Early Learning Unit

The Shine Early Learning Unit operates under a Group Tuition Scheme with Department of Special Education as part of the Home Tuition Scheme.  Any child attending the Shine Early Education Unit must first qualify under the Home Tuition Grant Scheme. Please contact us and we will explain the application process to you.Grace O’Callaghan (ELU Manager) outlines the teaching approaches used at the Shine Early Learning Unit:


Grace O’Callaghan

“At the Shine Early Learning Unit we aim to provide a learning model that allows each child to develop to his or her full potential. The teaching method is an eclectic model. Our focus is on communication and academic skill as well as play, self management and life skills. This is supported by evidence based autism specific teaching methodologies such as ABA, PECS and Teacch. We also utilise lamh, Aistear and social stories. Each child’s individual needs and requirements are evaluated when deciding on their individual learning approach. The teaching model is broad based and relevant and it incorporates all areas of the child’s wellbeing including physical and emotional development.”

About Our Early Learning Unit:

The Shine Early Learning Unit opened in 2005 to meet the pre-school educational needs of children with autism. The Unit expanded rapidly and in 2007 we moved to a new bright and modern premises in Carrigaline just outside Cork city. The Early Learning Unit (ELU) works with children with a diagnosis of autism aged between 3 and 5 years. The ELU operates 3 classes of 6 students with 4 fully qualified staff for each class group and children attend for 20 hours per week. (5 x 4 hour sessions).
Children who attend the Early Learning Unit will engage in both one to one work, paired work and group work during their school day. The focus is always on the individual learning needs of each child and to enhance communication and socialisation and an Individual Education Plan (IEP) is developed for each student. The children will also spend time in the Sensory Room to assist them with their sensory needs and there is also lots of time for fun and structured play in the Soft Play room and Sensory Garden.


The Shine Early Learning Unit provides a consistent and regular programme of early education and intervention for a full academic year and works with the children to develop their self management, communication and academic skills. The main emphasis of the programmes offered at the Unit are early intervention based and aim to address key areas in the child’s diagnostic reports and to ultimately prepare children for entry into an appropriate educational setting. Each child will benefit from a year of targeted early intervention prior to moving on to the mainstream education system and this will assist hugely in preparing them for their new educational environment.


The Shine Early Learning Unit is located on the Ballinrea Road on the Cork city side of Carrigaline. The building is bright and modern and is equipped with large classrooms, a sensory room, a soft play room, play therapy room, life skills room, sensory garden and outdoor play area. At Shine we take security very seriously and the building has an external and interanl keypad entry system and integrated security camera system. The building was also equipped with an upgraded and integrated Fire Safety System in September 2018.

The Shine Early Learning Unit is subject to annual inspections from TUSLA and the Department of Special Education. To view our most recent Department of Education Report please click here

What our parents say:

“Our daughter Emily has spent almost two years in Shine. She loves it. She is the happiest she has ever been and her teachers are amazing.  Would highly recommend Shine to any new parent facing a diagnosis of ASD for their child. It was our first port of call when  Emily was diagnosed and they  gave us so much information on things we needed to do both for Emily and as a family. We will always be grateful to all the staff at Shine.”

Shane & Amy McSweeney (Emily’s Parents)

The Shine Centre has been nothing short of life changing, not just for our 5 year old Harry, but to us as family. From when we received Harry’s diagnosis Shine were invaluable in helping  & guiding us through what to do & how best to help & support Harry. Harry has absolutely blossomed being in the Early Intervention Unit (ELU). He LOVES it! Each & every person within the ELU are incredible & are at the top of their game. It sounds corny but they do help Harry & all the other kids SHINE! They genuinely care about the kids, they make them smile, they want them to be their best possible self & they help us as parents see the amazing little people that they are & can be. Coming across SHINE & having them in our lives has & continues to be one of the best thing that ever happened to us! They truly are amazing

Neil O’Connell  (Harry’s Dad)

“The Shine Centre has been our lifeline since receiving our son’s diagnosis. The help, support and advice that the staff there have given to our family has been invaluable and is something we will be eternally grateful for. Adam has been attending the Early Learning unit in Shine since last September and is thriving as a result. To see the smile on his face going in and coming out of there each day is the best feeling ever as a parent. My little boy’s confidence is growing every day and I have the wonderful staff at Shine to thank for that. The depth of knowledge, experience and understanding of Autism among the staff is incredible. We feel that we have been given a “golden ticket” when it comes to accessing early intervention. Although Adam will be moving on next year (even though it would be great if he could stay there forever!!!!!!), the staff at Shine have truly prepared him for his journey ahead.

Susan and Pat (Adam’s Mum and Dad)

The Shine Centre has been a lifeline to our family over the last two years. They have given us tremendous support and guidance and have helped us through some really difficult times. The Early Learning Unit is a happy fun and safe environment and my daughter loves going to school every morning. She is surrounded by highly qualified people who are enthusiastic about helping her to reach her full potential. The staff are friendly, kind, approachable, professional and passionate about their work. They are a constant support to us as parents, helping us during the hard times and celebrating with us when our children reach their goals and milestones. They really care about our children and I am forever grateful for everything that Shine have done for my family.

Aoife Williams (Abbie’s mum)




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Shine Early Learning Unit:  Our Teaching Methodology

The key development areas for a child with a diagnosis of autism are not just academic. Some will benefit immediately from academic based learning but a lot of ASD children have to “learn how to learn”. Difficulties with communication skills, anxiety and self management of emotions can often get in the way of the child’s ability to learn. Therefore it is vital that these issues are addressed in the overall educational approach. The ability to communicate and self manage behaviours will lead to improved outcomes for that student and set the foundation for learning as the child progresses through the education system.

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 The Key Development Areas:

• Academic Development
• Behavioural Management
• Communication
• Self Management
• Coping Skills
• Transitioning
• Self Care Skills – (Toileting)
• Development of Fine & Gross Motor Skills

An IEP (Individual Educational Plan) is devised for each child at the start of the academic year. The IEP is constantly monitored and will be modified and augmented at stages throughout the year to reflect the child’s progress.

Key Components of our Teaching & Learning Methodology:


ABA: This is a science that is applied to improve socially significant behaviour. It uses positive reinforcement as a tool to build skills, reduce behaviour that is challenging and encourages positive learning. It aims to make meaningful improvements in behaviour and can show how those improvements came about, through the collection, graphing and analysis of data.

PECS: This is an augmentative communication system for children and adults with limited or no speech. It is widely used with children with autism as a means of communication; it teaches functional communication allowing the user to communicate their wants and needs and reduces frustration. It can be used in all settings, at home, school and when transitioning from one place to another. Advanced language concepts can also be taught using PECS. It uses positive reinforcement and prompting strategies to teach the children how to use the system independently.

TEACCH: This is a teaching method that manipulates the environment to encourage learning and develop independent skills. This is done using visual supports, it is well known for its flexibility and its ability to support each individual child with ASD. This works well for children with autism as many are visual learners.

Lamh: This is a sign system used by those with learning and communication difficulties. It allows them to see as well as hear what is being communicated as speech is always used in conjunction with the signs. It can help those who have limited and unclear speech to communicate with others. It encourages eye-contact and can give children confidence to try new words.

Social stories: This is a story that describe a situation, event or skill that the reader needs help with. They are designed to give the reader social cues, perspective and common responses to those situations. This information is given in a reassuring manner that is easily understood by the reader.

Early Education Unit Ethos

Our Early Intervention Unit believes in the importance of a well-rounded education encompassing all areas of development in the child:

• Communication
• Cognitive and Academic
• Play & Social Skills
• Physical development
• Self-Help Skills

We promote a caring enthusiastic learning environment in partnership with home, family and other professionals and we strive to develop the following qualities in our students:

• Acceptance of Difference
• Respect
• Confidence
• Patience
• Gentleness
• Motivation
• Independence

Each child considered for a place in the Early Intervention Unit must comply with the qualifying criteria as laid down by the Department of Education for educational provision under the Home Tuition Scheme. (This criteria is reviewed by the Dept. of Education and is subject to change.)

Our People:

Early Learning Unit:

Grace O’Callaghan – Early Learning Unit Manager


Grace O’Callaghan has over 18 years experience in working with children with autism. She joined Shine in March 2005 as an Educational Support Officer and in October 2005 she took up the post of Unit Manager of the newly opened Shine Early Learning Unit. Prior to joining Shine Grace gained extensive experience in the area of autism and worked as a Supervising Class Teacher for 6 years at an Autism School in Cork. During this time she received extensive experience and training in the applications of Applied Behaviour Analysis in the schooling of children with autism. Grace is a fully qualified Montessori Teacher and ran her own Montessori Pre School for over 8 years. Her qualifications include a National Diploma in Humanities in Montessori Education, and a Hons Bachelors Degree in Science, a Post Grad Certificate in Education and First Class Honours Certificate in Autism Studies from UCC.  Grace has also completed training in PECS, LAMH and Supervisory Management.


Sara Holland – Senior Supervising Tutor

Sara Holland has over 15 years experience working with children with autism. Sara joined the Shine Early Learning Unit team in September 2006 as a Senior Tutor. Prior to joining Shine Sara gained considerable experience in the area of autism while working in an ABA School in Cork. During this time Sara gained experience and training in the applications of Applied Behaviour Analysis in the schooling of children with autism. Her qualifications include a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Applied Social Studies in Social Care and a first class honours Certificate in Autism Studies from UCC. Sara has also completed training courses in PECS, Lámh and Occupational Therapy.

The Shine Early Learning Unit Team:

We are really proud to work with our talented and committed colleagues in The Shine Early Learning Unit team. They have many years of experience working with children with autism and each staff member holds a degree relevant to their role in such areas as Early Childhood Studies, Montessori Teaching, Autism Studies and Psychology. Ellu, Orla, Damien Jennifer, Grace Keegan and Grace Crowley have a wealth of experience and knowledge to develop, nurture and educate the children in their care and they all embrace the Shine ethos of “brightening the future for our children with autism”.

IMG_2951Ellu Cooney – Class Tutor
IMG_2954Grace Crowley – Tutor
IMG_2955Damien Murphy – Tutor
IMG_2952Orla Lawrence – Class Tutor
IMG_2952Jennifer Ormond – Class Tutor
IMG_2952Grace Keegan – Tutor
   Caitlin Bullman – Tutor            Rachael O’Mahony – Tutor

Building Blocks Educational Support Team:

Laura Crowley – Manager Building Blocks Educational Support Service & PALS Programme

laura-newLaura has been working in the area of autism for over 15 years and has gained experience in multiple settings in that time. Laura joined the Shine team in 2006 as an Educational Support Officer and took up the role of Manager of the newly established Building Blocks Educational Support Service in 2007.  Laura was also the driving force behind writing and developed the award winning PALS programme for adolescents with autism in 2009.Laura Crowley holds a Masters Degree in Education and a Degree in Early Childhood Education from University College Cork and is currently the Programme Manager for the PALS (Personal & Life Skills) Programme at the Shine Centre. Laura has been responsible for the conceptual and content development of the multiple award winning Social Skills App drawing on her experiences and data from the PALS programme. She specilaises in the areas of social skills training, inclusive education and integration and also heads up the Building Blocks Educational Support Service at the Shine Centre. Laura currently lectures in the ACE Programme in Autism Studies in University College Cork.



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