Mol an Óige

‘Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh siad’ says the old Irish adage, ‘praise the youth and they will progress’ and it is praise and the meeting of constant small targets which is at the heart of Applied Behaviour Analysis or ABA, a learning system of particular benefit to children with autism.  Mol an Óige is a childcare facility established two years ago at Bawn Street, Strokestown, through the efforts of Cathy Dalton, herself the mother of an autistic child. At the time, the benefits of ABA as a system for helping autistic children to learn was increasingly being recognised and, as with any parent, Cathy wanted the best available learning system for her own daughter. Holistic ABA is just one of the approaches used at Mol an Óige. The approach at the facility is holistic, and also incorporates other programmes, including passive and gentle exercises. It is hoped in time to extend the facilities available in Strokestown, including the creation of a gym in a building at the rear of the premises for physical activity. Plans also exist to incorporate movement and dance into the system in coming weeks. ‘Basically, we have been here for two years now. We have full planning permission and meet all fire regulations and health and safety requirements and the facility is set up to be conducive to learning.’ From the colours chosen for the walls to the layout of the rooms, great care is given to making the facility at Bawn Street as conducive as humanly possible to learning. When it comes to autism, early intervention is crucial, and with intervention at two or three years, children can be helped to overcome behavioural problems and eventually access mainstream education. However, the system at Mol an Óige is flexible and available to children of different ages and for varying lengths of time.  At the moment, two children access the facility in Strokestown and this week Ms. Dalton emphasised that the service is available and willing to take on further children. The service caters for young children, ideally from 18 months to five years, but flexibility is always a factor. ‘If a consultant recommends ABA as a method for a child, we will try to supply that. There’s no boundaries when it comes to autism,’ said Ms. Dalton.  ‘The children are really into their subjects. There is a lovely atmosphere here and one-to-one tuition,’ said Cathy. Staff at the facility are very highly trained. Specialists in the ABA method also visit the school and oversee the programmes drawn up for each child. ‘If it isn’t working in some area, we change it. The child is continuously monitored. If they have deficits in development skills we build them in until they have achieved that skill. We always review the programme to make sure that the children have retained the skill and we link that programme to other programmes.’ Cathy is full of praise for the visiting specialist, saying that the expertise of the ABA consultant really makes a difference as she also gives training to the parents in terms of applying the behavioural learning at home.  Parents at Mol an Óige are not charged for the building or the facility, which Cathy and her husband Peter pay for. Cathy and her husband were prompted to set up the facility after their own daughter was recommended for ABA. ‘My daughter was regressing and it was impossible to work out the best way to help her. We got her assessed and they recommended ABA, they said we would see a tremendous improvement. She had loads of behavioural problems, she was banging the wall and hitting her head and she couldn’t live a normal life. All she needed was a behaviour management programme. Here it’s very individual. She always had language but never saw the point in using it. Now she has started to use it and she is now accessing what she wants. Before that she was screaming and roaring, which was her only way of accessing things, and was getting more and more frustrated.’ Group sessions The facility at Bawn Street in Strokestown has five rooms upstairs and each one can be used for one-to-one or group sessions. Group sessions centre on turn taking, an important social skill which allows the children to learn through play. Three tutors work at Mol an Óige, one of 12 ABA schools around the country currently not recognised by the Department of Education. One of the tutors works three days per week and she also does the administrative work and trains the other tutors.  ‘The facility is here. You can come here and we can get the programme up and running immediately. We also involve occupational therapists and speech therapists,’ said Cathy. ‘All children are making good progress. We are doing great work. The best way is to come in and engage with the staff. We also offer practical advice, things to do at home and make it consistent. This gives control to the parents.’ ‘All the staff are trained to degree level. At the end of the day it’s the staff that do the hard work. The children are successful because of the fantastic staff. They are brilliant, very motivated, the children love the staff. There’s a lovely friendly atmosphere here and it’s all really structured, tidy and clean.’