The Synergy Programme
Synergy was jointly developed with our partners the Laskaridis Foundation in Greece. This was in response to the need to produce a practical and ethical approach to working with children at risk of social exclusion or with behaviours that challenge in schools. Synergy aims to build and sustain capacity in local schools or support services through a system of mentoring and support. This is based on a positive narrative of the child or adult, knowledge of how stress and bias affects attitudes and behaviour of staff and a deep understanding of those issues affecting the child and the staff supporting them. The programme is designed to change working practices through practical application of psychological theory and CPD accredited training in specific evidence-supported techniques and processes.
Background / Ethos
Synergy is about building and sustaining local capacity and expertise. It does this by working in partnership to develop understanding of those aspects (of the environment, personal characteristics, relationships and emotional states) that are contributing to the child’s experience of the world – and how they internalise and relate to it. By getting to feel the child’s experience in a deeper way we may begin to understand the context for behaviour and our part in it. Models that see behaviour as rooted in the child and which intervene at that level have been found wanting in terms of their ethics, efficacy, cost and sustainability. These may be compounded by the intervention of expert professionals unfamiliar with the child, their family or the school. Moreover, it is also likely that such an expert may not sufficiently understand the local political landscape, language, environmental or cultural context – or will be constrained by time pressures. This model also risks dis-empowering staff at the local level with a long-term negative impact on local capacity and expertise.
Synergy offers practical strategies for understanding and responding to behavioural challenges in schools through a model of mentoring and ongoing guidance and support. It delivers this via local Synergy Mentors. The AT-Autism team trains the Synergy Mentors in practical evidence-supported techniques and approaches reflecting applied psychological theory and low-arousal approaches. The AT-Autism team visit each partner by agreement to train and support staff and review progress. AT-Autism offers ongoing support and advice via Skype, telephone and email. The programme is in 3 parts starting with an open seminar followed by a practice workshop and mentor training workshop. Once completed, individual bespoke seminars are then available and there is an annual conference and follow up sessions where needed. Synergy Mentors each provide regular support based on the Synergy approach to designated ‘Mentor Teachers’ in schools. Each Synergy Mentor will usually have up to five schools or services they support. Contact between the Synergy Mentor and local school or service mentor is on a regular basis. This is backed up by advice and support from AT-Autism staff working exclusively with the Synergy Mentors. Synergy also seeks to establish a local advisory group as an extra support and source of advice. This will usually comprise individuals on the autism spectrum, parents, interested local professionals and members of the community. For information on modules or to discuss Synergy Training with an AT-Autism Director please click here
Evidence / Evaluation
Synergy evaluates the impact of its work in the following ways:
- Service or school-related changes, benefits and capacity – How services/schools become more inclusive in order to benefit all children and adults and avoid known stressors. Models of training are explored. (Evaluated through the school knowledge and change questionnaire and feedback)
- Child/adult, Teacher/worker/parent related changes and benefits – (Personal reports).
- Child-or adult related changes and benefits – How individual strengths are identified and encouraged and difficulties addressed (Evaluated individual e.g. through the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire) (SDQ*)
- Parent/carer related changes and benefits – through quality of life and stress measures (Evaluated through e.g. the Personal Wellbeing Index (PWI) or GAD7)
Knowing me – knowing me. Changing the story around ‘behaviours of concern’. Promoting self-awareness, self-control and a positive narrative.
Richard Mills and Michael McCreadie: June 2018
This article builds on a blog for the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) in April 2018 and a longer article in the Learning Disability Today in 2017. It describes an approach (Synergy) to working with individuals who are at risk by reason of ‘behaviours of concern’. Developed by AT-Autism and the Laskaridis Foundation, Piraeus, Greece, Synergy was a response to a need for Greek schools to be more inclusive of children displaying ‘challenging behaviours’. Our initial work was at a time when Greek schools were facing new and additional difficulties in accepting refugee children and teachers faced personal and professional hardships related to austerity. The approach therefore needed to be values-led and sensitive to local circumstances, culture and resources. It was also important to build local capacity that would enable schools to help children with increasingly complex and diverse needs, rather than rely on external ‘experts’. Training therefore needed to be practical, clear and thorough to aid fidelity but short and able to work within tight financial and other constraints.
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"The feedback we have received following Richards training and seminars has been amazing. People have asked when he will be returning as they would like more of this very practical but evidence based information. Richard is very easy to work with and understands his audience. Can’t recommend this training highly enough."
Sharon Paley: Director Clinical Innovation and Governance, Government of Queensland, Australia
"Fantastically helpful. A really useful workshop, much to collectively follow up on, thank you
Great to hear feedback from academic studies. Excellent day, very informative. Great plans and ideas that can be taken forward."
Feedback: States of Guernsey workshop
"Synergy works because it looks to create the optimum physical, sensory, communication and social environment for the child rather than focusing solely on changing the child’s behaviour."
Laskaridis Foundation, Greece.
"The participants spoke very highly of the workshop and I enjoyed myself immensely. It is a really interesting, sustainable and empowering concept. The presentation was super, one never knows enough! Thank you Richard and Michael"
Dr Rita Micalef, Inspire Foundation, Government of Malta and University of Malta.
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Murray Rieck: Senior Clinician, Clinical Innovation and Governance, Government of Queensland, Australia
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