DR RADICA MAHASE
“My son Josh got an aide when he started form one at a government secondary school. Jason, the aide, was really good and my son did very well. He enjoyed going to school and he referred to Jason as his buddy. When schools were closed because of covid19, Jason went out of his way to help Josh transition to online learning. He gave up a lot of his spare time on weekends to help Josh with his projects.
"Jason’s contract ended when Josh started form two but he continued to check up on Josh. If we could have afforded it, we would have hired him privately but my husband lost his job. Also, the principal said he couldn’t have someone who wasn’t employed by the Ministry of Education sitting in on classes or liaising with the teachers like Jason did. Josh is struggling now because he doesn’t have that extra support and we have no idea when a new aide will be assigned to Josh. We have been waiting eight months now and in the meantime our son is really struggling.”
Josh’s mom expressed her frustration and sadness at seeing her son struggle in school. She kept praising Jason for establishing such a close relationship with her son, for his commitment and dedication to helping Josh, for going beyond what his job required. She said Josh was diagnosed with autism when he was six years old and it was a challenge to get him through primary school, to prepare him for the SEA exam. He never really liked school until Jason started working with him as Jason makes the work fun and came up with creative ways to help Josh learn.
An aide can make or break a child. Jason said that be became an aide because when he finished his degree in education (specialisation in SPED) he couldn’t get a teaching position and he needed a job. The thing is, Jason is fully qualified, he studied teaching methods specific to special needs children, theories and practices of teaching and so on, so he was able to really fulfil his duties as an aide.
Sadly, when there are aides who are not fully qualified or trained, student experiences are not the same as Josh.
Another mother, Amanda stated, “My child got an aide but she wasn’t really any help. The aide never really made the effort to build a relationship with Sianne; she never puts on her camera so Sianne couldn’t really relate to her. After classes she would ask if she understood what the teachers did and Sianne would say yes, because she was afraid of the aide, and that was it.
"She didn’t go through any work to make sure Sianne understood it. After four months, when we saw Sianne regressing, we hired a private tutor to help her. I don’t think the aide had any idea how to deal with a child with autism. It didn’t appear like she had any training or experience and worst yet, she wasn’t really interested in helping my daughter. I am not sure why she took this job or on what basis she was hired.”
In light of the protests by some student aides last week, this would be a good time for all parties to really assess the process of hiring, training and monitoring aides. What structures are in place to ensure that aides can really make a difference in a child’s life? How many aides are thrown into a job without any knowledge or training in special needs education? And if that’s the case, is it fair that we expect them to do the job properly?
And in the midst of all this, it is important that we keep the focus on the students because they are the ones who are really getting the short end of the stick. When a student has built a relationship with an aide and is performing well, we really should not do anything to detract from that. This is why monitoring and evaluation of both the aide and the student’s performance are very important. I think that this is a good time to remember that the ultimate goal is inclusive education and in order to achieve this, there must be proper structures in place to address the needs of students with disabilities. Words and actions need to be consistent if TT is serious about "no child left behind."
Dr Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T