €29.99 for up to five users, to facilitate family members accessing the app
Thursday, February 25, 2010
This is a wee sample of the Grace App for iPhone as developed by Grace, a 10 year old girl with autism and ADD who has attended Saplings Rathfarnham since June 2008.
Grace's mummy was given an iPhone by the lovely people at O2 the same month she started. And together with her Mummy they began to create a prototype for putting all her picture exchange pictures, that were in her
communication book - onto the phone.
A communication book looks like this:
And it involves a lot of taking and saving pictures, printing, laminating and velcro. Lots of velcro. Most Parents and Carers, Tutors and Teachers who work with kids who are on Picture Exchange for more than 3 months LOATHE VELCRO!
So Gracie's Mummy came up with a proto-type, with Gracie's help and then, with incredible good fortune; found an iPhone Wizard by the name of Steve Troughton-Smith - who built the Grace App for iPhone.
Steve is one of the Irish Times "People to Watch" for 2010 as at the age of 21 he is one of the worlds most successful iPhone Games App developers. He is also a really good listener and with the aid of some diagrams and a lot of talking about the culture of picture exchange - he created EXACTLY what we were looking for.
At the end of 2009, O2 gave Saplings Rathfarnham another 3 phones so that we could test the App with other children. It worked, and some of those children liked it so much they (and their Parents) bought their own phones to use all the time. The School Phones will now be passed to another group of children in the school.
This would not have been possible without the support and faith of Sinead Smith, Senior Corporate Responsibility Officer and her Diversity Colleagues and for this Saplings and Gracie are very grateful. (Gracie got her own phone too!)
We are now coming to the end of that trial and are getting ready to launch the App on iTunes, across the world. So stay tuned.
If you want to support Saplings - and all the good work that the 5 schools do - please go here to our My Charity Link page. Your support is valuable and has a positive impact on what we do, every hour, every day and every week.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
If you want to support Saplings - and all the good work that the 5 schools do - please go here to our Mycharity.ie page and give what you can. Whatever you can, it all has a positive impact on what we do.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Everyone's Favourite; Deputy Mary O'Rourke features in this video we made to explain what makes our school so wonderful.
If you want to support Saplings - and all the good work that the 5 schools do - please go here to our Mycharity.ie page and give what you can. Whatever you can, it all has a positive impact on what we do.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Saplings was started by one parent who wanted something better for his little girl, Marc De Salvo.
This is his story:
Jess was diagnosed in November 1999 and at that stage there simply was no educational place at all available, a handful of ASD units all full and not remotely suiting her needs anyway.
By the summer of 2000 we had realized that the only way Jess was going to get what she needed was if we provided it for her.
We had researched as best we could and learned about ABA and even back then it looked like the best plan to go forward with a home program.
We did not have a Home Tuition grant as it was very restrictive back then.
I had basically taken about four months off work and went to a group in Clontarf that was doing monthly meetings regarding ABA training, showing videos of the progress of the kids etc and explaining training on ABA to a group of parents.
I was sitting in my office one day wondering what to do and decided to ring the author of one of the mainstay ABA books that we were using; "Applied Behavior Analysis for Autism" Dr Gina Green. She would be one of the leading lights in the states having won many awards for her ABA work with kids on the spectrum.
I managed to get Dr Green on the phone that afternoon and to my surprise she was happy to chat and told me she was just back from Belfast where she had been doing a conference on ABA with Dr Mickey Keenan. She said she had met a very bright behavior analyst call Dr Ken Kerr.
The Doctor doing most of the training in Clontarf was Dr Kerr and I said that I too knew Ken and she recommended that I work with him as a consultant. We ran a home program with Dr Kerr for about 16 months and then I proposed to the Dept Of Education and Science that we needed to set up a school for kids like Jess and others.
The proposal was sent to the DOES in April 2001, while at the same time we began to highlight the need for our alternative method in the national media.
We received the go ahead from the DOES in Sept 2001 for a pilot project/s.
We started in the Malone's family home in October 2001 with 12 kids and then moved to the prefabs in Kill, Co. Kildare in April 2002.
It was a very busy time with us learning how to manage a school, recruit, hire and train staff.
We had many parents in similar situations contact us over the first 6 months and many visits from parents and professionals in the autism field.
We were then asked to expand to 24 children in December 2002 and this was followed by the establishment of Saplings Rathfarnham, South County Dublin some time later.
The demand for our services continued and we ran an out each program for about 14months where we funded 18 home programs along similar lines to those in Saplings for children awaiting a place.
Rathfarnham was followed by Saplings in Goresbridge, Co. Kilkenny was established next and most recently, Saplings in Co. Carlow. We then went through a period of time where we settled after a lot of development and entered into 2 years of talks with the DOES.
We wanted to establish the schools as recognized special schools and while this has taken a long time our proposal for recognition as a Patron Body for the five special schools is in the very final stages.
Once this has happened it will be available for parents around Ireland to apply to open a special school and seek to have the Saplings ethos and have our once small company recognized as the Patron.
We currently educate 84 children using ABA as the guiding ethos and have had very good results with about 40% of the children progressing so well that that they can move out of our service to a mainstream school setting.
For those kids with a greater autism challenge, like Jess, we are now going to be able to provide an education up to 18yrs and ensure that they have the best opportunity to live life to their true potential. I hope that Saplings can move forward to deliver a second level educational service to meet the needs of our teenage children and also to start providing other services to families who are face the challenge of raising a child with autism.
Saplings has played a role in working with the national autism charity, Irish Autism Action, in raising awareness and advocating for increased services for people with autism.
In the early 1990's 1 in every 2000 children born were later diagnosed with autism.
By 2004 that had jumped to 1 in 166 according to the Dept of Health and Children.
Without the support of the greater community I believe that the challenge of meeting the needs of people with autism will be too great.
We have had wonderful support from sponsors for the last 9 years and will need this to continue.
There is nothing better than sitting down with Jess and talking with her about her day in Saplings. She is 12 years old now and has grown into a beautiful young lady.
When she was diagnosed at 2, the professionals who did her assessment told us that they believed she would never talk. They said she would be so challenged that we would have to have her in full time residential care by the age of 8.
Thankfully due to the work of many in establishing Saplings and helping it grow, her future and the future of many others is much brighter. Saplings motto:
"Do not follow where the path may lead but go instead to where there is no path and leave a trail"
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
On Friday 14th August, approx 80 members of the O2 Technology Team headed out to Our School for their Team Building Day.
The O2 team's task was to paint the classrooms and main areas in the school which were in dire need of a make over.
Painting, Gardening and Decorating may seem a trivial, after all it is the teaching rather than the classrooms that are helping our children.
But working in a run down and lets face it, kind of tatty environment is not great for morale.
However, our fundraising priority as a parent's association is always to provide services like our Occupational therapist, Additional Supervisor and the Group Work Tutor and we have never found the neccessary extra cash to get the place spruced up.
Thats where the O2 volunteers stepped in, not only offering to repaint our school but to do it in a day!
Lots of preparation work had to be completed in the weeks prior to the event with surveys carried out by members of the engineering team to assess what equipment was required.
Our school is a converted convent with lots of high walls and ceilings so scaffolding had to be brought in and fitted to facilitate the main reception areas, hallway, stairs and landing.
The day kicked off at 9am and the team got down to some serious painting work. With a huge amount of work completed by lunchtime, way more than was expected, there was an urgent trip to the local DIY store to buy more paint in order to continue through the afternoon and get as much work done as possible.
By close of business, the team had painted the ceilings, skirtings, walls and doors of 8 classrooms, the common areas including hall, stairs and landing, the reception area, three bathrooms and the full basement area of the school.
To top it off, a ½ acre area at the back of the school got a going over with the lawnmower…..one of those cool ones that you drive around!
This was an incredible achievement and also thoroughly enjoyed by everyone who participated.
Pat Moynihan, O2 Technology Director, commented
“ this was a humbling experience helping improve the life of the families, staff and of course the pupils of Saplings, the team worked really hard and left with a great sense of achievement”
Keith Mulhall, a parent and board member of the school, who was there on the day, said: ‘The work o2 did in Saplings Rathfarnham will change the building for the new term. To have this work done during the summer break will make a huge impact on the lives of all the people whom use this building when they return to school in September. The work of o2 will be eternally appreciated.’
Kevin Whelan, CEO of Irish Autism Action, expressed his thanks for the continued success of the O2 and IAA partnership.
‘We are overwhelmed with the support and dedication from O2 employees to raise funds and volunteer for Irish Autism Action. It is very rare that such a partnership works so well and the difference it is making to our organisation and to the families of children affected by autism is second to none.’