Back to School, Educated and Enlightened

What we all need to remember as we head back to school.

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Anderson Center for Autism Classroom
Training happening at Anderson Center for Autism classroom. Speech, behavioral services, and day services combined forces to provide BST training on PECS and AAC devices to day habilitation instructors to improve confidence with prompting communication.

As summer winds down and backpack sales ramp up, there’s no question that families have added an extra-important toolkit to their typical set of school supplies this year. 

After months and months of remote learning, hybrid programs, and ever-evolving circumstances that came with Covid-19, I think that most everyone will enter this coming school year more educated and enlightened than ever before.

I’ve seen our teachers, staff, students, and families here at Anderson Center for Autism take away all kinds of lessons as a result of what they’ve endured. And if we hold those discoveries close, we can use them to drive success for everyone in the school year ahead. Here are some that are top of mind, which I hope will resonate:

Be mindful of the needs of our most vulnerable populations. Education can often demand a very different strategy and approach for students with autism, developmental disabilities, and the medically fragile populations. May we all remember to advocate for evidence-based programs and services, and work to make whatever accommodations are necessary to maximize the potential of those students.

Look for – and reach out to – those who are lonely. Throughout the pandemic, we realized how many people in our towns and neighborhoods have to face challenges on their own. We knocked on their doors as we dropped off food, or called them on the phone to check in. We were reminded in a big way that we all have a responsibility to look out for one another. May we take this lesson into our schools this year, teaching our children to be inclusive of those they see eating lunch by themselves or not getting picked for a team in PE class, or who simply seem to be navigating the year on their own.

Be a voice for those who need it. Many of our students at Anderson cannot vocalize what they want, so we work with them daily to try to understand their needs and then find ways to help them convey those needs. For those who are nonverbal, like many of our students are, and even for those who may be communicative but have been marginalized and are thus fearful of expressing themselves, may we all remember to try to uncover what they most need to say and help them say it. 

Make health a priority. Covid was a stark reminder that we cannot take our health and well-being for granted. With proper nutrition, regular exercise, and attention to mental health, our kids and families can enjoy a higher quality of life all year long. We must make this a priority no matter how overscheduled we become as life resumes some semblance of “normalcy” this year.

We all need people. Having endured a year-plus of physical distancing, it goes without saying that most of us thrive when we are surrounded by a circle of support. This is especially true in schools, particularly in those that serve students who are differently abled. Real progress comes from collaboration among teachers, staff, families, and students – and from the confidence that young people feel when they see everyone working together to promote their success.

On behalf of everyone at Anderson Education Center, sending best wishes for a fulfilling school year ahead; may these life lessons inspire us as we forge ahead.

Patrick Paul is the CEO/Executive Director of Anderson Center for Autism, located in Staatsburg, whose organizational mission is to “optimize the quality of life for people with autism.” Visit andersoncenterforautism.org to learn more.

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