Together Trust PBSA school in Cheadle has been using Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) with young people with autism to change their lives and those of their families.

Staff at Inscape House School are using PBS to encourage and reinforce more acceptable behaviours rather than drawing attention to negative actions – an approach that means eventually positive behaviour becomes more common amongst the young people with complex needs.

The school is run by charity, the Together Trust, where PBS is being used across the organisation. Along with providing specialist education, the charity offers care and support to young people and adults with behavioural problems, learning disabilities, physical disabilities and autism spectrum conditions.

Niall Wilson, clinical and specialist educational psychologist for the Together Trust, explained: “PBS is a total environment approach to supporting people with complex developmental needs which reduces behaviours that challenge by increasing the quality of life for the individual.

“Where the environment is accurately designed to proactively meet the unique core needs of a person, then typically we see a marked reduction in behaviours that challenge.”

The approach has already had a demonstrable effect on pupils, such as 16-year-old Joe, who has autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a hearing impairment and had previously struggled at the school.

Education assistants Gary Hughes and Suzie Birchall created a different timetable and ways of teaching which would suit Joe more, using PBS to unlock his potential.

Joe had been showing signs of aggressive behaviour and became verbally abusive, but really he was very anxious about many social situations. He often covered up his anxiety by talking in a street style manner which he had learnt from music and acted out a role that kept people at a distance.

“We rewrote Joe’s class timetable to be 90% outside of the formal school building, an environment which he was struggling to succeed in,” said Birchall. “It was clear that as soon as he left the formal environment, his behaviour changed.” 

She added that the ASDAN curriculum – which offers programmes and qualifications that grow skills for learning, skills for employment and skills for life – they focused on areas where Joe struggled.

“Often Joe would only do things if he felt like he was going to get something back, so Gary and I took him to Manchester one day to distribute food to the homeless to show him that selfless acts can be rewarding, which he really enjoyed,” Birchall added.

There were a number of factors involved in this new way of working that focused on Joe and what was best for his way of learning including flexibility, rewards, transparency and honesty and complete communication with all involved.

“I learn things about myself every day from Joe about new ways I can help him and ensure that he feels valued in society,” Hughes added.

By listening to Joe’s likes and dislikes, Hughes and Birchall can focus on the best ways for him to learn. Joe will soon be going to a studio to record music of his own. By focusing on Joe’s interests, the group will be using this opportunity to do something that Joe loves to help him learn new skills.

Joe’s mum, Bev, has been involved in the change in learning every step of the way, getting daily feedback of how he is getting on, which has allowed her to develop a continuity between school and home, allowing Joe to develop further.

“I was beginning to have doubts about him staying at the school as Joe was becoming stressed and anxious but the turnaround over the past 5-6 weeks has been fantastic, Joe still has anxiety but he is able to talk about it before it gets too much,” said Bev.

“The change in timetable has been brilliant and I have been more involved in his education. Suzie and Gary have changed things and made it easier to relate to Joe’s education. I can’t thank these people enough, I finally feel like Joe is going in a good direction – feeling liked for Joe was a big thing and now he feels like he is especially in their group.

“When things were starting to look like they were going wrong for Joe, Gary and Suzie have done what’s necessary to gain Joe’s trust to work with us.”

Joe added: “I like that we go to different places and I stay away from situations that are negative. I like Gary and Suzie because we all get on and it’s fun.”