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The Secondary Social Communication Program

Seven years ago, my principal came to me and said, “I have a great opportunity for you!”I looked at her with suspicion, because in education, a “great opportunity” often means a great deal of extra work! Building the Secondary Social Communication Program (SSCP) has been a great deal of work,but it has been some of the most meaningful work I have done as an educator.The SSCP is a program for students with ASD who are able to access regular high school curriculum and will likely be moving on to higher education, but who struggle with the social communication skills that will be necessary for them to function effectively in adult life, especially in a work environment. The students often struggle with building relationships, and managing their emotions. Their ASD often impacts their learning skills and their personal management, as well. The program provides ongoing education and support for the students throughout their entire secondary career. We have a home-base classroom that provides a “safe space” within the larger school environment. Students have 5 years of curriculum that directly addresses their needs. They have a class with the SSCP teacher every day, their entire time in high school.

I am very proud of the achievements of my students. It is a privilege to watch their progress from grade 9 to graduation. The program provides a sense of belonging and a built in peer group. Students are able to practice their social communication skills in the program, and apply them throughout all of their daily interactions. Our students have the support, and build the skills and confidence, to get involved in all sorts of school activities, from band, to gaming club, to morning announcements crew, to sports teams. Over time,classroom teachers have built their capacity to provide appropriate accommodations for students with ASD, which helps them be more successful academically.The teachers come to me to discuss the achievements and challenges of the students. Students who are in classes with the SSCP students often act as allies and peer support for the SSCP students. I have had teachers say to me that ALL students should have to take a class like mine, as the skills we focus on are often not addressed specifically for young people today.

The words of one of my former students say it the best: “Now that I am in the SSCP at Ancaster High, I have met people who are like me, who are on the autism spectrum. I have met many great people here. I have wonderful friends, and overall my life became better when I came here. I understand social cues a bit better, I can handle my emotions better, like, everything just went to a more positive outlook.” -Bryson

In the next 10 years, what I hope for is that all students with social thinking and communication challenges are able to access the type of learning that theSSCP provides. It is just as important as math or literacy in terms of beingsuccessful in adult life.

-Moira, Ancaster

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