Last month, I attended the Oklahoma Statewide Autism Conference which was information packed between the speakers and the resource booths. The keynote speaker that they had for the full first day was Tony Attwood, who creatively captivated his audience as he spoke on Asperger's Syndrome! He had a way of explaining the autism spectrum disorder so that anyone could understand what they were dealing with. It was amazing! The second day of the conference was set up where everyone could listen to that day's keynote speakers and then choose from six consecutive classes, for each of the three training sessions throughout the day. I couldn't attend each of the sessions that I was interested in because most of them were unfortunately scheduled at the same time, and were only available at that particular time. We were told that most of the speakers would make their hand-outs available online for those of us that couldn't attend all of the ones that interested us.
Each of the sessions that I attended on the second day of the conference were on different evidence based strategies that I can use to help Nathan learn to monitor his surroundings and control his reactions to stimulus. If he is able to learn to self-regulate his behavior, it will benefit him, wherever he goes. I have also learned that if he has an incentive to work towards, he will make an effort to adjust his behavior. It will be a challenge getting the new teacher and Nathan to give each other a chance because of the rough start they had, during her first week together, right before Fall Break. She told me that she has a friend that has a child with autism. I shouldn't automatically assume that she has any training in that area but, I did offer her assistance in working with Nathan. I will not be offering from this point on...everything will be "this is what works with my son" or "this is how we need to prepare him in order not to disrupt the rest of the class". She will have to "learn" to modify her curriculum and how she interacts with Nathan, to accommodate him. If Nathan needs to remove himself from or "op-out" of a classroom situation because the stimulus is too much for him to handle, he will have to be given the "break" that he needs to cope with whatever was affecting him, and then the time to transition back into class-rotation.
I will be giving each of his teachers and school faculty the information that will help Nathan have a more productive and successful school year. If they are not able, as a team or individually, to modify to accommodate my son, within a reasonable amount of time, then I will have to take it to the school board, along with an advocate. Unfortunately, Nathan has not been given an permanent location to "calm" and time to process the reason why he needed to "op-out" of the classroom activities/environment. It is very important for him to understand how to know when he needs to remove himself from an over-stimulating environment and what may have happened to create the feelings he had. Something happened to "trigger" him to feel either embarrassment, frustration and anger. Any combination of these feelings can "cause" an uncontrollable situation where a child with autism is already challenged enough without being able to process the incoming stimulus. Nathan is constantly aware or reminded of his differences. When Nathan is in school, trying to get the education he deserves, and he is not given the appropriate time to "calm" down, away from his classmates, it undoubtedly affects his self-esteem and his overall temperament.
I know teaching is a unappreciated profession but, teachers should be required to have more training in the area of working with children on the autism spectrum, identifying different behaviors when it comes to these unique children being in an "inclusive" classroom, and modifying how they themselves interact with each of these complex individuals on a daily basis. I shadowed Nathan at school last Monday because his rotation schedule changed where he will stay in his homeroom classroom the first half of the school day. After lunch, he will be in the new teacher's classroom for the last half of the day. Just before it is time to go home, he will return to to his homeroom so that he can gather what he needs to bring home. It will be an adjustment period but, I have confidence that Nathan will be able to handle it with our help. It is more of a question of time but, I fully intend to start campaigning for Oklahoma Teachers to be "required" to have supervised "hands-on" training with children on the autism spectrum, in both "inclusive" and "self-contained" classroom environments. Not all children with autism have the capability to express themselves verbally and these teachers may need to be trained on augmentative devices in order to communicate with these children. Learning sign language would be essential just in the event that the batteries, for the child's electronic device, die and replacements are not readily available.
I can vividly remember how frustrating it can be working with a child that is "difficult" and not being able to understand everything about that child. You have to take everything minute by minute just so that you don't crack or have your own meltdown! It is character building while at the same time it is physically and emotionally exhausting. Parents don't have the choice when it comes to autism being a part of their child and their family but, those who choose to work in Special Education need to be better prepared for what they will encounter. Not knowing enough about autism and behaviors could be detrimental to everyone involved...the students and the teacher. It wasn't until we lost our Special Education Teacher and Case Manager, due to her military husband's transfer, that I realized just how special she was and how much she did to try to prepare Nathan and each of his many teachers for the school year. I am learning to become a better advocate for Nathan because the school has not hired anyone to fill her vacancy. The school has let the remaining Special Education Teacher assume the responsibilities of teaching the students that belonged to the other teacher, while still trying to manage the students that she works with. If they aren't careful, the school, and the district, will lose her due to a physical, mental and emotional "burn-out"!
I will try to keep everyone up-to-date on how Nathan's days go. I will be sure to share which Evidence Based Strategies or Practices work and which ones weren't as successful with him. Each child is unique in what may work with one child, may not work with another child! I am starting to stock up on my patience levels as I am preparing myself for the long-haul!