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A WICKED course
I work at Ruskin Mill College, where there are nearly 100 students from 16-22 years. Almost all have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, mainly Aspergers Syndrome. The students spend 3-4 years at the college. It offers a variety of land-based, craft and art skills and is founded on Anthroposophical (Steiner) principles, especially the ethos of learning by doing. I see all students for an initial assessment when they attend a trial 3-day period at the college in the year before they intend to take up a place. I write a report, adding the proposed speech and language therapy care plan and indications for tutors and houseparents. This covers communication-based information and strategies they will need to help the student make the most of their time. Students receive therapy in various ways: one-to-one Social Use of Language Programme and discussion groups (role-play and discussion are good ways to put into practice the ethos of learning through doing) monitoring while in craft sessions advice to staff. Usually a combination of approaches takes place over the 3-4 years. By the time the students complete their years at Ruskin Mill they have acquired many useful and rare craft, land and art skills that they can be proud of, as well as furthering their basic skills in literacy and numeracy. Generally they have also received some Careers Guidance, as well as speech and language and other therapies. The students have usually begun to pull all the threads of this therapeutic education together to form a picture of themselves as people who would be an asset to a workforce and who deserve to have fulfilled lives in terms of social interactions and relationships. However, I have found there is often a need for one last opportunity to refresh some social and relationship skills. In addition, I was aware these students would also benefit from further careers guidance, especially in connection with interview techniques. Carol Webber is the college Careers tutor. She aims to set targets for each college leaver, arranges work experience and helps them with the design of their curriculum vitae (CV), application forms and job searches. She also talks about appropriateness of dress for interviews.

HOW I (2):

We decided to pilot a course called WICKED (Workplace Interactions and Communication Keyskills for Everyday, and for Dating) with two groups of leavers. My role was to design and coordinate the course, and I had help throughout from my great assistant Julia. We had five members of staff, enough to manage any difficulties encountered as the courses were taking place off-site, but not so many that students would be inhibited. Carol offered to provide two sessions regarding job searching and we were very lucky that two retired careers guidance staff, Norma Kay and Mandy Garstang, were able to join us. Norma maintains a link with the careers guidance course at the University of the West of England where she lectured, and Mandy is also a magistrate. They have a great deal of experience in working with young people and could carry out the mock interviews and generally offer help and advice. The local Connexions team were very happy for us to go ahead, although they were unable to provide input this time. We selected 12 students, 6 for each course (11 young men; 1 young woman). They had all been reassessed before the course, as part of our regular tracking and watching brief systems. We selected on the basis of: 1. Their intention to find a job and independent or semiindependent living accommodation when they leave, together with their personal tutors opinion that this would be realistic. 2. Their willingness to embark on the WICKED course. 3. Their most recent assessment showing that their speech and language levels would allow them to manage in the workplace.

Figure 1 The Conversation Strategies Checklist This profiling tool and list of possible therapy ideas is in the process of being published. It can be used 1:1, or in a group. It looks at 26 conversational strategies and considers a further 10 discussion points to help with conversation. Examples include strategies that explore: The use of open rather than closed questions Being a bit up to date with the latest news Knowing yourself be ready to say a bit about what makes you interesting BUT be careful not to bore people! and discussion points that explore: What is the point of chat? How do people seek regard through conversation? Is a conversation a performance? Figure 2 Course Questionnaire (Post-course we also asked what they thought of it and how we could improve it.) 1. Which topics of conversation are useful in any situation? Give 3 or more examples. 2. Where can you look for a job? Give 3 or more examples. 3. What does preparation for an interview involve? 4. What does the average bloke talk about with his mates? Give 5 or more examples. 5. What does the average girl talk about with her mates? Give 5 or more examples. 6. Why have coffee and tea breaks at work? Give as many reasons as you can.

similar one afterwards (figure 2). Scribes were provided here and throughout the course where needed. The results of the pre-course questionnaire would also indicate any areas where extra work was needed, over that already planned. We decided that each course would take place over two days. Mock job interviews would take place alongside other activities. We used the following approaches (not necessarily in this order): 1. Introduction - Social and work relationships We discussed job matches and partner matches; both kinds of partnerships require mutual respect and interest. Both relationships are helped when we know who we are; our history, preferences, abilities and areas where we can improve. Both require us to listen, and need us to find out about and take the others needs and preferences into consideration. Both partners and employers/employees give and accept compliments, even flattery! We played The Introductions Game. By chatting to a partner (staff or student), the participants found out six interesting things about them, and wrote these down on separate sheets initialled with the interviewees name (we used these later in the CV section). They then introduced the person to the whole group, giving as much information as they could remember / had noted down. 2. Conversation skills applicable to social and interview settings Many of the students had previously participated in Social Use of Language Programme groups where they began to understand conversational rules. Some of these had evolved into Discussion and Dating Skills groups. They had also worked with the Language Choices course, learning to prioritise their discourse. Some recapping formed a bridge into communication in the workplace setting. We also referred to similarities and differences in interactions between social partners such as friends, girlfriend/boyfriend and employment partner.

Preparatory meetings
The staff had two preparatory meetings. We discussed the idea that an interview is a type of formalised conversation, and touched upon the different types of social codes needed for interview settings, for talking with a boss and for talking to colleagues. I mentioned that coffee and lunch breaks are often more of a problem to people with autism spectrum disorder than the actual work. I followed this up with a pack of information: 1. Official Diagnostic Criteria DSM IV on Aspergers Syndrome 2. The Triad of Impairments (Attwood, 2006) 3. Makesense training resources (Aspergers and Adolescence; Theory of Mind; Central Coherence Theory; Executive Functioning) 4. The Extreme Male Brain theory (Baron-Cohen, 2004) 5. Two home-grown information sheets (Tips on working with students with Aspergers Syndrome; The Conversation Strategies Checklist (figure 1)). To evaluate the efficiency of the course we asked the students to fill in a brief questionnaire beforehand, and a

Like me, Carol felt there was a need for students to recap on skills needed for employment, and to role-play mock interviews. Many communication skills needed for interviews and in workplace settings are similar to those needed for social interactions in general, and therefore to work on these together made sense.



3. Self-esteem and CVs Careers staff stressed that the students need to be able to sell themselves at interviews and when supplying CVs. This connects with therapy sessions where the students had been encouraged to focus on their interests and attributes. Most had previously filled in a Positive Points Chart and a spidergram (Roberts, 2003) or Mindmap of interests, to increase their self-knowledge and esteem, and to fuel conversation topics. Some of them had taken this further, into the concept of the Social CV. We recapped on social CVs and built up job CVs by placing the sheets from The Introductions Game into the sections of a Venn diagram, showing which CV topics would be appropriate in interview, social and / or dating situations. In this way the course recapped on social CVs and built up job CVs. 4. Body Language Many of our students had worked on eye contact, facial expression and gesture / posture for social interactions, but not specifically for interviews. We used modelled examples and role-play to demonstrate how to convey attention, interest and friendliness. We used a game called Moods to separate items on the agenda that required concentration, and as a follow-up to the work on body language. It was an excellent tool for helping to improve understanding and use of facial expression. 5. Interview Video As suggested by Norma, we showed a video - First Impressions Last - at the beginning of discussions about interviews. 6. An Introduction to Job Searching We used newspapers and other sources Carol had found as a basis for search and discussion. We discussed the types of questions jobseekers would need to ask. We also reflected on work experience. 7. Mock Job Interviews Mandy and Norma carried out mock job interviews, being careful to remind the students these were just for practice (not real jobs). They devised a set of questions, but retained a flexibility to allow for the different types of hypothetical jobs being applied for. 8. The Conversation Strategies Checklist (figure 1) While the interviews were going on the remainder of the group recapped or examined for the first time a home-grown and useful document The Conversation Strategies Checklist - of about 30 ideas for improving the quality of our conversations. Some students were able to tick the strategies they had observed others using, or that they had used themselves. We took a look at several different newspapers, with a view to selecting items suitable to include in a conversation, stressing the importance of remembering that items that show I am Profound must be balanced by Keeping it Light. The students picked out the best articles for discussion. We also played Taboo! (Hasbro), which focuses in a playful way on what not to say. 9. Dating Skills In our regular group sessions we have been using games and quizzes designed for discussion of dating, covering such issues and skills as: What constitutes attraction?

How does friendship become dating? What to do on a first date? Most of the students had not worked with these games before but were enthusiastic participants and keen to collect useful tips. Some cartoons from a Bart Simpson book were useful in revealing mens versus womens preferred conversational topics! 10. Film - HITCH (Will Smith) We showed this very light-hearted look at dating and social strategies in two sessions, on the afternoons of both days of the courses. 11. Being the Experts on Aspergers We had a discussion on Aspergers Syndrome using magazine and newspaper articles, (including one by Chris and Gisela Slater-Walker on Asperger relationships). We also discussed aspects of Aspergers that can make people with Aspergers more employable than other people, (sticklers for correct detail, honest, good at finishing tasks). 12. Bullying in the workplace We had a discussion about what constitutes bullying in the workplace, and examined avoidance, reporting and repair strategies, using the Childline document as a basis. We also examined and discussed some of the Speechmark Social Behaviour Cards that depict adult bullying situations. 13. Other items on the agenda Coffee and tea breaks were social interludes but required the students to put into practice some of the conversation strategies they had learnt. We distributed Survival Skills Booklets written by two other students at Ruskin Mill. These light-hearted publications contained alternating survival skills life survival skills (such as camping know-how) interspersed with social survival tips learnt at their Social Use of Language Programme group.

pleased with the immediate improvements shown by students, but felt a longer-term follow-up might be needed to show real absorption of all the information. This might need to be several months or longer after the course, when they would have left Ruskin Mill and either be working or still looking for work. Some students had already received speech and language therapy as a feature of their curriculum at Ruskin Mill because their original assessments showed a need for it. All except one of these students started off with higher pre-course questionnaire results, and showed an average improvement of 4.5 points. Those who had not received it started with lower pre-course questionnaire results but improved by an average of 6.6 points. The end results showed a final average of 17.6 points amongst the no-previous-therapy students, and a final average of 21.8 amongst the had-previous-therapy students. Previous speech and language therapy helped students to gain higher points in the pre-course questionnaire so, despite lower levels four years ago, they had become more aware of social and interview skills, and had held on to this improvement even outside their usual setting. At the same time this relatively small amount of therapy on the course helped those who had not had previous input. The course was generally felt to have been a success, but a few changes would improve it for next time. These include different timing within the academic year even more pre-course preparation longer-term assessment of benefits to students. Norma is hoping that I can talk to University of the West of England students about autism and that Ruskin Mill students might then be able to have further practice interviews with them. Mandy was able to contribute to a useful discussion about bullying from her perspective as a magistrate, and the ripples are also spreading as she is passing information about Aspergers Syndrome to clerks at her Court. Alison Roberts is a speech and language therapist at Ruskin Mill Further Education College in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, e-mail alison.roberts@good-communication.co.uk.

Recap information
We handed out post-course questionnaires to see how much information had been absorbed. Each student went away with a wallet containing recap information about general social skills, conversation techniques, interview skills, bullying avoidance, CV writing, job hunting, relationship skills, dating tips, and a certificate of attendance on the course. We assessed the effectiveness of the pilot in various ways. The repeat questionnaire was scored by counting the number of valid ideas given for each of the six sections covering different key areas of social and employment skills. Every student showed improvement and the average was 5.5 points (able to think of 5 or 6 more ideas over all the questions). All but one of the students commented spontaneously that they had improved in at least one area. Most commonly this included preparing for interviews, thinking of topics for conversations, keeping conversations going and understanding Aspergers Syndrome. (The remaining student showed the greatest improvement from pre- to post-course questionnaire!) Student engagement in the course proved difficult to assess objectively, but they tended to start hesitantly and gradually become more involved. Carol mentioned that two students had found jobs since coming on the course. Norma and Mandy were

Attwood, T. (2006) The Complete Guide to Aspergers Syndrome. London: Jessica Kingsley. Baron-Cohen, S. (2004) The Essential Difference: Men, Women and the Extreme Male Brain. London:Penguin. Buzan, T. & Buzan, B. (2006) The Mind Map Book. London: BBC Active. Roberts, A. (2003) Heres one I made earlier, Speech & Language Therapy in Practice Autumn, p.7.

Bullying Information Sheets - www.childline.org.uk DSM IV (1994) American Psychiatric Association information at www.behavenet.com/capsules/disorders/d4class.htm First Impressions Last video - www.jumpcutuk.com/. Hitch (2005) Sony Pictures DVD Social Use of Language Programme and Language Choices www.wendyrinaldi.com Training Resources from www.makesensetraining.co.uk

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