Future Work School: the first Italian school for children Asperger. Interview with Eleonora Boneschi and Lucio Moderato

Last September 2019 Massimo Montini, Milanese entrepreneur and father of an Asperger boy, with his foundation A future for the Asperger, inaugurates Futuro Lavoro School in Milan, the first Italian school designed for those experiencing this condition of neurodiversity.

 

We asked Eleonora Boneschi, Head of School Coordination, and Lucio Moderato, Scientific Manager, director of the “Innovative services for autism” of the Holy Family Foundation in Cesano Boscone, to tell us about this ambitious project.

SOM : Future Work School is a unique reality on the whole Italian territory. Why was it born and why in Milan?

LM : This school is truly unique in the whole European continent and was created to respond to the needs of highly functioning autistic people (Asperger) who after 18 years are no longer recognized as such by the services. This is a scientific error that is beginning to be dealt with but, since the diagnostic category of “adult autism” is missing, recognition of their specific needs is also lacking. It happens that the diagnosis of autism, which accompanies a child along his development path, guaranteeing him access to support services, is lost with adulthood, replaced by a “mixed fried” diagnosis that not only does not describe their condition but they stop providing support opportunities, right at the critical moment of entry into adulthood.
Highly functioning autistic children, that is, with an IQ in the norm or higher, often have excellent development potential that deserves to be supported and directed towards a job placement, an essential component of an autonomous life project. In fact, they are often skilled in the use of technology and images, they have a visual thought and for this reason it was thought of a school that made extensive use of technological tools and images to develop their attitudes. It was born in Milan because it is the most “European” Italian city but there is hope to transfer this initiative to other cities as well.

SOM : What are the prerequisites for accessing this school and how is the selection of potential pupils managed?

LM:The prerequisite is the age of majority and the certificate of attendance of a High School. The presence of the condition of “mild autism spectrum disorder” does not represent an essential attribute. Sure of the wealth derived from the multicultural perspective, the school in fact chooses to be strongly inclusive by taking diversity as a model of identity and promoting comparison, social cohesion and permeability between the different worlds represented in the classroom. The orientation process involves a cognitive interview and the administration of a questionnaire which, in addition to the technical, logical and mathematical skills, also investigates the interests of the candidates and the basic knowledge of the subjects of the starting courses so as to allow the organization of class groups compatible and homogeneous.

Far from representing a psychometric or diagnostic evaluation, the questionnaire represents only a first useful approach to guide the pupil towards the most suitable training project.

The initial interview, conducted by the school’s coordinator of the school supported by qualified and specialized staff of the Innovative Services for Autism of the Holy Family Foundation, allows you to build a sort of identity card of the pupil containing the indication of his strengths and fragility together with information about the previous human and didactic path.

In this phase a lot of space is also given to dialogue with the family capable of giving an even more precise picture of the pupil. The exchange with the family will last, depending on the situations and needs, throughout the year through the periodic sharing of training actions aimed at safeguarding business continuity.

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SOM : I imagine that the characteristics of your pupils involve a didactic methodology based on their strengths and aimed at promoting the most deficient skills. How does this ambition translate into practical terms?

LM : autistic children often have a peculiar sensory profile. The hypersensorial character that often characterizes them makes traditional school environments too disturbing. In this school, the physical environment has been designed to have the minimum impact on the pupils’ sensory system so as to minimize the stress that would derive from it and which would negatively affect the possibility of concentration.

Autistic learning also has peculiar characteristics that the school respects through the offer of contents that meet the criteria of essentiality and seriality, without sacrificing quality.

Obviously, each class has a low number of pupils to allow the conditions useful for learning and there is a “rest” room where the pupils can go whenever they feel overwhelmed by an excess of sensory stimulation.

The promotion of social skills, which are often deficient, is guaranteed by teaching that involves sharing objectives within the small group, simulating teamwork in many companies.

SOM : The School shows, already from its name, a great interest in the working insertion of its pupils. How does this goal translate into everyday school life?

EB : Far from adopting a static teaching based on frontal lessons, the class is experienced as a community of practice, where everyone plays an active role in contributing to the construction of learning.

Much attention is paid to creating a positive and appropriate climate for cooperative work.

By distinguishing itself from individualistic or competitive teaching, cooperative learning makes pupils work in groups, feeling mutually jointly responsible for the outcome of a project and strongly encouraging positive interdependence.

In addition to improving social skills, this teaching methodology promotes constructive interaction and encourages you to exercise those specific and necessary social skills in interpersonal relationships within a small group.

In this way we approach strongly the simulation of work dynamics, where everyone must demonstrate good interpersonal skills essential to develop and maintain a qualitatively high level of cooperation.

It is also planned to provide supplementary courses aimed at improving the soft skills much sought after in the workplace: autonomy, organizational skills, adaptability.

The final part of each course is dedicated to what is called the “Synthesis Workshop”, during which the student is engaged in the development of a final project capable of translating the complexity of the skills acquired during the teaching path. The expression of the aforementioned Workshop is an appreciable, tangible and functional project that students can include in their personal training portfolio.

SOM : Asperger is a little-known condition in the world of work and perhaps risks being reduced to prejudices that make it difficult for even those autistic boys with excellent “technical” skills to work. How do you try to spread a good autism culture in the world of companies you work with to make them truly inclusive?

LM : offering support to an autistic person “costs” around € 10,000,000 up to adulthood, an enormous investment of economic resources that risks being lost if the skills learned do not translate into the possibility of autonomy and working capacity.

An adult in a day care center also costs around 100 euros per day, while an autistic person who works produces income and pays taxes.

These are purely economic considerations that add to the importance for each adult of recognizing himself capable of looking after himself and of feeling valued in the expression of his own specific features.

It is obviously important that companies that welcome an autistic worker know the characteristics of this condition and work to ensure a working environment that facilitates their productivity in the interest of all. It is therefore important that neurotypical colleagues maintain appropriate social distancing and strive to speak clearly and essentially.

The school obviously takes care of promoting the cultural compromise between the autistic worker and the company, for example translating the entire production cycle into an algorithm in images so as to make understandable the work task required of him.

It is not excluded that some critical issues may emerge over time, therefore the School offers online support to companies to help them face any problem that may undermine work integration.

SOM : How does the transition from school to the world of work for pupils materialize?

LM : the School has already created a useful network to guarantee a close link between training and the world of work: collaborations are active with universities, research centers and with the Adecco Foundation for Equal Opportunities.
A good guarantee of successful job placement is given by an accurate balance of the pupil’s skills, which will then be compared with the company’s requests in order to find “the right place for the right person” before the end of the training course. . This timing allows to adapt the teaching to the specific requests of the world of work and to further customize the growth path of the boy.