Continuing with our series on schools using the Developmental, Individual differences, Relationship-based (DIR) model, let’s look at Oakwood Academy in Mississauga, Ontario. It’s the only DIR-based school in Canada and features the opportunity for its students to integrate with the private International Baccalaureate (IB) school in which they are housed, St. Jude’s Academy. We spoke with the Transition Supervisor, Amy Cooke.

The school’s founders, Michele Power and Trillian Taylor, first started with KidsCan Centre charity in 2007, which is still active. It was the first in the area to provide social skills groups and social emotional programming for children with developmental differences. By 2010, they decided to start their own school, having fallen in love with the DIR model, and Oakwood Academy was born.

The name ‘Oakwood’ came from the original location of the school which was on Oakwood Avenue South in Port Credit. The school has since moved twice, and is now settled at a permanent location.

Student Programming
Oakwood Academy currently serves 40 students aged 3 to 15. The Transition program matches students with a 1-to-1 support therapist while the academic classes have a 4-to-1 or 8-to-1 student to teacher ratio. Beginning next school year, Oakwood will offer a high school program to serve students up to age 21.

Students have biweekly sensory integration occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, and seasonal activities of music therapy on site, and gymnastics and swimming off site, plus a few field trips each school year.

Photo Copyright Oakwood Academy

Photo Copyright Oakwood Academy

Facilities are very spacious including a large sensory gym, big open spaces, an auditorium, a gymnasium, classrooms, an outdoor sport court, full soccer field, and playground that includes a climbing structure.
Additionally, students are offered the option of attending March break camp and summer camp when school is not in session. Students also have the opportunity to integrate with their neurotypical peers at St. Jude’s Academy for single classes or activities such as assemblies, gym, or recess.
Applying the DIR model

A typical school day involves applying sensory activities for the students, created with the occupational therapist, with visits to the sensory gym or around the school, or playing outside.

Classrooms have a modified curriculum centred around individual differences. Students with 1-to-1 support have small shared classrooms with 1 to 3 students that are used as their home base and also participate in small group activities.

Photo Copyright Oakwood Academy

Photo Copyright Oakwood Academy

Programming is always tailored to individual differences and follows the motivations of the students. It is provided through relationships with the staff who are always meeting the students where they are at developmentally.

Oakwood, like the Rebecca School, uses process-oriented learning, involving students in every step of the learning process to promote relating, communicating, and thinking.

Staff Training
Oakwood Academy’s staff is made up of teachers, early childhood educators, those with psychology backgrounds, and student teaching assistants who are completing a work-term as part of their degree programme.
Staff are trained on site in the DIR philosophy and are encouraged to take certificate courses through the Interdisciplinary Council on Learning (ICDL). Staff have various levels of DIR certificate courses.
The Rebecca’s School‘s Clinical Director, Dr. Gil Tippy consults to the school, offering on-site training once/year and providing video conferences once each month where staff present case studies.
Parent Involvement

Photo Copyright Oakwood Academy

Parents are encouraged to be a vital part of student programming at Oakwood Academy. Staff are always interested in feedback and input from parents, who are the experts when it comes to the students.

Parents are offered presentations about the DIR model and have regular opportunities throughout the year to have parent coaching in Floortime, and are involved in the creation of their student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) each school year.

Thank you to Amy Cooke for taking the time to interview for this blog post.

If you enjoyed this post about Canada’s only DIR school and how they use the principles of the Developmental, Individual differences, Relationship-based (DIR) model in promoting relating, communicating, and thinking in the school environment, please share this post on Facebook or Twitter. If you have any comments or feedback, please post them in the Comments section below.

Until next week… here’s to affecting autism through playful interactions!

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