Most children with Asperger’s Syndrome are in public schools following an Individualized Education Plan. The IEP may specify that the child have an aide in the classroom. AANE asked aides, a parent and a child to explain, in their own words, what an aide does.
Adjusting the AS Student to a Neurotypical Environment
The writer is an aide at a Massachusetts elementary school and wishes to remain anonymous.
There are five children diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome in this school. There is an aide for each child. To understand the role of an aide for an Aspergers child, you first must understand how we arrived in this position. For most of us, the school schedule fits well with our lives, as we have children in school. Having the same schedule as our children is quite a convenience. Most of us had some previous experience working as an aide in the school system [for children who had diagnoses other than Aspergers] so we were familiar with what was expected of us.
We were given the opportunity to attend a training session with a consultant to the school system. This consultant is a speech and language pathologist with a specialty in Autism Spectrum Disorders. The training included a definition and explanation of Aspergers and examples of behaviors and issues specific to the diagnosis.
The day begins between 8:00 a.m. and 8:15 when we arrive to assist our students in settling in for the day. This can include hanging up coats, looking at the board and explaining early morning work, or some form of physical therapy. We have found that consistency and predictability is essential in keeping the students on track and focused. If there is a change in their schedule we all agree that the students need to be informed of the change as soon as possible so that they can become comfortable and relaxed with the change. We have also found that during particular lessons or during certain hours of the day, we need to sit directly with the student to keep them focused, appropriate and on track with the lesson being taught.
In this particular school, everyone attends a “special” during the day which may be a class in art, music, physical education, library, or computer. There are instances where the aide does have to attend the one of these classes with the student to keep him or her focused and appropriate.
Most of the children with Asperger’s Syndrome have a wide variety of services that are a part of their Individualized Education Plans. These services include speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, circle of friends, and sessions with guidance or adjustment counselors. In most instances, we do not attend these sessions, but we do keep track of what they are working on in each area and try to practice the therapies throughout the week.
Besides caring for these students throughout the school day, many of us have additional responsibilities, such as cafeteria duty. This is usually done during the student’s own lunch time. These additional duties can include assisting other students with utensils, making sure children are appropriate and assisting in the care of all students at recess. Although our main role at lunch time and recess is to assist our student in appropriate behavior or social interaction, often times we are distracted by other issues that may arise with other more typical students.
Most of the aides keep a daily journal for each child. We list important accomplishments or problems that may have affected the child’s day at school. We also write about any services provided (occupational therapy, physical therapy, and the like) and any concerns in those areas. This journal is given either daily or weekly to the parent.
The aides in this school have very different relationships with the parents of their respective students. This relationship can range from having little or no communication with the parent to daily interaction with them. We are finding that the students who have parents who are active in their school life and have a good rapport with the aide, are more successful in their school day.
We do feel some frustration that we don’t have staff available to offer expert advice when problems arise. Although we have speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and counseling available in our building, many of these professionals work in other schools and may not be available to us when the need arises. Many of us are just working moms without a degree in education. We are constantly learning with these children every day.
As you can see, the aide for an Aspergers child has varied duties not only to the child but to the parents and the school itself. We feel that our role is important in the success of these students in their school lives. We can often be frustrated with the lack of support from either a service provider, the student, or the parents. Our goal for these children is to make them independent learners and have them socially “fit in” with their peers. We feel that more education for the aides would benefit all concerned.
What is An Asperger’s Aide? A Parent’s Perspective
My nine year-old son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in the spring of first grade at age seven, but we knew something was wrong from at least age three and a half. During his first grade year, he did not have an aide. He has had one for second and third grade, so I believe that I have some perspective on what an aide can do for a student with Asperger’s Syndrome.
It seems to me that the job of an aide is to act as an interpreter. The aide translates the actions and words of teachers and peers to our son. In addition, the aide translates our son’s actions and words to all those he comes in contact with. Within the classroom, recess, lunchroom, and in “specials,” the aid is able to translate the child’s unique way of seeing the world to the people around him. She (because, in our case, the aide is a “she) is able to make sense of many or our son’s behaviors and reactions to those around him because she knows him and she knows Asperger’s and she is able to usually bring some meaning to those who do not know him as well. Our son is very intelligent in many ways but he perceives things in a slightly skewed way. Without an interpreter, he could be viewed as lazy, stupid or rude when he actually works harder than his peers, is as intelligent and is the most polite child I have ever met.
In addition she is able to interpret what others are saying to our son. When teachers give instructions, when peers make comments, when the unspoken aspects of our everyday lives confuse or just fly by our son, she is able to stop the action and either interpret what just happened to ask the other person to clarify what just happened so that our son is able to stay with those around him. Without this interpretation, our son would frequently become overwhelmed with the knowledge that he missed something but be totally unable to figure out exactly what he missed. He would then naively ask and become the target of teasing or he would become overwhelmed with anxiety because he had no idea what to do or say to get back into the flow of things.
I have seen the difference in our son’s academic progress, his interpersonal relationships and maybe most importantly in his emotional state when he does and when he does not have an aide. Our son has said, “I feel better knowing that if I have a problem, she is there for me to go to. So I’m ok.”
Without an aide he can’t follow the academics, he is plagued by anxiety, he is socially isolated (not by choice) and he is physically sick from his knowledge that he is missing something. The thing he is missing is an interpreter to him “fit in” and “get IT.” Our son cannot even start to learn if he is drowning in the smallest social anxieties. The aide acts as the lifeguard who can jump in the bring him back to the shore, to catch his breath and go in again but with more understanding and more assistance.
I know aides have lots of specific responsibilities to the school, the teacher, the specialists, the parents and many others. In my opinion, however, the most unique and important responsibility of an aide is to be the interpreter, the ambassador for the child. It truly can change a child’s day to day experience!
Another Aide Speaks
The writer attended a series of seminars offered by AANE. She says of them, “The information has helped me implement a number of ideas, but also make see what external conditions hinder what I do.” She also prefers anonymity.
I’ve been working as a one-on-one inclusion aide now fro several years with different students, two having Asperger’s Syndrome. It is hard to know where to begin to describe what my job is like.
There are the demands of each individual student. One child might be quite physically active needing lots of movement and sensory feedback to keep focused. One might need frequent physical prompts or sometimes quick intervention to prevent unwanted physical touch of another person. With that, there can be the exhaustion of being physically alert and ready for an entire school day. The emotional and behavioral needs of these students can be demanding. Good days are great but bad days can be particularly difficult and long as most parents can attest to.
Scheduling issues can be how and when to gets breaks or lunch and the ever-elusive problem of finding planning time so that I can meet with staff or develop alternative materials as needed. The pay for this job is low. Most aids hav to work second jobs. Often special education one-on-one aides can be paid one to two dollars less per hour than regular classroom aides. In some cases, who is actually responsible for the supervision of my position as an aide can vary. In some systems inclusion facilitators cover several different schools so they are not readily available. In one school I have worked in my supervisor was the principle. The knowledge and support of my supervisor is key to my ability to implement student goals.
The individual classroom teacher makes an enormous difference in my job. I like to help out in the class when I can and be appreciated when I do. Planning time with him or her is essential as well as being able to preview lesson plans and assignments. And of course a sense of humor always helps.
Given the best of worlds there is an open collaboration and mutual understanding between all staff especially between the regular classroom teacher and the inclusion facilitator. Often however there are differences of opinion in the goals or the means to reach these goals for the student. There are the increasing demands on the classroom teacher in terms of numbers diversity of students in terms of learning, emotion/social issues, language and ethnic background and the looming MCAS tests. Inclusion facilitators do not often have the extensive time to spend in each classroom and must rely on the aide’s feedback about implementation of student goals. As an aide there is a delicate balance to play in developing a working trusting relationship with teacher you spend most of your day with and getting the assistance needed from the inclusion facilitator. Sometimes I feel caught in the middle. Between home, classroom teacher, inclusion teacher and all the other specialists. So many points of view. Most of them are valid. I have to be communicator, collaborator, sometimes a mediator and often an advocate for the student I am assigned to.
For a child with Asperger’s Syndrome there is a balance between making his or her school life predictable enough so as to ease worries or distractions and making it with enough variation so as to encourage flexibility. I may know my job well and I may know my student but I’m not perfect. There is much to be anticipated and planned out. Sometimes I may not be able to prearrange the seating for a group and my student reacts badly to who he’s sitting next to. This might even ruin his whole day as I try to calm him down and get him back on track. At another time this might happen and he reacts positively and his flexibility is rewarded and encouraged.
Why do I like what I do? I enjoy the often unconventional thinking of students with Asperger’s. I get to see the day to day growth and know I had an influence. The time my student takes a chance and makes a reasonable guess on a multiple choice test. Or the time he starts to sit at a table for lunch with friends instead of all alone. When he begins to make predictions on a science lab report. It’s a transition time in class and he goes over to a friend and gives a high five instead of walking over to stare out the window. In the beginning these things happened with my encouragement. Later these begin to happen automatically. These times give me immense satisfaction and I know why I do what I do.
What Having and Aide Means to a Student
These are the views of a public high school student. Her mother used a question/answer format so she could talk about her feelings on having an aid.
I like having a one-on-one tutor because it makes school easier.
I like having the tutor be in the classroom because she makes it more comfortable for me to be around the other kids.
Would you prefer not going to the class and working with the tutor in the skills center?
No, I like to go to the classes because I like to be around the other kids.
Solving math problems is easier when I have the tutor because she explains it in a step-by-step way.
I do not mind the tutor walking in the corridors with me. I feel more comfortable most times when she is with me.
Sometimes kids are not nice and the tutor protects me.
Helps me with homework
Takes notes in class for me
Helps me to take a break in class
Helps me with tests
Occasionally get embarrassed having tutor because sometimes I like to be alone with my friends.
Sometimes I feel lack of freedom because tutor wants to be around for every move I make.
The Brain in its groove
runs evenly and true,
But let a splinter swerve
‘twere easier for you
to put the water back
when floods have split the hills
and scooped a turnpike for themselves
and blotted out the mills!