Saturday, January 23, 2010

From Little Things Big Things Grow.....

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

o2 Technology Team Building Day!

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… 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.’