Healthy Harold gives students with ASD a helping hand

A new resource aimed at students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and anxiety will enable more children to access vital health and safety education.

The Healthy Harold Social Story, developed by Life Education, is a visual aid to assist teachers of students with autism or special needs to prepare for their Life Education visit.

Life Education is Australia’s largest preventative health organisation. The program today reaches over 720,000 children in preschools and schools right across Australia. Thanks to the new resource, that number is set to rise.

The driving force behind the Healthy Harold Social Story, Life Education’s head educator Angela Green said as the numbers of children diagnosed with autism and anxiety continues to increase in Australia, the Healthy Harold Social Story is a timely development that will ease the pressure on educators and students alike.

“Today’s classroom is complex, diverse and challenging,” Ms Green said. “Autism and mental health disorders are increasingly affecting school-aged children. Reports by the Department of Health indicate that about one in seven school-aged children suffer from mental ill health with the most common conditions being anxiety, ADHD and depression.

“Autism diagnoses are also on the rise. In 2015, an estimated 1 in 150 Australians were diagnosed with autism.

“The many issues that affect the performance of children with ASD also affect their participation in the school environment. This includes sensory issues, difficulty with transitions and change.”

Ms Green said the aid is designed so that teachers can read through the social story in the weeks leading up to the visit to better prepare students with ASD or high anxiety. It can also be used to prepare kindergarten students.

“There have been times in the past where students have been unable to attend the Life Education lesson because they have been too agitated and upset because the experience was so different from their usual lessons,” Ms Green said.

“Aids such as a social story appeal to children’s visual strengths, desire for predictability and need to understand the routine and what will happen next.”

Several NSW schools are already using this resource with success, including St Gabriel’s School in Castle Hill.

Head of Campus at St Gabriel's School Dianne Hooke, who was involved in the development of the Healthy Harold Social Story, said the aid would take the hard work out of preparing for the Life Education visit and allow children to enjoy the new experience.

“Some children can be anxious around new environments, such as the darkness of the Life Education van. I once had a child leap out of my lap when they saw the anatomical model TAM during one of the Life Education visits,” Ms Hooke said.

“Our school has had yearly Life Education lessons for a long time. This resource is making our teachers’ jobs easier.

“It also opens up new experiences for the children. It’s inclusive and speaks in a language children with special needs can understand.

“Our students absolutely love Healthy Harold. In fact, one of our students is so enamoured by Harold that he doesn’t stop talking about him – Harold puts a smile on his face every time. It would be a shame for any child to miss out on such a valuable experience. We are thrilled to be part of such a great initiative.”

The Healthy Harold Social Story was developed with the support of $15,000 funding from the Northcott Fundability Grants program.

For more information about the Healthy Harold Social Story, contact Angela Green at Life Education NSW on (02) 9673 3222.

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