When visiting the Facebook page of The DreamTree, a school situated in the heart of Somerset West, a message attracts your attention: “I was created to be one of a kind, there’s no one like me! I can do some things really well, but some things, no matter how hard I try, I will never be good at. That’s just the way I’m made. I’m glad you don’t expect me to be someone I’m not, but you always encourage me to be the best me I can be.”
The DreamTree focuses on providing a specialised programme to offer differential education for learners with diverse developmental challenges. According to Henriëtte Hubers, founder of this unique school, it emphasises a trans-disciplinary approach to intervention, working with therapists and specialists across many disciplines to improve the lives of their special learners.
Principal and director Elaine Brand agrees saying the school offers a different education for learners with diverse developmental challenges. “We mostly accommodate children on the autistic spectrum,” she says. “We are passionate and committed to making a difference. At The DreamTree we strive to equip and prepare the learners to take their place in the world and lead as productive and fulfilled a life as possible. We believe in functional academics – to prepare our senior group of learners to be as independent as possible, by exposing them to real life experiences of daily living. This involves training them in and teaching them basic life skills, which are taken for granted by neuro-typical individuals who are not on the autistic spectrum. Among other aspects, these skills include personal care and self-help skills such as food preparation, hygiene and general housekeeping.”
Brand points out that children on the spectrum experience severe sensory integration difficulties. “This influences their functioning on a variety of levels including emotional and physical,” she says.
Thanks to a grant from the Rupert Foundation last year, “The DreamTree has a state-of-the-art, one-of-kind and world class sensory room which is the second of its kind in South Africa,” says Brand. “We are very proud of this room. It is essential that we provide a facility that will assist with focusing better in the classroom as well as minimising various behaviour issues that are sensory based.
“Sensory play builds nerve connections within the developing brain’s neural pathways, which trigger a child’s inclination and ability for completing more complex learning tasks.”
According to research, a sensory room is a specially designed area that combines a range of stimuli to sustain individual development and engage the senses. “These can include lights, colours, sounds, textures, aromas and an opportunity for movement, all within a safe environment that allows the person using it to explore and interact without risks,” Brand explains.
She adds that team work is vital to the progress of a child with autism. “We work closely with occupational therapists, speech therapists, medical doctors, psychologists and family members. Consistency is very important to these learners, which is why it is so important that we receive input consistently from all sources.”
The DreamTree uses the Caps curriculum, but has adapted it to each child’s individual educational needs in the form of an individualised educational development programme (IEDP).VThe DreamTree’s open day will be held on 15 April at 18:30. RSVP before or on 19 March via firstname.lastname@example.org.