Minister Karen Casey,
Playing and Learning Together is a group of professionals and parents of children and youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) that has come together to create learning environments that are better suited to meet the needs of children and youth with ASD.
As the founder and director of this organization, I am writing to request a meeting to discuss a proposal that has strong potential to provide improved educational supports for children and youth with ASD and to reduce the current strains on schools and classrooms.
I am a retired teacher and Autism Specialist for the Halifax Regional School Board and I have had the pleasure of working with over 600 children with ASD and their families as our board transitioned these children into the school system. As part of my initial meetings with the families, I listened to their stories, took notes and identified concerns and gaps within the board and the education system. Having the time now, I am re-connecting with some of the families, reviewing my notes and identifying gaps and areas that need to be improved. I have also worked with over five hundred classroom and Learning Centre teachers and school specialists. As part of my own evaluation process, I would conduct informal needs assessment interviews with my teachers after this transition year.
This work has confirmed that individuals with ASD often have sensory, behavioural or mental health profiles that make public school very challenging and ineffective learning environments for them. Our group believes that inclusion has had a positive impact on many students—both the students with challenges and their peers; however, inclusion does not work for all students, especially if classroom and learning centre teachers do not have the specialized training to effectively support the learning of children and youth with ASD. Schools are challenged to provide accommodating sensory and learning environments.
Nova Scotia has already recognized that certain students need specialized programming and services outside the regular public school system by supporting designated special education private schools (DSEPS) through the tuition support program. However, none of the three existing DSEPS accommodate children or youth with ASD who have complex learning profiles. Based on 20+ years of experience within the school system, extensive consultation with parents and teachers, and detailed, comprehensive research compiled on over 600 families throughout my career, I propose a solution to these challenges. The key to success is to develop specialized learning environments that are individualized to the learning challenges for the students with ASD through a “school within a school” model or as an autism specific school. Along with improved educational supports these specialized learning environments would reduce the strain on classrooms, and learning centres and allow more efficient use of specialized resources such as autism and behavioural specialists.
We know that the status quo is not working. We hear first-hand, over and over again from parents, teachers and the students themselves. We understand the challenges are complex, and we have the background, education and training to address these complexities. To find the answers, we must work together, because doing what has always been done is simply no longer adequate. Playing and Learning Together requests an opportunity to meet with you and discuss our ideas in more detail. I look forward to hearing from you.
Jan Keddy: Director, Playing and Learning Together