Attending mainstream schools is always one of parents’ priorities. Parents of children with ASD wish their children could share the same school experience as other children. They are hoping that with time, their children will gradually get used to the environment and could learn through their peers in a school environment. However, they always overlook whether the child is ready for school. They may look for a teacher assistant or school shadow teacher when they receive complaint from school. It is critical for us to learn about the help that we look for to ensure we provide effective help for the child.
Below are some suggestions and guidelines of an effective school shadowing plan:
1. Having clear and specific short-term and long-term learning objectives
For example, student can read along with the class together without reminder/ being able to perform classroom routine independently. Steps include putting away his school bag, take out his folder and put his homework on the “Homework” tray.
2. Break down the skills and have a systematic plan to teach the skill
For example, our goal is to have the student be able to read along with the class independently. Below are the possible breakdowns. Note that breakdowns may be different for different students.
Phase 1: School shadow teacher prompts students to “do the same” when the teacher asks students to read aloud.
Phase 2: School shadow teacher being further away from student implementing a reinforcement contingency to provide consequences based on student’s performance in a subtle way.
Phase 3: The school shadow teacher transfers the evaluation system to the class teacher. The school shadow teacher may be around (e.g. at the back of the classroom) to observe the student and provide a signal to the class teacher to help provide the information that allows her to evaluate the student.
3. Observe the data and evaluate the effectiveness of the procedure
Based on the breakdown of the skill, if data shows that the student has mastered the current phase, it indicates that the shadow teacher can systematically move onto the next phase and increase the level of difficulty. Alternatively, if data shows that the student has challenges in mastering the current phase, we should try to understand the reason and make hypothesis, for example, if there is mistake or confusion in data collection, if the student is not feeling well that week, whether the shadow teacher has implemented the procedure consistently, or if we need further break down for a specific phase.
4. Regular supervision and training
If the school shadow teacher has no experience in teaching children with ASD, regular supervision and training is essential.
5. Establish and maintain good rapport and communication with the student’s therapy team, school, and parents
To help student learn and progress effectively, it is important to follow a consistent approach, and have a professional to oversee the student’s program to provide directions. It is also critical to have regular communication with all parties to evaluate the effectiveness of the service and gradually and systematically plan for the fading of the school shadow teacher.
I hope the above information is going to give you some guidelines when you consider to hire help for your children. It is very important to have clear objectives in any settings. At the same time, it is essential for us to make sure that we invest the time and intensity on learning-how-to-learn skills before we consider sending children to school.