The Bridges Curriculum: Frequently Asked Questions
The Bridges social curriculum is a practice based on evidence approach for able children with ASD; established over a 12-year clinical development period (2000-2012). It integrates a cognitive behavioural approach and transfers theoretical knowledge of ASD (Theory of Mind, Baron-Cohen, 1997; Central Coherence, Happe and Firth, 2006; Executive Function) into the overall framework as well as the specific teaching strategies (e.g. video modelling and self-awareness) to facilitate increased independence in social functioning for able children with ASD. The curriculum:
• Enables systematic and sequential social learning across the primary and secondary school years. We believe that a long-term road map for social understanding underpins self-esteem and well-being.
• Provides a proactive focus on social understanding; tackling concepts and skills as a cognitively acquired process, sometimes ahead of need.
• Uses specific teaching strategies:
– Provide social information
– Facilitate self-awareness/self-monitoring*
– Encourage perspective-taking skills
– Use video Modelling*
– Incorporate role play practice
– Teach context sensitivity
*Research shows that positive gains come from the use of these strategies; specifically, in promoting independence in social functioning.
• Dynamic Platform Enabling Individualised Evidence-Based Practice
Bridges is not an online e-resource book but rather a complex and dynamic platform that enables an evidence-based approach to intervention; tracking the unique progress of each individually named child across time. The bespoke system establishes a record of each child’s abilities before they begin their learning. It then generates ongoing outcome measurements for every Module of learning to assist in evaluating how they are responding.
The Bridges Lessons build one on another and Modules are interconnected, with explicit links made between concepts, integrating individual aspects of social learning into the bigger picture of social functioning (in line with the notion of ‘Weak Coherence’). We believe that a discrete topic-based approach to social skills development as a response to observed needs may in fact compound our ASD children’s inherent restrictions on seeing how each element of learning fits together. This may contribute to restricted generalisation and permanence of skills.
• Depth and Breadth
The Bridges curriculum addresses the fact that complex processes and skills are required to function effectively in the social world. For children with ASD, developing the capacity to understand the social mind is cognitively acquired. A depth and breadth of teaching across the longer term is therefore required to consolidate their learning and those that teach them require access to a variety of materials and resources to meet that need.
The online framework of the Bridges curriculum translates to an ease of accessibility to Lessons supported by a depth and breadth of resources (social posters, video-modelling clips, interactive challenges, activities and role-play scenarios) that facilitate progressive learning. It also enables the standardisation of content, teaching and learning expectations.
• Gender Balanced:
Over our 12 years of clinical development, the responses of both girls and boys to the curriculum became part of its dynamic modification; refining our teaching strategies and materials to be relevant to both genders.
The curriculum is best delivered as clinician/teacher-directed learning with parent involvement. The staff identified to implement the Curriculum, should have experience of working with able school-aged children with an autism spectrum disorder. Access to guidance from a specialist psychologist/clinician/teacher would be an advantage.
Based on positive outcomes achieved, the child who would best benefit would meet the following criteria:
• diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder
• average intellectual functioning
• core language skills appropriate for the child’s age
• adequate attention and self-regulation skills to be able to access learning
• adequate social intent i.e. demonstrating an interest in peers
• adequate compliance to adult direction
We have achieved positive outcomes with ASD children who have mild learning difficulties and co-morbid specific language impairment; but these children had high social intent.
The sequential curriculum framework follows a systematic building of skills beginning with understanding how people think (‘Theory of Mind’) in Module 1 Intermediate Level, which establishes the foundation for self-awareness and perspective. Although the curriculum lay-out suggests that a child or young person could start at the Advanced Level, we require all children to start at the Intermediate Level.
This progressive framework of social teaching is undergirded by ‘practice-based evidence’; that is how our positive outcomes were achieved. All the children we worked with across 12 years of clinical development, started with the self-awareness and perspective work at the Intermediate Level and developed their social understanding from there.
Our goal is for primary aged children to start the curriculum and follow it through during their school years in line with our proactive approach to social learning. We are, however, supporting teenagers and young adults in their social understanding who are engaging positively at the Intermediate Level with benefits being reported.
The online system is encoded to release Lessons on a weekly basis as part of paced learning. While the Lessons are released weekly, the pace of delivery may differ and a single Lesson may be taught over two or more sessions beyond the span of a week; depending on individual learning needs and responsive teaching modifications. The Lessons are content rich and include a breadth of resource materials that present different manifestations of each concept to facilitate each child’s understanding and application of skills learnt.
Each child would benefit from being engaged in the curriculum on a regular basis through the year to establish a consistent momentum of social learning. This enables the skills and concepts taught to be consolidated and connected.
The underlying rationale for this is that because social understanding is a cognitively acquired skill (much like an academic subject such as Maths), there is a large amount of complex information that needs to be systematically introduced, expanded on and applied to daily events at school and at home to make it real. Without consolidation and internalisation, cognitively acquired concepts and skills are at risk of being misunderstood, misapplied or simply forgotten. Like other cognitively acquired skills, social understanding takes time to develop.
Our positive outcomes were based on lessons where concepts were developed and built upon one step at a time. From our experience, children need time to understand, remember and consolidate the concepts and an even longer time to practise applying them. After each Lesson, it would be ideal to take the concept introduced and apply it in real-life contexts; as well as review previous concepts.
Time is needed to role play situations that have happened and walk the children through what they could have done differently. The children we worked with really liked this and found it very useful; as it helped their learning make sense and gave it meaning.
Our positive outcomes were based on a balanced distribution of new teaching throughout the year; and never exceeded 40 weeks per year. We observed that the children benefitted from having significant breaks from learning as they typically demonstrated consolidated understanding and better application of the concepts taught.
In line with this, our Agreement of Use with you allows access to assigned Modules of Learning, specifically: Modules 1-3 for Year 1; Modules 4-6 for Year 2; and Modules 7 and 8 for Year 3. Each user is therefore responsible for planning a balanced teaching schedule for the assigned Modules; with no stipulation that they must be completed within the year.
The social learning within each Module has been broken down into small, sequential steps of new teaching. Children may be quick to acquire the social information cognitively but they take a much longer time to internalise, consolidate, apply and generalise what they’ve learnt into the real world.
When we see the ‘head knowledge’ established, there is a temptation to want to move forward at a faster pace. This puts application, generalisation and consolidation at risk and may be one of the reasons why research outcomes show consistently poor generalisation of social skills training.
More importantly for the children, if they don’t see the skills as making a difference in the way they handle social situations with adults and especially peers, it may be difficult to keep them motivated in continuing the curriculum over the long term.
This is where Bridges differs. Our years of experience in working with children who have a distinctively different style of learning has resulted in a teaching approach that addresses the way they think and learn.
Much like an academic subject, the Bridges curriculum addresses increasingly complex teaching as the child matures in their social understanding. Goals for independent social functioning are long term.
Based on a regular teaching schedule, the Intermediate Level of the Bridges curriculum provides progressive and seamless social learning across approximately 2 to 3 academic years. The Advanced Level covers a similar time span.
Interested individuals/establishments (professionals, schools or clinics) are required to complete an Information Form. The completed Form allows us to establish individualised Teaching Dashboard(s) as well as Student Dashboard(s)
Each individual/establishment will also be required to sign an Agreement Of Use acknowledging a shared understanding that access to the curriculum is limited to the authorised child/children only. Upon return of the Signed Agreement, we will provide Login Details specific to each authorised adult that enables access to the online curriculum. Each child will also be provided with unique Login Details so that they can access their personal Student Dashboard at home to facilitate carryover. Please take note that no child has access to the Curriculum site as the Lessons are designed to be adult-directed.
Unique to the Bridges approach is the ability for each subscriber to record baseline data and retrieve outcome data that evaluates the effectiveness of the curriculum for their child/children across time. These ongoing measurements facilitate goal setting and overall best practice management. This individualised intervention approach requires the continued support of clinical expertise as well as technical support for ongoing development and supervision.
Significant positive outcomes have been achieved in using this systematic approach in an NAS specialist school (UK) as well as with mainstream pupils in Singapore. Preliminary data and reports from SENCOs, teachers and Speech-Language Therapists indicate a similar pattern of progress with mainstream children. We are also seeing evidence of positive outcomes achieved in specialist autism units and school settings.
We remain in a unique position to track our young adults who received sequential social learning. While our ‘observations’ are not robust from a research perspective, they have independently maintained friendships with each other (established in their primary years) into their now early twenties; as well as established and maintained positive peer relationships with typically developing peers. This, together with evidence of self-esteem and well-being, given their ongoing challenges, is what drives us forward in continuing to promote the need for access to a social learning curriculum.
We recommend high-speech internet (preferably download speed above 5Mbps) for good access.