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Lafayette, IN: "There will be more students...who require extra attention"; teachers need help

Oct 1, 2018, Lafayette (IN) Journal Courier: Teachers are learning on the job how to manage students with autism ... Orion is one of 1,533 students in Lafayette School Corp. and part of the 19.5 percent who are receiving some form of special education. He is one of four in Brittany Ristau’s third grade class at Vinton. Although the Department of Education does not break down diagnosis within special education, the CDC’s most recent data show more children than ever are being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD.... The CDC points out this increase could be explained by a broader definition of ASD and better efforts in understanding and diagnosing it. ... Regardless of the why behind it, the fact remains that there will be more students entering the school system who require extra attention. Alicia Clevenger, LSC’s director of elementary education, is aware there has been a rise in ASD diagnosis nationally, but the constant ebb and flow of students moving in and out has kept everything afloat in LSC, she said. … Teachers are feeling a similar sense of anxiety. “Purdue did a pretty good job of telling us how tough it was going to be, but they didn’t prepare us in any way other than just telling us that’s how it’s going to be,” Ristau said. During her seven years of teaching, Ristau said she can only recall one school-wide training session on inclusion methods to instruct teachers on how to integrate children with special needs into general education classrooms. The co-operative for special education that prevails over all three districts, Greater Lafayette Area Special Services or G.L.A.S.S., trains an autism team for each school in addition to having two autism consultants that work with all three corporations. Teachers and administrators selected to be on a school's autism team go through a two-year cycle of monthly training, G.L.A.S.S. Assistant Director Donna McIlrath said.... "I think sometimes until you have a student in your classroom it can be difficult to understand what you need to do," McIlrath said. Even so, McIlrath said she feels that all teachers are capable of managing a classroom with students on the spectrum. Sometimes all it takes is a little reassurance.... Schools also hire paraprofessionals who work in resource rooms or one-on-one with students with special needs. Paraprofessionals are required to have at least two years of college credits or pass a general aptitude test called the ParaPro.... This school year, five out of 20 students in her class receive some form of special education, whether that's going to the resource room for writing or meeting with a speech pathologist. One of the five has been identified on the autism spectrum and sometimes needs to be taken out of the classroom when he's overwhelmed. Despite this, no paraprofessionals have been assigned to Buckles’ classroom this year….. “The training I’ve had has been all on-the-job training,” Buckles said. “It’s been trial and error. Some days I get it right, and some days I get it really wrong.” It’s obvious to Buckles that the student population is changing. Now the staff is learning to change with them.

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