Classes for Children with Autism: PAT spotlight on the Arella School, Leicester

The Arella School of Performing Arts was established by Becca Peacock in 2015 to provide Piano lessons for children and adults as well as Music, Dance and Drama classes for children. With a focus on imaginitive play in a pressure-free environment, Becca has naturally developed a class for children with autism, about which we were […]

The Arella School of Performing Arts was established by Becca Peacock in 2015 to provide Piano lessons for children and adults as well as Music, Dance and Drama classes for children. With a focus on imaginitive play in a pressure-free environment, Becca has naturally developed a class for children with autism, about which we were keen to learn more!

PerformingArtsTutor School Spotlight No1: The Arella School of Performing Arts, Leicester – Classes for children with Autism

Building confidence.

 

Can you tell us about how the class came about?

The class actually came about because we moved where we taught our mainstream class. The hall we moved to is the main hall of a Special school. We looking around the school’s community manager mentioned that there was a real lack of classes for children with Autism and suggested it as something we think about for the future. I had actually worked with children with Autism and SEN for a long time before setting up Arella, so it seemed like a natural direction to take the school in!

What areas of study do you focus on in the class? And in what way, if at all may the content differ from other classes you offer ?

We follow our students interests a lot. So this year we did mainly music, singing and dancing with the class for ASD. Almost everything was songs the children liked or asked for themselves. Drumming along to different styles of music has been very popular! As the year progressed we introduced simple drama using their favourite stories. 

What are the main differences in your approach to this specialised class?

The main difference is we are more laid back with our planning and what will happen each week. We always have a backup plan just incase we need to change to another acitivity if the students don’t engage with a particular one. There is also a balance we have to stike when all the different students want to dance to different songs at the same time! They have different needs and interests. 

Arella Students are encouraged to increase their imagination and confidence.

Do you feel tutors need to acquire any specialist skills for teaching children with autism?

I think that it’s really important that teachers have a good understanding of what Autism is, in order to teach well. My staff and I have had lots of previous experience teaching before we started the group, and we’re fortunate to know people we can go to for advice if need be. But there’s lots of information available online, and on line training courses available too.

I think, when teaching a class like this its really important to aim for small steps of progress and celebrate every achievement, no matter how small it seems. It’s also really important to balance that out with appropriate challenges and not underestimating them – when our class performed for the first time in public a couple months ago, we were not sure how it would go, but they absolutely shined on stage and didn’t want to stop performing!

What games and exercises are particularly popular within the class?

With this particular group it has been more using certain songs that has been really popular. They have really enjoyed using music from cbeebies or other film and tv shows – singing along, dancing to it or drumming to it! However, playing parachute games with music and dancing in the dark with lightup sensory toys have probably been their favourites! 

What is the maximan number of students you feel would be appropriate in this class? And staff:student ratio?

We have decided we would have a maximum of 9 students and 3 teachers at this class. It does really depend on individual children, but in order to make sure that the students get the most out of it we wanted to keep to a high staff:student ratio. 

Drumming along to different styles of music has been very popular!

Has the class been popular with parents? And how have you marketed it to find students?

I think the parents have expressed that they have really having a class, to have found somewhere that accepts their children as they are, and that their children enjoy coming to! The main way we marketed it at first was through the school. The school offered to give out leaflets to every student who was the right age for the class, and we were also in their newsletter and we have a banner on their fence. As well as that it’s marketed how we market our other classes – through social media and the internet, etc.

What are your plans for the development of the class?

We ended our year in July with a joint concert with our mainstream and ASD classes, which went really well, and our ASD class really enjoyed performing in! 

I think our next step is to continue to challenge and stretch them. Now that we know them its easier to plan for this particular class so we can develop their existing skils and interests. I think because this class has gone so well, we will be starting a second class for older children with Autism – early secondary school age.

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