School is never over for the educator that cares about the students and how better to reach the ones with challenges to learning. Specialized training by the Iberia Parish School Board is addressing one spectrum of learning challenges with the help of a grant from Louisiana Autism Spectrum and Related Disabilities. The program is associated with Louisiana State University Health Sciences. They are in the first of a three year advisory program.

“Everything that we do here is designed for the young children so we can assess their abilities,” said Pamela Richardson, child search/transition facilitator with the Iberia Parish School Board. “The testers sit with them on the floor, engage them as much as they can with conversation so they can dedect speech abnormalities, if there is any speech at all. So it is really facinating.”

Testing of learning challenged children starts in the public school system beginning with children at age 2.9, Richardson said. Some parents take advantage of Early Steps engaging children from birth to age 3. This provides for smooth transition into the school system because it takes time to observe and interact with the children to have an accurate picture, especially if it is an involved child.

“We try to do this over multiple and different situations, and if they have been part of the Early Steps program, we have that data to draw from,” Richardson said. “I was an administrator for a number of years at Johnston Hopkins Elementary School. The cultural differences as well as economic differences in families today play a big role in what children are exposed to. The fabric of society has changed a lot. People don’t go to church with their children like they used to do. I’ve often said we’re on our third generation of non-churched children.”

The schools have picked up the role of moral monitors or disciplinarians in addition to educators, she said.

“We get a lot of physician referrals. They know what to look for, and we have parents that are becoming more aware and recognize the need for early intervention,” Richardson said. “I’m that contact person. We take care of the screening and if further testing is needed, we take care of that as well.”

Early Intervention

Although there are many ways referrals can be made to the school board, there are still a lot of children and it is up to the school to send the smoke signals. There are a number of ways to determine the diverse spance of illnesses in the autism spectrum.

Leesa Falterman, the IPSB Supervisor of Instruction, joined the discussion and spoke about the first year into the three-year grant from the state to train teachers. She has dealt with behaviors of children that couldn’t access a normal curriculum. Not only has she helped children, but helped other teachers to learn how to work with children that have learning challenges.

“It is a three year grant. What we wanted to accomplish by then is to have model classrooms for children with autism,” Falterman said. “We want to learn how to better teach these children. Every child is different. We have self-contained classrooms so we can teach them the behaviors required so they can interact in social situtations and be included in regular classrooms.”

When a child is pulling their hair or beating their head against a wall it is not in disobedience or a temper tantrum, but because of the pain they are in. The hair pulling and head beating actually makes the pain they are experiencing go away, two mothers of autistic children explained after overcoming the issue that caused them to feel helpless.

“The LASARD team member comes once a month and goes to different schools. Not every school has an autistic class. We’ve chosen one from every level, elementary, middle and high. They visit and if we had a child that was at a standstill, she has been able to give us tools and things that we need to learn to be able to better facilitate the needs of these students,” Falterman said.

In the early 1960s autism began to be recognized, Richardson said. The communication skills of a child might be hindered, but not their intellect; thus the need to learn new ways of teaching and reaching the children so they can learn at their individual pace. Then you can pull away the layers to see that these children with problems communicating are not bad, but rather, they are different. They just learn differently, Richardson said.

To be able to work with a student who has been homebound and work toward them being in a classroom is a step, then on to the next goal.

“One of the things this grant provides us with is an ability to better train our teachers to educate children with autism and to better train teachers through professional development.”

Learning never stops at any age.

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