Rana S. is a first grade teacher for Syrian refugees in Turkey. Today, we spoke to Rana about her thoughts on the program so far and her goals moving forward.
What are the most valuable things you have learned in the program so far?
I am learning how to support people with autism and am finding different ways that I can teach them. One valuable skill I learned, and that I now use with my own son, is to immediately reinforce behaviors that I want to see. I used to delay reinforcement for one or two weeks, but now I use verbal praise all the time and I can see the changes. He has now started doing his homework on his own and writing paragraphs. He listens to me like he never has before. He used to while and complain about everything but he doesn’t do this anymore. Now, when I ask him not to do something, he listens and doesn’t do it.
How have you been able to (or how do you anticipate that you will be able to) use these skills in your classroom?
These trainings have taught me that I need to be more patient in my classroom and that I need to assess the individual learners and find out what works for them. Before I set a goal for a child, I need to know what that child needs. Now that I have learned to identify the functions of different behaviors, I have a better understanding of these needs.
I used to walk into class and demand that the children “be quiet and open their books” and would just repeat this demand until they did it, but now I will use the different strategies I am learning with each child because I learned that each child is different. This is my first year teaching first grade and I had some difficulty figuring out how to handle behavior problems and learning differences in my classroom. The training is teaching me how to do this. I’ve also learned to only reinforce good behaviors that I want to see more of in my classroom. I used to accidentally reinforce some challenging behaviors but now I am careful about what I am reinforcing.
I have one student in my class who doesn’t like to sit in his chair and who disrupts the class by talking a lot. When he participated appropriately in class and answered a question in class and did his homework, I reinforced his behavior by drawing him a picture and writing him a thank you letter on it. From that point on, he did his homework. I was amazed that I could change his behavior with a little piece of paper. I never knew that it could be so powerful.
How has your perception of autism changed since starting this program?
I used to think that children with autism are always isolated, that they cannot learn, and that they don’t understand anything we say. But after I saw and worked with the children in this program, I learned that they are able to learn and that I can help them by being patient and by prompting them so that they can learn new skills. I can see the results already and even when there are challenges along the way, the progress is always evident in the end.
What is a personal goal you have for the rest of the program?
I want to continue to earn the trust of children with autism. Knowing that I can do something in the future to support this population motivates me to continue. As Syrian refugees, life has been unfair to our children and we need to do what we can to give them a good education so that they can have a chance at a better future.
Would you recommend this program to other teachers? Why?
I benefitted so much from this program already and I would like other teachers to experience those same benefits. I think that every teacher can benefit from learning strategies to support children with autism, behavior challenges, and learning differences.