Autism Teachers - What's it really like?

Discussion in 'Special Education' started by MotherGoose, Jul 3, 2010.

  1. MotherGoose

    MotherGoose Rookie

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    Jul 3, 2010

    I justed interviewed for an Autism teaching position. Before I accept the job (if they offer), I am trying to decide if I really want the job or hold out for another position. It will be for low-functioning, non-verbal middle school students. There will be 5 or 6 students and 2 aides. And the principal said there are a few spitters and biters in the group. The principal assured me that I will have plenty of training opportunities and a mentor, which is good, but i'll only get a 1 hour off period every other day, which I don't like. I have only taught middle and high school English for the past 10 years and have never been in an autism classroom so I really have no idea what to expect. :eek: Day in and day out, what is it really like? The principal came across as it being very difficult, but how difficult is it? My heart warms :eek: at the thought of helping the kids but I also want to be realistic and not bite off more than i can chew.:dizzy:
    I would appreciate anyone's honest insight. Thanks!
     
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  3. teacher12345

    teacher12345 Cohort

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    Jul 3, 2010

    teachersk teaches an autism middle school classroom
     
  4. mom2mikey

    mom2mikey Cohort

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    Jul 4, 2010

    I do not teach in a strictly "autism classroom". Here is a link to a blog of someone who does: http://theautismteacher.blogspot.com/ I do not know this person but really enjoy her blog. If you look through old posts you will see that she has pictures of her room, outline of her schedule and several posts about things she does in her room. It might give you a decent picture in to what she does on a regular basis.

    I teach in a classroom for students with multiple complex needs. Over the past couple of years I have gone from 1 of 9 students who have Autism to planning for 5 of 10 who will be on the spectrum this fall so my classroom is now "half Autism and half not". It is a challenge because the other students I have in my room benefit from a sensory-rich currriculum and those on the spectrum need a sensory controlled environment. For me, personally, as my room has evolved I have come to realize that specifically an autism classroom would probably be my dream job as this is where my heart is (and also probably why my room has evolved this way as the division has ended up moving some students who were not thriving in other places in to my room).

    Of the five students on the spectrum that I have, two are non-verbal and use PECs to communicate. The other three have varying degrees of speech - one being fully echoliac, anothing saying a few word approximations with signs and the last moving from being fully echoliac in to some spontaneous speech. Communication and socialization are huge focuses with all of them. Be ready to look at a log of alternative communication systems and keep digging and working until you find one that works for your students. Behaviour is also something we need to focus on. Of the five students in my room, four of them have histories of aggression to both self and others. It takes a lot of consistency and patience and a willingness to try many different things while you try to help students to self-manage. You need to be able to see being bit for what it is - a way to communicate - and then find a better alternative.

    There is a lot to learn about autism. Its a challenge. There is a lot of good stuff out there by way of different strategies and approaches but it also takes a lot of time to do the research, seek out support people who can help you and stay on top of each student's individual needs. I spend far more time figuring things out for my students on the spectrum then for the other students in my room. I think its fair to say that you will need to be willing to dedicate a lot of time to the learning process that comes with teaching students with autism.

    Good luck with your decision :).
     
  5. kimrandy1

    kimrandy1 Enthusiast

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    Jul 4, 2010

    Aside from the obvious challenges to teaching that group, having only one hour off every OTHER day would make this a no-go for me. That is simply not enough planning time, especially when each of your students will have an Individual Education Plan to plan for - that's up to 6 individual plans to meet each day.
     
  6. TeacherNY

    TeacherNY Maven

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    Jul 4, 2010

    I teach in an "autism class" and one thing you have to realize is that every single child will be different. They will all (most probably since this is what I have seen in the last 10 years) have different needs, different learning styles, different strengths and weaknesses, different maladaptive behaviors, etc. Sometimes you will have to modify lesson plans for each student. You MIGHT find parents will have the idea their child is the only child in the class and want your undivided attention, and because of the uniqueness of the classroom, you will have to devote more time to communicating with the parents (I can only speak from MY experience so of course you might not encounter any of this). I could list many more things you will come across in this setting with this population of students. Some say it is rewarding in many ways but at the end of the day you are tired and it is difficult to teach every single day because of all the obstacles you will come your way. I have no real advice whether or not you should take the job if offered but just go with your instinct in regards to how you felt when you visited.
     
  7. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    Jul 4, 2010

    Instead of calling it an 'autism teaching position' or an 'autism class', it might be better to change the language to 'I teach students who have autism' or 'My class of students have a range of abilities and they all have autism'. This change in language shifts perception from focusing on the 'disorder' and focuses on the kids.
     
  8. supermissf

    supermissf Rookie

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    Jul 5, 2010

    So you don't have any experience teaching special education? I think that is pretty obvious by your terminology and wording in your question (I.e. Lack of people first language). Special education is not an area that people should decide to teach because they figure they can always find a job teaching it. That is a huge disservice to these children.

    Why is it that you no longer are teaching English?
     
  9. rchlkay

    rchlkay Companion

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    Jul 6, 2010

    If you do find yourself in this position, make sure that you have a lot of people around you (here or in your school) to help. Autism can be difficult, especially if you don't have the experience. I've worked with some wonderful, very sweet kids with autism and it was a communication, functional living skills curriculum. But, I've also has some difficult kiddos who spit, kicked, screamed, wet, bit, hit, and ran the majority of the day. Honestly, that's a terrible feeling because you know you're not reaching them they way they need you too. But, it's also physically and emotionally draining. Good luck!
     
  10. teachersk

    teachersk Connoisseur

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    Jul 7, 2010

    Greetings. I teach in a middle school classroom for children with moderate to severe (sometimes profound) autism.

    I have 8 students. Two of them are completely non-verbal (cannot even imitate sounds on request), two of them are minimally verbal (can only repeat things and/or have minimal functional communication) - all four of these students use PECS to communicate. The remaining four students have verbal abilities in varying capacities.

    I love what I do, so I might be a little bit biased. Autism is one of those things where you really have to love it to be in that kind of classroom. I am an incredibly visual person, so being in a classroom serving students with autism seems quite fitting. Everything is organized, labeled, and color-coded. The kids thrive on this kind of thing (and so do I :)).

    We work on functional academics in addition to pre-vocational skills, leisure/recreation skills, community skills, domestic/cooking skills, and social skills. About half of my kids are doing time/money/functional sight words, etc. The other half are still doing letter ID, number ID, etc. - in the most functional way possible (sorting envelopes with different numbers on them, putting together bags of items based on a jig, etc.) Two of my kids will probably never be able to count or identify their letters, but I do hope to get them the skills they need to live as independently as possible.

    One of the things I love about my job is constantly coming up with ways that my kids can be independent. It has been quite a challenge this year because the autism program is brand new to my school. Most of the faculty at my school are from a "different generation" that believes these kids should all be at a "special school." They get scared when they see them alone in the hallway and they bring them back to me like they're lost puppies or something. Anyway, I started a thing where I put colored squares on the wall to get to different places in the school building. This way, I hand them the blue square and something to deliver to the office, and they follow the blue squares all the way to the office (yellow squares to nurse, red squares to child study team, etc.) They LOVE this. To be able to go on an "errand" just like any other kid - they get such a kick out of it. I did something similar when I taught elementary school, but we used different colored bird footprints because our mascot was an eagle.

    I've also added color coded strips to the numbers on their locker locks. Then I made a visual cue card with arrows for which way to turn the combination lock (and matching the colors up). This way, even a kid who doesn't know their numbers or how to use a combination lock can open a locker. People are amazed when they see my kids do things like this.

    We also stuff all of the envelopes for report cards and progress reports and we put the stickers/labels on the top. Then my higher kids alphabetize them and/or put them in zip code order for the post man.

    One of my kids delivers all of the packages around the school to the different teachers. He works with the supply lady to make these deliveries. I work with the delivery lady to make the job "autism friendly." We taught him how to read a map. He looks on the box to find the teachers name, looks on a list to find the teachers room #, and then looks on the map to find out where to deliver the box to. He says he wants to work for UPS. I say, "Why not?" I want to prepare them for the real world as much as possible.

    We go out into the community 2x per week. We go to the public library as one of those trips. The other trip is every other week restaurant, every other week functional location such as laundromat or grocery store. This has been incredibly successful for my kids. They can now order their own food in the restaurant (even my non-verbal kids, yes!) I made my non-verbal kids little index cards that say, "I would like to order a fish burger and small french fries, please." We taught them to take the card out of their wallets and hand them to the cashier. They can now do this independently. This is just another example of how "low" kids can really become independent if you are creative about it.

    That is why I love my job! I think that if you are genuinely interested in trying something like this - you should go for it!

    I am absent for a day and when I get back, the kids say, "We missed you, Mrs. Teachersk!" It melts my heart.

    I have one kid who moved here from Kenya and came to me completely non-communicative and not toilet trained. She is now on Phase V of PECS (using full sentences including verbs to request items, such as "I want to eat potato chips"). She no longer uses pullups and is no longer on a toileting schedule. She uses her PECS book to request bathroom, "I want to go bathroom." It is incredible. People pop their heads in my classroom and say she seems like a different kid (she can now sit at the table for longer than .5 seconds).

    Did I mention I love my job?

    Good luck to you in your decision. If you go for it, you're in for a big, fun, challenging surprise. Make sure you have support and make sure you get enough sleep. :)
     
  11. Evian

    Evian Rookie

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    Jul 20, 2010

    If you never taught before I wouldn't chose teaching autistic students. It takes a lot of patience. Things that we take for granted they aren't capable of doing. The principal seems to be warning you of what to expect. I would listen carefully to what he or she said. You can expect spitting, hitting, constant screaming, rolling on the floor, compulsive behavior that is hard to control, bad behavior, inappropriate behavior, and who knows what else. This is not going to be easy. They are the hardest to teach. IF you haven't been trained to teach these type of kids (applied behavior therapy) don't do it. They need someone with the right training to do the job. Unfortunately, the aides you will have won't be trained. It will be all on you. Even if you have the training, you will need to train your aides to help you achieve your goals. I have two in my classroom. My heart breaks for them. I feel like I am pounding my head against the wall with them. They don't catch on quicklly. Teaching them the alphabet from a-c depending on their severity could take over a year. Their behavior will improve first. Academically it will take 8 hours a day 5 days a week for several years to really achieve some major progress like speech, or sign language.
     
  12. teachersk

    teachersk Connoisseur

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    Jul 21, 2010

    I would have to respectfully disagree. Every autism teacher has to start somewhere. If you have a passion for teaching and are up for the many challenges that come with teaching students with autism, I think it's a path worth pursuing.

    Also, there are many stereotypes that were included in that post. I just had to point that out. Applied Behavior Analysis (1) is not the only therapy for kids with autism and (2) is not the only way to teach kids with autism. You are right in that they need someone with the right training, but if someone is genuinely interested in learning, the best training can happen on the job.

    Not all kids with autism take an entire year to learn letters A-C. Not all kids with autism take 8 hours a day 5 days a week for several years to really achieve some major progress.

    Teachers who set the bar high for their students have students who make great progress. I am not trying to be mean, but this is just the reality and because I've devoted my life to teaching students with autism, I felt like I had to stand up for them.

    All of the behaviors that were mentioned are definitely behaviors that you MAY observe in an autism classroom, but are not behaviors that automatically "come with the territory." There is a saying, "If you've met one child with autism, you've met one child with autism." No two are alike. Behavior is communication, and that's something we have to remember. If you were unable to tell me that your stomach was hurting, might you also engage in maladaptive behaviors? Or if you wanted a cupcake but didn't know how to ask for it? It might come out as dropping to the floor because that's the only thing they know how to do. Behavior is communication - that's something I tell myself over and over again. When they're engaging in behaviors, they need to be taught a functional way to get what they want in replacement of these behaviors.

    MotherGoose, I'd be more concerned with only getting one period off every other day. That seems concerning to me, regardless of what group of students you will be working with. I would check with other teachers in the school. As a teacher in that building, you should get (and deserve!) the same prep/break period that all of the other teachers get.

    Other than that, I think you should definitely ask questions, find out about training opportunities, and see if this is something that you really feel your heart leading you to do. Because, as others have mentioned, it is definitely incredibly challenging. To me, it's worth every second. I love what I do. My job is rewarding and I go to bed each night knowing that I am making a difference. It's definitely not for everyone, but I like to encourage the people out there who are interested, because someone has to do it.

    Good luck in your decision.
     
  13. mom2mikey

    mom2mikey Cohort

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    Jul 21, 2010

    Very well said teachersk :). I agree that teaching students with autism is amazing. Because I teach both those with ASD and many without (and have taught "regular education in the past as well) that teaching students with ASD really makes you define how you teach in general. It reminds you of the need to teach social and communication skills to ANY CHILD. It reminds you of the need to address topics in a way that is relevant and engaging to students. It reminds you to keep things organized and neat. It reminds you to celebrate each accomplishment. It reminds you to break down what you are teaching and ensure every step is understood. It reminds you of how very unique every student is and how you have to respond to each in a unique way.

    I once read an article called something like "The World Needs Autism" (by William Stillman I think). It was amazing. It challenged me to think that perhaps the increase in people with ASD in our world is actually related to all the reminders that we get from interacting with those with autism and how we are living in a society where we now need to be reminded of these things.

    As long as your heart is in it I think some of your greatest and learning experiences can come from teaching those with autism :).

    ----------------------
    Monica (Self Contained k-12 Multiple Complex Needs Teacher)
    My Teaching Blog: Living and Learning
     

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