NAS Earlybird Project In Surrey

by Sue Weston (Senior Educational Psychologist, Surrey County Council)

The NAS EarlyBird project was originally set up by the National Autistic Society (NAS) in 1997 to develop and evaluate an autism specific model of early intervention using a parent programme. It is a three-month programme which combines group training with individual sessions for parents and their child using video feedback to help parents apply what they learn whilst working with their child. Parents have a weekly commitment to a three-hour training session or a home visit and to on-going work with their child at home during the three month programme.

The NAS EarlyBird Scheme aims to:

Parents wishing to be included in the EarlyBird programme attend an initial information meeting following which they make a referral to the EarlyBird team. The NAS EarlyBird programme works with six families at a time and applications are accepted from parents of a child not of statutory school age (i.e. under 5 years) with a diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder. Two parents (or carers) from each family may attend.

The course content is eclectic and draws from elements of the NAS ‘SPELL’ approach, the TEACCH system, the Hanen programme for early language, and the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). The weekly sessions include teaching, small group work and discussion, plus general sharing of ideas. Home videoing of the child and parents is used to share with the group and to support skills development.

The NAS EarlyBird Scheme in Surrey.

The EarlyBird Scheme in Surrey was set up in 2000 when members of the Autism Outreach Teaching Service and the Portage Early Education Support Service became licensed trainers of the scheme. The LEA EarlyBird team now has six teaching staff members who contribute to running three to four parent programmes a year. The first two programmes were set up in the summer of 2001 and by the end of the first year of the scheme it is hoped that six full programmes will have been run. Parents who have completed the initial programme have provided extremely positive feedback and evaluations of the scheme and have stressed how the support and intervention has raised their confidence in helping their child. They are also much clearer about how to support their child’s needs. Following completion of the programme all parents are eligible to join the Friends of EarlyBird Parent Support Group, which is a county wide scheme run by the EarlyBird parents.

Evaluations and the Efficacy Study

Evaluations of the first two EarlyBird Parents Programmes run in Surrey during the summer term have now been completed. The Efficacy Study of the programme has been monitored by the NAS and data contributes to the accumulative findings being collected for the programme. The Surrey study was carried out by a member of the Educational Psychology Service who is affiliated to the EarlyBird team, but has no direct involvement with the programme presentation or the children. Assessments of the scheme involve an initial video taping of the parent/child interaction along with the completion of a questionnaire about the child’s communication development. Follow-up home visits are completed after the three month programme and after a further period of six months, at which time the video taping and questionnaires are repeated. Participants are also asked to complete brief questionnaires concerning the weekly sessions, the home visits and the whole programme. In addition to this the psychologist running the Efficacy Study also carries out a series of assessments with the parents before the programme, after the three month programme and after a further six months. These interventions and home visits are used to help the parents respond to three "formal measures" as follows:

Mike Connor, a member of the Educational Psychology Service, completed the initial pre-school assessments and the follow-up assessments in respect of two of the EarlyBird programmes, each comprising of six families, which were run simultaneously in Surrey during the spring and early summer of 2001.

All the informal parental comments collated were extremely positive about the programme and about the staff running the weekly sessions and completing the home visits, with references made to the considerable help derived from the course and expertise of the presenters. More formal assessment data similarly showed a positive trend towards parents perceiving their children’s difficulties as being less severe at the conclusion of the course, and also feeling more able to manage their child’s behaviour. The major shift was between the first and second set of ratings, but the generally downward trend has continued in the majority of cases from Follow-up 1 to Follow-up 2. The study clearly showed the benefits of the EarlyBird programme and the overall results in respect of parental opinions or perceptions showed a marked change for the better when findings at follow-up assessment were compared with those of the baseline assessment. Mike concluded that the implications of the study were that early identification and promotion of the programme are important. It is clear that access to support as soon as possible after the child has been identified as having an autistic spectrum disorder can reduce anxiety in parents and promote feelings of confidence so that they can make the best use of their time and motivation to bring about positive changes in their child.

The future of the programme in Surrey

Surrey is now in Year 2 of the programme and hopes to run at least four programmes a year across the county. Recently a team of specialist learning disability nurses from the Surrey Oaklands NHS Trust became licensed trainers and will be joining the Surrey Early Bird Scheme, initially to set up a programme in the Epsom area. It is hoped that the programmes will continue to be run within a multi-professional base and linked to all the other services providing support to children with ASD and their families.

For a leaflet and information pack contact the EarlyBird Administrator, Freemantles School (tel: 01932-563460) or for any other enquiries contact Surrey’s Earlybird co-ordinator, Sue Weston, Senior Educational psychologist/Surrey portage Co-ordinator (tel: 01737-737979).

NAS Surrey Branch 2002.

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