An evaluation of the Teach Me As I Am Early Years Programme, conducted by researchers at Mary Immaculate College in collaboration with AsIAm—a national charity for the autism community—was launched on Tuesday 23 April in the Mansion House in Dublin by the Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon.
The research was conducted by Prof. Emer Ring, Dean of Education, MIC; Dr Lisha O’Sullivan, Acting Head of Department of Reflective Pedagogy and Early Childhood Studies, MIC; Dr Suzanne O’Keeffe, Maynooth University, Froebel Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education; Fiona Ferris, Deputy CEO of AsIAm, and Prof. Eugene Wall, President of MIC.
Adam Harris, CEO of AsIAm, opened the launch with the observation that: “This research provides us with an opportunity to show autistic people from the outset what they should be able to expect from professionals and indeed to support professionals in meeting that expectation. So for us the Teach Me As I Am Early Years Programme is an important opportunity to put autistic people on the right path from the beginning, while also demonstrating to them that whatever service it is they are accessing at that stage in their life, they should expect evidence based approaches and have access to high standards and quality within that service.”
Dr Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children, congratulated MIC and AsIAm on the report: "I am excited to hear about how this programme continues to develop and become more successful over the next few years, and hope to hear that it becomes a natural component of continuing professional development for all educators. Children and parents will thrive as a result of this increased knowledge and their rights will be vindicated, right from the very start. Not because of their diagnosis, but because people who work with them have put themselves out there and learned new skills and I feel we all need to continue to do the same."
Prof. Emer Ring, Dean of Education at MIC, noted that the publication represents the commitment of MIC “to continue to engage in collaborative research partnerships in the quest for creating an education system where diversity is the new norm”. She cautioned that we can never become complacent in relation to ensuring our education system remains underpinned by social justice values, high-quality research and human rights.
She added that the research is timely in view of the recent publication of First Five: A Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families 2019-2028 (Government of Ireland 2018), and in particular the strategy’s affirmation of the centrality of continuing professional development in providing high-quality early learning and care experiences for all children. The findings of this research affirm the principles articulated in First Five and highlight the transformative potential of continuing professional development programmes, which are firmly embedded in research, delivered through a practice-focused lens and employ motivating instructional strategies.
Dr Lisha O’Sullivan, Acting Head of Department of Reflective Pedagogy and Early Childhood Studies at MIC, thanked the early learning and care settings who had so generously participated in the research and in particular Teresa Heeney, CEO of Early Childhood Ireland and its members for supporting the research through its annual Pyjama Day.
Teresa Heeney, CEO Early Childhood Ireland, welcoming the report, congratulated AsIAm on securing an evidence base for the programme: “The evaluation offers evidence to providers of initial professional education and continuing professional learning of its effectiveness. Hopefully this will ensure its availability for the early learning and care sector into the future.” Ms Heeney also congratulated the members of Early Childhood Ireland whose participation in National Pyjama Day raised the funds for this important programme.
Fiona Ferris, Deputy CEO of AsIAm, in welcoming the evaluation, remarked that "this programme was way too important not to evaluate its effectiveness. The evaluation belongs to everyone who participated in the programme, those who opened their doors to our researchers, and the children's voices that are heard throughout the report”.
One of those voices was Katelynn Ferris, a third class primary school pupil, who provided the inspirational foreword for the report. Katelynn opened her address at the launch with the thought-provoking words: “My name is Katelynn and I have autism. To me autism means that you can find things harder than other people and sometimes you can be better at some things than other people. So in other words, I think differently.”
The report is available to read online at: www.asiam.ie/resources (hard copies are available from AsIAm).
An article based on the research written by the authors: ‘Transforming the lives of early childhood teachers, autistic children and their families: Findings from an evaluation of a programme of continuing professional learning’ will be published in the next edition of The Adult Learner on the Aontas website here and in hard copy.
Main picture above (L-R): Pictured at the launch of the Teach Me As I Am Early Years Programme evaluation report in the Mansion House, Dublin (L-R): Antoinette Keeley, ABC Club, Co. Meath; Carole Dempsey, Montessori House of Children, Co. Kerry; Adam Harris, CEO AsIAm; Teresa Heeney, CEO, Early Childhood Ireland; Suzanne O’Keeffe, Maynooth University, Froebel Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education; Dr Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children; Prof. Emer Ring, Dean of Education, Mary Immaculate College (MIC); Dr Lisha O’Sullivan, Acting Head of Department of Reflective Pedagogy and Early Childhood Studies (MIC); Fiona Ferris, Deputy CEO, AsIAm, and Katelynn Ferris.