Autism Spectrum Disorder remains misunderstood for many of us. Like a puzzle, it takes serious evaluation and consideration to try to understand autism. Fortunately for us, there are those who dedicate their careers to helping people on the spectrum find relief in what they may sometimes perceive as a big, confusing, and scary world. People like speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, school psychologists, and special education teachers help us see the world from “their” eyes.
Today, we’re so excited to introduce you to Alexa Herbers, a Soliant SLP who plays a vital role in the Autism Program of her Colorado school district. In today’s post, Alexa talks about working with children on the Autism spectrum and how they’ve made a permanent impact on her life.
What is your personal connection to autism?
I first met someone with Autism when I was in high school. I grew up volunteering with TOPSoccer, an organization that gives people with many types of disabilities a chance to join a soccer team. In high school I was also in a club that paired typically developing students with those with developmental disorders. From then on, I’ve yet to have a season of life where I’ve not been positively impacted by people with disabilities.
As an SLP, what are the biggest struggles of dealing with a child with autism?
The biggest struggle I face working with children with Autism is consistency. Many of these kids crave consistency; whether that’s through who they interact with, daily routines, or even how their food is set up on their plate. Providing them with consistency can be tough for 24 hours of the day. I know I struggle to be in routine all the time so checking myself to make sure I’m providing students with warnings and coping strategies is essential to successful functioning for all of us.
Do you find that there is a stigma against autistic children? If so, how do you react to it?
I think the stigma has lessened over the years. I love the getting rid of the R Word movement. I still have encounters where I feel the need to educate others on their perception of the disorder. I like to explain it as that they’re just like you and I but their brain just may work a little differently. Where we may see a regular classroom, a child with autism may be seeing the bright colors and background noises. When I can tell someone that I’m angry, a child with autism may show it through actions because they’re not sure how to say it. You have to shape-shift a little and try to see the reasons rather than what’s “wrong.”
What made you decide to work with children on the spectrum?
They’re my people. I’ve been told I have a calming personality so I think that might help. But honestly I’ve just always been drawn to this population of people. You have to be creative and flexible to work with children with Autism because every single child is different-it’s a spectrum! A treatment option may work well for one kid but not for another, even though they may have the same deficit. It keeps you on your toes! Plus they’re just so much fun.
What do you think are the most important qualities of a person who decides to work with children on the spectrum?
Patient, flexible, knowledgeable, loving, and willing to work with others… a lot. Your team is going to be big when you work with kids with Autism!
What advice would you give to parents who find out their children are autistic?
Breathe. Find a support group of parents of children with Autism. It’s not always an easy road so having a support team is huge. Relating to other families will give you confidence, new ideas, and a time to laugh about the major mishaps. Also don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Are you seeing the support system grow for children with autism? If so, how?
Definitely! I am so fortunate to work in a school where Autism is accepted by the majority. In a low-income area ,it’s amazing to see all the students treat each other the same way (positively). Students and teachers are always willing to lend a hand, have students join different groups, and really want to learn about the disorder as a whole. There’s a ways to go still but it’s amazing to see the little steps being made at the ground level.
Alexa is featured in our special education report, Serving Children With Autism: School Staffing Challenges. Check it out here!
Are you a special education professional who’s ready to make a difference in our schools? See our current openings here.