St Dominic’s celebrates World Autism Day

St Dominic’s Centre in Mayfield launched a string of new initiatives for their students in celebration of World Autism Day.

Out of uniform and dressed in blue, St Dominic’s students began the day with a school community liturgy where they launched their new prayer bag.

Taken home each week by a different student, the prayer bag gives families the chance to connect and reflect with one another while providing an activity that caters for students no matter their age or disability.

Focusing on one of the four main Dominic pillars, the initiative also recognises that prayer does not simply mean saying the rosary. Students and parents are given the opportunity to sit and engage in mindful colouring together and share in each other’s company without the distraction of television, phones or the internet, creating a relaxing and “prayful” experience.

After spending a week with the prayer bag, student’s will present each Wednesday about their experience. This gives them the opportunity to practice public speaking skills and engage with their peers in an age-appropriate way.

“Rather than us sitting out the front, giving a gospel reading and then asking questions, we have adopted a strength-based approach,” said Veronica McLoughlin, Principal of St Dominic’s.

“We’re asking students: ‘Where is your strength’ and letting them use that to communicate with us. For our students who are non-verbal, they can put text-to-speech on a PowerPoint and still be able to present to us what they did. They’re connecting and we’re meeting them at their level of need.”

Following the liturgy, parents made their way to the library for the school’s first ‘Parents in Partnership’ workshop, while a group of students from San Clemente High School came together with St Dom’s students for an Inclusive Choir rehearsal session.

Instructed by vocal coach, Michael Nolan, the Inclusive Choir gives St Dominic’s students the opportunity to authentically connect with their peers at San Clemente.

Currently rehearsing for DioSounds, the choir also gives San Clemente students the opportunity to build their leadership skills, gain a better understanding of the disabilities catered for at St Dom’s and provides insights into how to interact and communication with the students.

“The San Clemente students are out of their comfort zone, our students are out of their comfort zone but slowly and surely, over the next few months, we’re building skills, capacity and confidence in them to be able to interact,” said Veronica.

“These San Clemente students are just phenomenal. They’ve come over and really ripped down their walls. Both the San Clemente and St Dominic’s students are getting more comfortable in their discomfort,” she added.

The ‘Parents in Partnership’ workshop was the first in a series of educational and social opportunities the school aims to run for parents each term. Helping to facilitate and build a support network for parents that can extend outside school hours, the first workshop was run by the school’s Leading Teacher in Autism, Sylvia Plantinga.

Focusing on the Autism Friendly School Project recently implemented at St Dominic’s, the workshop taught parents strategies to use with young people with autism. It also reinforced the need to create a routine reflective of what has been implemented at school.

“With autism, it’s like a foreign language. Children with autism can be so literal that if you say ‘clean up the room’ and I say ‘it’s time to pack up’ they won’t recognise that these two phrases represent the same thing,” said Veronica.

“Which is why we are undertaking this initiative and its’s wonderful to see we have great parents who are really supportive of what we do here.

“If we can create a really strong home-school partnership then the students’ outcomes will shoot through the roof.”

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