Teaching Teachers to Teach
Over the weekend, I read an article in the Washington Post entitled “Seeing a shortfall, parents of autistic kids mobilize.” The article is about concerned parents’ efforts to introduce a bill in Virginia to train educators to meet the needs of the autistic population. Train teachers on best ways to identify and interact with students with autism spectrum disorders? Well, duh! Who doesn’t think this is a good idea?
I, for one, have been guilty of assuming the teachers and professionals I entrust my son’s education to have been adequately trained, and know what they are doing. This was especially true back in the early school years when I was still coming to grips with Cameron riding the short bus to school, and needing special education services at all. Surely these professionals employed by the county knew what was best for Cameron. Or did they?
The Post article points out that special educators who received their degrees 25 years ago did not focus on autism while earning their credentials. With the increase in prevalence in autism, it’s concerning that there are special educators that are potentially ill-equipped to teach this population. Of course, many teachers hone their skills in the trenches of the day-to-day classroom, and have become excellent educators of the autism population. Unfortunately, not all teachers have the skill set necessary to adapt to the needs of the changing dynamics in the classroom. That’s why this Virginia law is a very good thing indeed. Parents have rightfully raised this issue, and by doing so will hopefully lessen the strain on parents in general, but specifically those parents that find being their child’s advocate a burden they are not prepared to bear.
As grant money becomes available for general classroom teacher training, we can’t ignore the next step: What about the postsecondary educators? As more and more students with autism spectrum disorders seek postsecondary placements, I’d have to think instructors at this level would be at an even greater disadvantage when it comes to teaching this population. Primary and secondary teachers must adapt to all types of students and are accustomed to doing just that. But at the postsecondary level? How best to prepare a tenured professor for an Aspie with executive dysfunction and sensory integration issues? Postsecondary education is not an entitlement for anyone. As parents, we can’t waive a copy of our child’s IEP at the instructor, and demand action. And while faculty members at postsecondary institutions may be experts in their selected fields of study, they may have little or no training in education itself. Much less special education.
Suffice is to say, when it comes to a student with ASD, parental involvement and advocacy for appropriate education does not end with high school graduation. We must do our due diligence when finding the next step on the education ladder. Being accepted into a program does not guarantee success. Parents know best the types of supports their student will need. If a program falls short when it comes to meeting those supports, don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole. While most parents feel their parenting duties diminish during the college years, we ASD parents are just getting warmed up.