It is a true blessing when you are joined in teaching a class with the support of an integration aide.
They provide the stability, care, and watchful eye over our most vulnerable children and have been the life force behind change towards inclusive education with little acknowledgement.
Children with ASD, disability, behavioural disorders and those who have experienced trauma are and have been the most isolated members of our school communities.
Their families often face grief, trauma, and stress, which reduces their ability to advocate for their children.
These communities are faced with a diminished capacity for self-efficacy, which in essence is an ever compounding cycle of struggle.
An integration aide brings to these children and their families a listening ear and a force for advocacy.
I am increasingly concerned that we need to do better to increase self-efficacy within our inclusion model.
With funding allocated to the ‘child’ we continue to see the isolation of these children in our schools.
We provide an integration aide who supports an individual child.
This often develops a co-dependent relationship on carers by the children and diminishes their capacity to develop independence.
For children who have ASD this is particularly concerning.
Having a carer constantly by their side reduces their capacity to develop executive function skills.
They often defer, or rely on their ‘shadow’ to complete tasks, organise, negotiate on their behalf, and manage and regulate their emotions.
For some of our children this support is integral, however we need to be aware of the importance of independence for these children and the need for scaffolding autonomy, flexibility, transitions, and emotion control.
There is no denying aides are central to student success and emotional wellbeing, yet they are not given training or resources (including time) to provide programs and specific intervention that enables growth and learning to increase independence and participation in classroom communities.
We not only inhibit the self-efficacy of children with ASD, we also forget to acknowledge the importance of peer support.
We have an opportunity to allow their peers to grow in autonomy, build mutual respect, and work together for growth inclusion.
These children are often withdrawn or managed in the playground or corridors of our schools.
We continue to ask the question ‘why are the least qualified persons in the school supporting those with the highest needs?’
While classroom teachers endeavour to provide differentiated programs, these are left to be carried out with little professional support.
I won’t go into the complexity and inequity of the ways in which funding is divided up for these children.
It is clear that children should be funded on ‘risk’ rather than a diagnosis. While we continue to fund ‘individual children’ we continue to look to a ‘diagnosis’ rather than the individual strengths of the child.
We allow our communities to continue the marginalisation of ‘other’ and do little to move forward in creating societies that enable rather than disable.
Schools should be provided with equitable resources for teacher’s aides in every classroom.
Teacher’s aides should be provided with the professional development they need and the pay they deserve!
This utopianism may be far beyond our current government talents but as schools we can do better.
We need to allow our teacher’s aides to develop the skills and knowledge required to develop and build independence in their learners.
We need to reflect on the way we continue to fund individual children and call our support staff ‘integration aides’.
When we continue to draw focus to the ‘integration’ of children with difference, we continue to see our aides as supporting only the specific needs of a ‘diagnosis’ and we continue to build communities of inequity.
I ask schools to change from integration aides to teachers tides who support the whole class, to give their aides the professional development and supported planning time they need, and to continue to argue on behalf of our support staff for fair and equitable pay.
If we value the language, the way in which we view and portray the support of children at risk, we begin to scaffold a place that enables rather than disables our learners.