Recently, I was able to be part of a powerful conversation in our TeacherGoals Facebook Community. A teacher asked this question, “How does a teacher work with a teacher's assistant who's autistic?” As you can imagine, without any other context offered, there was a mixed reaction. Many in our community were appalled, and who can blame them? We didn’t know if the author of this post was being genuine or exasperated and letting off steam.
Not surprisingly, our community took this question very seriously and responded with critical feedback. Overall, the most consistent advice shared was to keep open communication with the teacher’s assistant about job expectations and to understand this person is capable of having a job as an autistic person.
One teacher in our community, who is on the spectrum and wishes to stay anonymous in this article, shared this advice:
The cool thing about being on the spectrum is that once we know and understand the rules, we will run laps around everyone else within those rules. Be clear about what you need and stand back to watch the magic happen.
An experienced teacher in our community, Kim Ann, offered this:
I worked with an aid who was also on the spectrum, she helped so quickly because she immediately understood how kiddos might be anxious or uncertain about little things and instantly knew what kiddos needed. She felt most comfy when there was a plan and she knew what was expected of her. Working with kids and being flexible with them was fine, she just wanted structure on expectations.
Another member in our community, John Avery, shared this about his experience:
…as someone who works with autistic kids who also happens to have an adult child on the spectrum, open communication is huge. Most REALLY like a set routine. My son works 35 hours a week at the humane society. They’ve been great in getting him a set routine while also gently guiding, with transitional queues the need to be flexible.This classroom paraprofessional could be a home run with a good mentor teacher.
Sharing Concerns in a Community
As it turns out, the teacher who originally posted this question was genuinely concerned and was reaching out for help. She got what she needed and felt grateful. But still, there were a few who could not believe she had the audacity to ask such a question. My response was that if we can’t talk about real issues like this in an [mostly] educator community, where could we talk about this or bring up other important questions?
Another response was that the teacher asking the question was being ableist, and that was an accurate statement. In fact, most of us are very ableist and don’t even realize it, or that we live in an ableist society. That’s why we struggle so much to think that a human on the spectrum could hold such an important job. This definitely needs to be explored in more detail as well.
Also worth considering, when asking important questions like this is that providing some context would have helped more people in our community understand the sincerity behind the question. Ultimately, it showed me that we need to be having more conversations like this, in spaces where we have a shared burden to make real changes in education.
How Much Do You Know About Autism?
Autism research has come a long way in the last decade, but we are not all up to speed. And we need to be because we have children and students in our classrooms who are hoping we can find a way to teach and care for them as we would any child. While living with autism does come with challenges, it does not mean our students on the spectrum won’t live very promising lives with amazing achievements.
Did you know….
- Women tend to be under diagnosed because they mask symptoms and it isn’t as obvious as some of their male counterparts?
- We work and interact with people in every space who are on the autism spectrum, with or without diagnoses.
- There are celebrities with autism.
- Many who live within the LGBTQ+ community have autism.
- People on the autism spectrum can be highly successful and as complex as anyone else. Their stories are unique, but they deserve respect and opportunity as much as their neurotypical neighbor.
Reading more about autism and those who live with their diagnosis actually changed me. I wish I could go back and be a better teacher to some of my past students. I wish when the Special Education teachers came to me to sign IEPs, that if I had checked the “need more training” box, it would actually have led to receiving the training I needed. Handing a General Education teacher an IEP and expecting them to successfully implement the designated accommodations when they’ve not received any extra training is absolutely preposterous (yet it happens daily). Anything I knew was limited to my own research, work experience, or parents (who many times also struggled to understand how to help their children).
Are You Willing to Share Your Knowledge of Helping Those with Autism?
We can walk away from this conversation and be encouraged. In our community, we talked about something extremely important, we encouraged one another, and those with experience and wisdom were able to share it with those of us who were there to listen and learn. This is why I love educators, families, and school communities. These conversations change us for the better so we can serve others in ways that matter.