There are not many people who have that perfect life. Some just hide it better.
Life is a journey – tacky I know – but it really is.
During my years as a nursing student I worked a Marsden Hospital in Sydney's West. I was paid as a nursing assistant for the care of children with cognitive and physical disabilities. It was hard work. It was physically tough, and emotionally draining. I learnt so much.
I cared for people with a wide range of afflictions. Autism, PKU, Anencephaly. Interesting and sad. My job was to assist ‘patients’ with activities of daily living – eating, drinking, showering, mobility, etc. I loved it.
This was during the 1980’s when big hair and bubble skirts were in. It was also the time of the Richmond Report which advocated for a decentralized, non-institutionalised care. Things were changing but I could not see how these children could be cared for at home. I felt that the high care needs of these children would surely be challenging to manage by parents and family.
Years later I began my career as a teacher. I am a ‘late comer’ to this profession. I was well into my 30’s by the time I qualified with a Bachelor’s Degree in teaching. My children were small at this stage, and my passion was high. I was going to make a difference.
As a new teacher I was given a mentor teacher, a class and other supports. My mentor teacher had worked at the school for a while and knew all the kids. She spent a lot of her time preparing me for these kids. I had spent a lot of time preparing for these kids. I was excited.
She told me I had a difficult class with some challenging kids. Fair enough. Not unusual.
She told me one child was high needs.
She told me I would need a lot of support.
She told me I needed a Teachers Aid full-time.
She told me I had an autistic child.
She wished me luck.
Remembering that my experience with working with children with autism was in an institution.
Remembering that my experience with caring for children with autism was attending to activities of daily living because they couldn’t talk, walk, feed themselves, clean themselves, express themselves.
Remembering how hard it was physically and emotionally, caring for children with austism.
Remembering how beautiful my children with austism were.
Remembering how brilliantly he played the piano.
I wasn’t sure what to expect.
ASD, Life and Learning
Life is hard. It wasn’t meant to be easy (according to Malcom Fraser in 1971).
Life is harder with ASD – (Autistic Spectrum Disorder). It is harder for the person with ASD as they navigate life, themselves and society.
It is also hard for their family – brothers, sisters, parents. ASD is hard on marriages. ASD is hard on the person, the family and extended social circle. It is just harder.
As teaching professionals, our job is not to fix or mend. Our job is to love and learn.
Relationships, rapport, relevance and reliable social environments are key pillars to Enabled Education. Relationships are vital to learning. Relationships and rapport become more heightened when providing care and education for learners with difficulties and disabilities. The teacher needs to nurture relationships with the learner, the class, and the family. These relationships are vital. A family in crisis impacts the child – the child with and the child without ASD.
Learning must be relevant. The learner must be able to feel its relevance, otherwise there will be no learning. This can be tricky. The teacher must be aware of the student’s needs and able to negotiate the learning contract, which must hold some meaning. This can be difficult.
Learning environments must be reliable. The teacher must show up for the learner to show up. The environment must support the learner. The environment should suit the learning style and support the social context of learning and autism. It can be a balancing act. It can be very changeable.
As a teaching professional, I love what I do. I love what I have done. I have loved my journey. I have learned about myself during this journey of life. AND I have learned about enabling education for every child. I am still learning. Enabled Education is about the four R’s – relationship and rapport, relevance and reliability.