One of the main obstacles that work against the inclusion of children with developmental disabilities in schools is what is often referred to as ‘challenging behaviour’.
Behaviour is usually defined as “challenging” if it puts them or those around them at risk, or leads to a lesser quality of life by prohibiting them from joining in everyday activities such as playing with other children.
When people, especially children have a problem with communicating, many situations can become very frustrating and this may result in challenging behaviour. However there is also increasing evidence that a major driver for such behaviour is personal stress affecting the child and those around them.
The Synergy programme, launched in Greece in 2014, recognises this and that external ‘expert interventions’ at child or classroom level may have serious limitations in terms of efficacy, cost and sustainability.
The programme is therefore designed to support schools working with children with challenging behaviour by building and sustaining capacity at local level through a ‘hub and spoke’ system of mentoring and support.
Through the Synergy programme, the Inspire Foundation, which works with children and adults with various disabilities, and has ample experience and expertise in including children in mainstream schools in Malta and Gozo, has also recognised the critical role that stress has in producing and maintaining challenging behavior.
Inspire is now working with the Synergy team to address the resulting harm that this may have on staff and families. Key Inspire staff have been selected as foundation mentors and have recently received training from AT – Autism (UK) experts, Richard Mills and Dr Michael McCreadie, who will continue to provide training and mentoring on a regular basis.
Besides developing new skills, during Synergy training events, the teams, discuss arising issues as part of an ongoing developmental programme for the foundation mentors. The foundation mentors will in turn, visit schools on a planned proactive basis, to offer support and problems solving to identified school mentors.
This new approach recognises the need for the understanding of challenging behaviour in the context of the society in which it is seen. Hence, it emphasizes the importance to create a sustainable network of trained mentors rather than depending on external assistance as external experts who may not be well placed to understand this at a classroom level, but can train mentors to offer evidence-based practice and support them in delivering this on an on-going basis.
The outcomes of this evidence-based approach will be to provide support and stress reduction of front line school staff through mentoring, problem solving and school-based solutions.
In recognition of the shortcomings of existing models of support, the Synergy Project places emphasis on capacity building and systematic methods based on theory-informed practice and support, which are inclusive and ethical.
Feedback from the Greek partners in this project has been very positive, with follow up projects planned in the UK and Denmark.
For more information contact Doreen.Mercieca@inspire.org.mt