Helen Keller School of Alabama: Curriculum and Special Programs
Every Helen Keller School of Alabama (HKS) student has an Individualized Education Program or IEP. Because all our students come to us with very different needs, it takes an intensive team effort to build an appropriate IEP. Staff, teachers, parents and others examine a child's assessments, evaluations and school records, if any. Then, as a group, we discuss the child's potential. The parents' input at this stage is critical. We need to understand what the parents' expectations are for the child, and see how our resources can help achieve those goals.
Then, we are able to match those needs with our ability to teach academic subjects and daily living skills. Some children will focus more on learning daily living skills at first: dressing, bathing, grooming. Others may be ready to tackle more conventional academic subjects. Classes are small and specialized. Sometimes a teacher and an aide will have just four students; usually there are no more than five students for each teacher.
One skill crucial to all our students is communication. Learning to express oneself is a major accomplishment -- the cornerstone for all the achievements to come. Students who are deaf or hard of hearing may learn American Sign Language (ASL). Students who are blind or have vision loss will begin to learn how to get around safely in any environment using skills called Orientation and Mobility. Assistive technology helps overcome many difficulties faced by people who have vision or hearing loss, and these skills are taught when appropriate.
Academic subjects include the basics: reading, writing and math. For students who are blind or have vision loss, we can teach Braille or they may learn to use large print. Math may focus on independent living needs, like how to tell time, balance a checkbook or draw up a household budget. More advanced academics are introduced as needed.
Some of our students go on to attend classes at Alabama School for the Blind or Alabama School for the Deaf. Some students graduate and return to live at home and participate in another program. Others leave and begin their adult life, finding a job and living independently, in a group home or with their families. All HKS graduates finish their time here with a strong sense of their own self-worth, equipped with an education uniquely designed to help them meet their full potential.
AIDB instructors are consistently credited for their creative and effective teaching skills. It's just not possible to reach every child with a single approach. Over the years, we have learned that every child can learn; it's simply a matter of finding the right way to present the material. Some of these different approaches include a creative arts program designed to stimulate students through visual and tactile activities, motor development and expansion of expressive and receptive language. Many of our students respond well to music therapy.
Our programs change frequently as our students' needs change. We have offered horticulture classes in the past, teaching children and young adults how to raise plants either as a pleasant hobby or as a vocational skill. Students learn how to manage money and see how a small business succeeds through our school store, which offers small gift items and homemade snacks to people on campus.
Many of our students have physical challenges requiring physical therapy. Traditional physical therapy is offered on campus and within our Health and Clinical Services Dowling Building on the Alabama School for the Deaf campus. Or, students may work within The Hackney Play Therapy Center, a fun and innovative way for children to participate in therapy without even realizing it as they wiggle through brightly colored tunnels, climb ropes and ladders and throw plastic balls like confetti up in the air.
Another highly successful alternative to traditional physical therapy is found at AIDB's Marianna Greene Henry Special Equestrians Program. Many of our students with multiple disabilities have learned how to relate to people by developing a relationship with a gentle, nonjudgmental animal first. Balance, posture, strength and flexibility are all positive gains with hippotherapy.
A unique program within the Helen Keller School (HKS) is targeted towards children whose level of functioning does not qualify for admissions in the regular school program. It is a residential program, housed in a special facility on the HKS campus. Because many of the children in Awakenings are medically-fragile, the Awakenings program is self-contained. Classrooms, living space and dining room are all under a single roof.
The curriculum emphasis is different than at any other AIDB program. Many of the Awakenings’ students will never live alone; the program focuses on sensory stimulation, communication and language, mobility, recreation and basic self-help skills. It is usually accomplished with a one-on-one approach. Awakenings’ students swim and participate in water therapy, play at the Hackney Play Therapy Center, ride horses within the Marianna Greene Henry Special Equestrians Program (link?) and participate in frequent field trips.
Learning to live independently usually means acquiring some basic skills beyond self-care. Cooking or food preparation, safety, cleaning and laundry are a few. Budgeting, shopping and balancing a checkbook are more-advanced skills. Learning to use public transportation is another useful ability. Work skills are needed by many of our students: learning to value promptness, listening to directions and getting along with coworkers are essential to finding and keeping a job. In two on-campus facilities, teachers help students acquire the independent living training they need for adult life.