[Posted on 3 October, 2017 by Gunilla Westman Andersson]
Today I would like to direct some attention to my own profession, namely special educators. Special educators usually work in preschools/schools, but also in other services and institutions, such as health care services. This might sound a bit strange to some people, but just as we for example have doctors at schools, we also need educators in certain parts of health care services. I myself have had the privilege of working at a neuropsychiatric investigation unit for many years, but have just given up my position to someone else who will be taking on important tasks.
But now you might be wondering what kind of role an educator might have in health care services. One might be able to understand the need for educators to teach and support children who facing long term hospitalisation, but what else? We will now focus on investigations of children and adolescents with e.g. suspected autism or other developmental disorders that I in this blog will henceforth refer to as ESSENCE (Gillberg, 2010). Research has shown that, in order to carry out an optimal investigation of ESSENCE related problems, the individual must be assessed from different perspectives, i.e. with the help of people from different professions working together closely as a team. These days it’s fairly common for investigation teams to include a doctor, a psychologist, a speech and language therapist and a special educator. But then the special educator is a school employee, right? No, in this case it is important for the special educator to be part of the investigation team on the same terms as the others. Why? Well, firstly, it is important to have a good understanding of children’s “typical” development as well as specific knowledge about ESSENCE, and what this might mean to the individual child. Secondly, one must be able to assess to what degree the teaching methods applied at preschool/school can affect the child. A special educator who has good knowledge of pedagogic strategies and also of which situations can be extra challenging. An important part for special educators in conjunction with ESSENCE investigations is to observe and gather information from the educational facilities concerned. Why is this so important? Because in many cases the child’s potential difficulties become extra visible in that space, since the preschool/school environment often presents them with many challenges. One must also be able to distinguish which problems are caused by poor educational efforts and which ones are due to more pervasive difficulties in the individual in question. At the same time one must assess whether the child’s difficulties only manifest in other environments than e.g. preschool/school. All of this information makes up a vital component of the final joint diagnostic assessment.
If the child is considered to meet criteria for a diagnosis, the special educator in the investigation team faces the important task of disseminating this information to their colleagues in the preschool/school. Tailored teaching efforts and approaches are quite often the most important aspect of intervention measures – and if these prove inadequate, additional options must be considered. The ability of a special educator – with good knowledge and experience of ESSENCE – to collaborate around pedagogic strategies with colleagues in the child’s everyday life, is one that is unfortunately still widely underappreciated. With good teaching methods and knowledge about the individual’s needs, the problems hopefully won’t be as major, letting us pave the way for positive development and a good life.
In other words, special educators in health care services – YES PLEASE!