I did my observation at the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Center for Autism. I sat in on their Early Achievements class. The class consists of four students, 2-3 years old, and three teachers. The head teacher is Cathy Walton, but a teacher named Liz was the lead teacher for the class I observed. All four students have confirmed Autism Spectrum Disorders and have been in this specific program since July. Their difficulties and abilities ranged and were relatively apparent. However, the three teachers were able to disperse themselves equally and very effectively. I was very impressed by the teachers and students, and feel it was a very rewarding experience. I can definitely say I learned a lot.
When I first arrived to the classroom, I noticed they had their general lesson plans posted outside the classroom to inform the parents of the new theme they’d be using and the different focuses. “Sleep” was the new theme and they had a few words, emotions, and abilities listed that the students would be practicing. I later found out, the theme changes every 2-4 weeks, 3 usually being the most optimal length of time. Once in the classroom, I immediately recognized it from videos we had been shown in class. The students’ cubbies, schedules, and different objects in the room were labeled with a name and picture. The class started with play time and I recognized the teachers practicing/encouraging joint attention and using a lot of sign language and repetition.
The class continued on, not staying on a specific activity for more than 20 minutes. They had “circle time” which I remember watching a video of during class. The structure was very similar, they were just using their theme of “Sleep” and used a book called “Time to Sleep”. They used songs, name calling, matching, recognition, joint attention, imitation, and repetition throughout this time. The rest of their schedule consisted of art/sensory time, play/DTT time, outside time, snack time, table time, and music/sensory time. Throughout all of these, I saw strategies we learned in class. The teachers had assessment sheets for each student. The tasks/functions on the assessments varied slightly for each child. They all had categories including Social Communication, Imitation, and Play; Expressive Language and Speech Production; Receptive Language; and Learning Readiness. Each child must complete a task 80% of the time for 3 days in a row to have mastered it. They used a scale of 1-5 for the assisting/prompting needed for each task. 1 meant they physically had to touch/move the child to perform the task. 5 meant they could do the task without any assisting by recognizing the prompt on their own.
I truly enjoyed spending two and a half hours with the students and teachers. I was somewhat skeptical going into this assignment because I have very little relative experience. This is my very first education class I’ve taken, I am not an education major and felt like I knew very little about it, and this project was my very first time being in an educational setting like that. After my experience, I feel more confident and comfortable. I only have positive things to say about it and am happy I got some real-life experience. I do wish I could more hands-on time, not just observing, but for my first time it was probably best. Cathy, Liz, and Megan (I believe that was her name) were extremely helpful and welcoming. They answered any questions I had, were more than willing to share any knowledge and information, and they kept me in the loop with what was going on throughout class (especially when I wasn’t exactly sure what questions to ask). I had a bit of a fiasco with my original plans to do my observation with getting sick, schedule conflicts, and my school/work/ROTC obligations, but Cathy was very helpful with fitting me in.
This experience left me excited I decided to pick this path for my own education. I look forward to being able to use my technological skill set to help the students and teachers in the world of Special Education – A big thanks to the employees and patients of the Kennedy Krieger Institute!