Regular readers will be familiar with the blogs I've written as a secondary school autism DDME [Developmentally Delayed Multiple Handicap] teacher. There are two which seem to be raising a fair bit of recent interest. The first describes the challenges and rewards of teaching an extremely low functioning autism class of 6 male adolescent students @ Autism Blog 1
In Ontario, every student is entitled to attend a publicly funded school regardless of their disability. These extremely challenged autism classes are increasing common in our provinces schools as the number of students requiring the services continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. My second blog of interest dealt with my programming concerns for these students. From my own experience, I do not believe that a proper educational mindset with realistic expectations and goals can be assumed to exist in our schools @ Autism Blog 2
Today I would like to express my concern over the health and safety issues I am also familiar with from my own class experiences as an autism teacher. These issues often don't seem to be seriously considered or addressed in an adequate manner as the programs are being implemented, in some school boards at least. Expect dirty looks and possible administrative harassment if you speak too loud about it. However, they pose a serious risk for autism staff and students as well as for others in the school. As you might guess, the inherent risks can quite understandably create a very high stress level situation for anybody who is directly involved in the program or with the students on a daily basis.
Indeed in my first autism blog I have all ready mentioned my own injury from an in class assault at school. Suffice to say that since then I have diligently filed some outstanding hazard reports and a harassment grievance with the school board in an attempt to have my health and safety concerns as an autism teacher correctly and adequately addressed. It is well over a year now since I first began the process. It is very frustrating and stressful. My back also continues to provide pain as a result of the assault injuries.
Bill 168 is the law for the protection of our teachers +workers everywhere in Ontario.
Here then are the issues of concern that I believe require a lot more thought, deliberation, answers and workplace accommodations for the well being of all concerned:
Safety Plans: Who develops these? What are their areas of training and expertise? Do they provide a practical realistic course of action for each different risk that can be expected to arise? Is adequate staffing provided for the 2:1 or 3:1 ratio requirements that often apply for each student in the class? Are the Child Youth Workers and Educational Assistants adequately trained in a variety of adequate crisis management techniques including physical restraint when necessary? Are they hired in sufficient numbers to implement these techniques as a classroom team? Is the class size, physical setting and placement along with the attendant effects of over stimulation in the school setting accounted for? Are the safety rooms safely designed and maintained for the students specific calming needs? Who is liable for what should anything go wrong? To what extent can each student be integrated within the school community? How is this professionally decided? What resources and support are there for the teachers and staff when doing so?
Health Procedures: Are the autism room and work areas thoroughly cleaned on a daily basis? Who is responsible for this? How is it decided what cleansers are available for use that will not have an allergic affect on the different students? Is there a special dedicated budget for regularly used cleaning products + disinfectants? Are safety gloves, face masks, diapering materials + properly covered change tables readily available? Hot running water? Are the desks, computers, as well as the toys and other learning materials the students touch properly cleaned on a daily basis? Do the cleaning products + procedures used adequately protect against the possible health threats posed by student spittle, blood and semen?
Proper In servicing: How are the teachers and support staff adequately trained to meet provincial health and safety standards similar to those used in other institutions that provide care for this disability? What provincial Bill 168 Health and Safety requirements specifically apply to an autistic program within a school community setting? How are others around the school building properly prepared, trained and made sensitive to the special considerations that need to be taken into account when encountering the students? Is there an effective professional learning community team with training, support and direct input in implementing the programs? Do they meet on a regular ongoing basis? Who should be included on the team? Why?
These are the immediate issues that are first and foremost in my mind when going into class to teach. They are a large part of the aforementioned unaddressed hazard reports and grievance I've filed, but there are still many, many more health + safety concerns I haven't even touched on here! Regretfully these are often not the questions many school administrators and educators want to acknowledge let alone adequately address or provide proper accommodations for in our schools today, Bill 168 notwithstanding!
PS: As a longstanding union executive member I perhaps tend to be more familiar with our teacher problems and recourse options in matters like this. Please, if you are experiencing difficulties as an Autism, or DDME teacher, contact your staff rep or local unit office asap. If you love teaching these students and care for them, yourself and the school community like I do, you have a right to proper safety and support .There are a wide variety of steps that can be taken!
My blog on teaching low functioning autism students is @ here!
I wrote about my autism class @ there!