My wife and I place high expectations on our school district. However, we are also pragmatic and know that there are many things competing for the attention of teachers and administrators. We recognize that, in some situations, it’s faster and easier to accomplish things on our own than trying to work the system. Providing information on autism for mainstream teachers is one of those situations.
One of our boys has been mainstreamed since kindergarten. He starts third grade next week, which means his fourth teacher in four years. He’s also on his second full time para. Right or wrong, we don’t expect that every mainstream teacher knows as much about autism as we’d like. My son’s teachers receive a lot of support from special educators, school psycologists, etc, but we want them to know the basics of autism on their own.
The same goes for his paraprofessional (or ‘aide’). Paras’ experience vary greatly and, in general, the school district does not do much to prepare them. When my son got a new para a year or so ago, she admittedly knew very little about autism. She had supervision and support, but was certainly willing to learn more on her own.
We gave two different resources to teachers and aides recently. We may ‘lend’ the materials but if the teacher or para wants to keep it, we’ll happily go buy another.
The first is a publication developed jointly by the ASA and the NEA (and other professional organizations) called The Puzzle of Autism. I hate the title but I think it is a wonderful overview of autism for an educator. It’s only 44 pages total and about 25 pages are content on autism. I can’t imagine any teacher not wanting to take the time to read it. Copies of the guide have been made availalbe from the NEA, and while they are currently out of stock, you can download the document and print it.
The second resource is a book titled How To Be A Para Pro : A Comprehensive Training Manual For Paraprofessionals. Although not clear from the title, the book is written for paras and teachers of students with an ASD. The first part of the book presents an overview of ASDs and the second part focuses on how paras can provide appropriate supports. One of the co-writers, Diane Twachtman-Cullen, has authored several books on autism.
Again, it would be great if the school provided these resources, but I don’t mind investing an extra $20 or so each year in the kids education. Providing it ourselves is also a good way to start a dialogue with the teacher.