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August 8, 2017

Fanshawe and Hutton House enhance social inclusion for those living with intellectual disabilities

Working together with compassion, respect and optimism, collaborators with Fanshawe's Autism and Behavioural Science program and Hutton House are striving to enhance social inclusion of those living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Since individuals with intellectual disabilities exhibit a wide range of skill and levels of ability, they often experience difficulty communicating and interacting with others on a social level, struggle with meaningful participation after high school, and can become marginalized. Yet, Fanshawe researcher Carmen Hall is pursuing new methods to positively influence their potential to participate.          

The goal of the college's Autism and Behavioural Science program is to impart highly-specialized knowledge in ASD and evidence-based treatments and strategies for its graduates to implement in the community. The mission of Hutton House is to support people with disabilities, through learning and life-enhancing programs that focus on the person's abilities and strengths.

As such, reaching beyond leisure, recreation and generalized life skills traditionally offered to adults with autism and other intellectual disabilities, Hall and Hutton House executive director Jeanette Dutot are joining forces to teach program participants truly meaningful life skills. The partners, and their respective teams, share a belief that every person has a right to learn after high school, while being respected and accepted, and are launching a year-long pilot program in the community to uphold that principle.

Autism researcher Carmen Hall (L) visits Hutton House executive director Jeanette Dutot

Autism researcher Carmen Hall (L) visits Hutton House executive director Jeanette Dutot

As Fanshawe's program coordinator, Hall says the cross-sector alliance is based on merging objectives and is a victory for all. “Hutton House has the clients and families who will benefit from this enhanced training, along with wonderful community space at its Day Break location. Meantime, Fanshawe's School of Community Studies has the knowledge, research and expertise to effectively deliver the sessions, with hope for government funding to sustain the program in the fullness of time.”

The new Skills 4 Life program is based on outcomes of a summer institute Hall completed last year, as part of her dissertation research. It is designed to teach participants skills through Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) to increase their ability to interact with others and gain a sense of belonging. ABA science applies systematic teaching of meaningful behaviours, while measuring progress, and altering interventions - based on data. This science is widely-implemented in the child sector up to age 18, through the Ontario Autism Program, and Hall values its benefit for the adult sector, as well.

Individualized to each person's goal, and taught using specialized teaching strategies, ABA science guides the team's program and philosophy. Through these applied strategies, participants learn to set a table using a placemat with drawings of utensils or sort laundry loads by matching a picture with an object.

Similar training is done outside the “home lab” that can include a participant's goal to enhance reading or to communicate with an augmentative communication device. Also, community-based skills - such as learning to use a debit card or ride the bus - increase independence and self-esteem, and enable a person to secure employment.

As an advocate for individuals with disabilities, Hall has long understood the importance of differentiated instruction. “Every person with a developmental disability has potential for lifelong learning,” notes Hall. “We just need to break a skill down into manageable steps, and teach with Applied Behaviour Analysis - depending on the goals and choices of each person.”    

According to Dutot, collaborating within a research-based framework creates the best possible opportunities for Hutton House participants, “I appreciate Carmen's recognition that often adults with disabilities are overlooked for programming in favour of children. Thanks to her community-based research, we are developing a body of knowledge, behavioural strategies and resources that can be replicated and shared across many agencies in the nonprofit sector.”  

To learn more about Hall's research and training methods, check out a newly-published book she co-authored entitled Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Ontario Context: An Introduction. For information on Hutton House programming, visit www.huttonhouse.com.

For further information about Fanshawe College, please contact Corporate Communications.