With the start of the new academic year in two weeks, special needs teachers have been getting a refresher course on how to work with their charges.
The eight-day workshop at the Derrick Smith School and Vocational Centre also included teachers from the Achievement Learning Centre in Dominica.
In today’s final session, psychologist at the Sunshine Early Stimulation Centre Noemi White suggested caregivers take a fresh approach to working with children with autism
In a presentation entitled, A New Look at the Autism Spectrum: A Brain with a Difference, she sought to break down myths associated with the condition and critique traditional ways in which parents, teachers and caregivers tended to deal with autistic children.
“We need to move away from concentrating only on the ‘medical’ aspects of autism, which see it as a “disorder”, a problem that needs to be fixed, people with ‘unhealthy’ brains.
“Instead, we should examine it from a neurodiversity perspective, which takes into account that it is a spectrum of conditions rather than a single phenomenon, to recognise and celebrate the strengths autistic people possess and strategies to correct any weaknesses they demonstrate.”
During her presentation, White, who has lived here for the last ten years, used several videos and extracts from books written by autistic people to help explain how they viewed the world around them.
The psychologist noted: “One of the main things people have to understand about autistic people is that if we see them holding onto objects closely, even if they seem insignificant to us, they actually carry a much deeper emotional meaning for them.”
She expounded on that point further as one of the participants asked how she should handle her ten-year-old nephew who was still playing with Plasticine although she thought he was too old for that.
White advised: “It would not be fair to take it away from him, but to interact with him while he is using it, and show him how to use it to do different things.
“For example, you can even use it as a teaching tool for mathematics such as addition, subtraction and fractions, using the different colours to represent different things, and forming objects out of it.”
White told the teachers it was important that they explained their actions as they sought to correct any behaviours that they thought might be harmful to other children and to exercise greater levels of patience.
She said: “Some autistic children tend to gesticulate with their hands rapidly, and there is always the fear they might lash out at another child near them.
“In correcting this, teachers should explain why they are taking this action instead of forcefully trying to stop it.
“Another thing they must consider is that while certain routines may seem basic for ordinary people, like putting on a kettle to boil water, sometimes autistic people break the task down into its smallest pieces, such as getting up to go to the kitchen in the first place, so with that in mind, teachers should be more patient.”
One of the participants from Dominica, Beverley LeBlanc, said she hoped the workshop would lead to greater collaboration between the region’s special needs teachers.
“Now we have a cadre of traned teachers in special education, we hope this is the beginning of better things to come,” She told Barbados TODAY.
The Achievement Learning Centre in Dominica was established shortly after the passage of Hurricane Maria two years ago, and received help from the My Child and I Foundation.
The Dominica American Relief and Development Association (DARDA), and the two philanthropic organisations which built and developed the Derrick Smith School, the Maria Holder Trust and the Sandy Lane Charitable Trust, supported the teachers’ attendance to the workshop.