April is Autism Acceptance month. It’s just the first step in acknowledging, accepting, and appreciating individuals with special needs, particularly those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), along with their families and team of educators.
Working with children on the spectrum is so rewarding. As a paraprofessional, I don't see Autism as a diagnoses, I see it as a gift each child has to offer the world. Each of these students is full of happiness, love, and laughter, with their talents and personality shining brightly. Sometimes I’m not sure who needs whom more – my kiddos or me.
Schools have created an inclusive environment for children on the spectrum. They thrive in a structured environment with a predictable routine. We take a first/then approach to the schedule. For example, first we have a morning meeting, then we have math. We use reward charts and social stories to communicate expectations.
As a paraprofessional, I quickly learned to:
- Build a rapport with my student.
- Be precise and short in my direction.
- Be flexible and proactive in a situation that could be a sensory trigger for a student.
Communication building and social connections with peers is a huge benefit for an inclusive environment. Here are a few tips to consider:
- Address him or her as you would any other child.
- Be patient for responses to questions.
- Find a connection.
Most ASD children have a passion or a strong interest in a topic that can lead to great success. There are quite a few famous people with Autism.
- Leonardo da Vinci - Artist
- Vincent van Gogh - Artist
- Alfred Hitchcock - Director
- Thomas Edison - Inventor
- Alexander Graham Bell - Inventor
- Benjamin Franklin - Inventor
- Henry Ford - Inventor
- Ludwig van Beethoven - Musician
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Musician
- Bob Dylan - Musician
- James Taylor - Singer-Songwriter & Guitarist
- John Denver - Singer-Songwriter & Record Producer
- Charles Darwin - Naturalist & Geologist
- Carl Jung - Psychiatrist & Psychotherapist
- Lionel Messi - Football Player
- Charles M. Schulz - Cartoonist
Being a paraprofessional is just one small role a person can play in a child’s life that can have a huge impact. It has changed my life and I’m forever grateful for the children I have been lucky enough to work with. When you see your students reach goals – read, write and reach grade level academics – you know that the sky is the limit and that YOU played a small role in helping them get there.
We may have already met the next video game creator, comedian, composer or inventor of the time machine. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for children on the spectrum.
Kristen Baker is the publisher of Macaroni KID Hartford, Conn.