By JOSEPHINE IGBINOVIA
M rs. Bolanle Adewole, the Founder/Director of The Learning Place-TLP School and TLP Centre in Lekki, Lagos, is passionately spear-heading the introduction of Structured Teaching in Nigeria in collaboration with AACTION Autism, a voluntary group of professionals from Chicago, USA, working to help third-world countries develop their techniques for working with children and adults with autism.
AACTION was in Nigeria recently for a three-day intensive training on structured teaching convened by TLP Centre. This approach to teaching children with autism, and related developmental disorders is said to be spreading like wildfire in the West due to its success rate. Vista Woman had a chat with Mrs.Adewole. Excerpts:
You look so excited; what’s happening?
This is the beginning of a new thing! It’s the introduction of structured teaching for children with autism. Structured teaching is a method which re quires breaking down their tasks into very small components and getting them to work with the small components. This leads them to acquire independence! Children generally learn better when you give them simple tasks because it’s easier for them to assimilate.
Structured teaching is widely known now, globally, but this is the first time it’s being introduced to Nigeria.
How has the work been?
It’s been wonderful. We’ve been doing this now for two and a half years at the TLP Centre. Initially, we weren’t quite sure what we were getting ourselves into because though we had gone to learn how to work with children with autism, we didn’t know what would be the outcome or reality. But I tell you, we are overwhelmed right now with the intensity of what has happened to the children at the centre.
We’ve seen improvements to a very high degree! We have children who came here not talking two years ago, but are talking now. I have seen structured teaching in action. My son is on the spectrum and he’s nine years old. Since I came back from a seminar on structured teaching in Chicago, I have not for once made his breakfast!
He goes downstairs and makes his cereal by himself from start to finish, because of what I have thought him based on structured teaching. He now takes his bath by himself and fully dresses up by himself! These were skills he didn’t have before we travelled last summer. He’s making an impressive progress. More so, in the self-help skill area, he’s making significant and impressive progress too.
In terms of sustainability, how far do you think this approach can actually go in Nigeria?
How far it will go will depends on how far our people use it because I’m very much aware that people learn things without putting them into practice. Within six months to a year, these people (AACTION) would be coming back to Nigeria to train us on the next stage of structured teaching.
They’ve been doing this in India for the third year running, and they’ve recorded progress with approximately 3,000 people with autism. They go to different schools, teach them, and then go back again to see children who were incapacitated in diverse areas beginning to do amazing things because their schools are actually using the structured method to teach them. So, what we’re introducing to Nigeria now is Level-1, and we’re looking forward to the other levels.
To let the general society benefit from this programme, we invited schools, therapists, parents and the state government, and we made it free for them all. This training actually costs $825 in the US. All we just really want to see is progress for our children, and that’s why we’re giving this out for free.
What changes do you hope to achieve through this initiative?
My ultimate goal is to help affected individuals reach their full potential. No child should be deprived of learning.
You sound so passionate about that…
I believe autism did not drop at my doorstep by accident; it dropped for a reason. I have been working with children now for nineteen years but ten years into my work with children was when I discovered my one-year-old son had autism. Prior to that time, I had never noticed a child with autism.
My mission now is to make sure every child learns and no child is left behind, irrespective of developmental milestone. Hence the establishment of the Learning Place Centre in addition to our already existing school, The Learning Place. Nothing is going to stop my mission, especially now that I’m getting results in my work with these children.
TLP Centre is quite young…
Yes. Like I said earlier, is about three years old now. I’ve been an educationist for almost two decades now, but what I only had was the The Learning Place, nine-year-old Montessori School for children aged one to twelve. The Learning Place Centre-TLPC is a product of TLP.
The centre actually became necessary when we found that there were a lot of children who came to TLP which is supposed to be school for typical children, but were demonstrating some traces of difficulty with learning (not necessarily autism). Funny enough, their parents would not readily admit that there was something wrong with them!
We studied them and found that some of them didn’t quite fit into school yet. There’s a beginning which we call ‘The Individual Skill Acquisition Level’, and when a child is still at this stage, you cannot throw him or her into a class, otherwise, he or she feels lost.
So, what such a child requires is one-on-one moulding before anything else. That’s what the centre does for our main school. After being tutored at the centre, we find that these particular children become more receptive to learning.