Autism is the fastest growing developmental condition in the United States, affecting 1 in 59 children in some form or another. There are a lot of unknowns about the condition and as we move forward, educators continue to learn and adapt. Such is the case with Hancock Public Schools that will be training faculty members to understand more about it and how to engage with related students.
“What we’re doing is truly trying to break into the new frontiers of a very unique challenge that afflicts some of our households. We want to be able to go ahead and understand it a little better, have the appropriate personnel to engage our best practices and guide our efforts,” said Ezekiel Ohan, Principal of Hancock Middle and High School.
Hancock Public Schools began a teacher training program earlier this month that prepares the teacher to address autistic students and special situations on a case by case basis. Ohan said, “It’s the environment more than the child that needs to make the adjustment. It’s our engagement with the child that needs to be adjusted, meeting the child where the child is rather than having the child meet our expectations.”
The class was led by Kristen Roggemann, who is an autism coordinator with the Copper Country Intermediate School District Learning Center. “We have dedicated professionals in special education who are willing to dig deeper,” said Ohan.
As we learn more about autism, educators have found that in an overwhelming situation for a child, some children revert to isolation as a coping mechanism, and part of the program’s goal is to have staff prepared to offer what the Principal refers to as a “Safe Learning Zone”, which gives the child the opportunity to de-escalate.
Ohan said, “There are so many different strategies and it really is unique to the individual. The approach is not to fix the child. Let’s fix the environment. The child has a challenge. We have to accommodate that challenge.”
Accommodation training began with teachers, but Ohan says other departments of the school will be taking part as well, as they also have plenty of interaction with all children, including those with autism. “Let’s get our bus driver engaged and trained. Let’s look at our kitchen staff, our personnel, our peer mentors with how we operate as a special education department,” Ohan said.
It’s anticipated that other districts will implement similar programs in the future. Ohan said, “We are really doing a lot of different things in a lot of different ways to figure out the best possible outcome for a student that crosses our threshold, and I am so proud to be a part of Hancock Public Schools because we’ve taken on this mission.”