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L.A. Matheson Secondary education assistant Yolanta Nelson with Grade 10 student Leo Singer.
World Autism Month, and the district is taking the opportunity to recognize the invaluable work our education assistants, applied behaviour analysis support workers and support staff do to improve the learning experience for students with autism.
As of September, Surrey Schools has 1,947 students on the autism spectrum, with a wide variety of challenges that our support staff navigate daily – from assistance with social skills in peer groups to severe behavioural issues and complex emotional needs.
"We have EAs and ABA SWs who provide a range of support for our kids with autism spectrum disorder in Surrey schools, from minimal support all the way to full-time, one-on-one support," said Jennifer Copp, the special education helping teacher for students with complex needs. "They support them through activities of daily living and every aspect of their day, from the time they arrive at school until they go home."
Yolanta Nelson, an education assistant at L.A. Matheson Secondary, works with Grade 10 student Leo Singer, who is non-verbal and is in the school's intensive intervention program. Since September, she said he's made leaps and bounds in being able to convey his needs, thanks to small steps to address his issues.
"Leo's biggest challenge is communicating his needs because he has such a limited vocabulary and difficulties bridging the communication gap," said Nelson. "I've seen him become more comfortable in situations around the school and with a bigger group of support workers. He has made considerable progress, and he's shown me typing and problem-solving skills too."
"Because of Yolanta's ability to connect with Leo as a person and not just see a disability, she's been able to establish trust and a really strong rapport, and has been able to teach him functional communication that others can understand," said Copp. "She's able to teach him a series of skills that he's transferring to real-world situations that are making him more independent and able to engage in the world in a more meaningful way."
Part of that independence includes taking Singer on outings to stores and coffee shops, places that initially caused him a lot of anxiety. But as he has gotten used to seeing new places with Nelson, Copp said his strides have extended to his home life.
Recently, Singer experienced his first seizure, but thanks to Nelson's work, he was able to remain calm while being looked after by doctors and nurses in hospital.
"The skills she's taught him allowed Leo to be patient and able to receive medical care," said Copp. "We have some incredible EAs who are so dedicated, and when a parent is able to see their child making progress because of the care and connection that staff has with them, then they know they're safe.
"His mom and dad are over the moon with the progress he's made, they couldn't be happier. They're just incredibly grateful for the support that's been given."
Likewise, Nelson said she is proud to see how far Singer has come and hopes the skills he has learned with her will continue to serve him well into adulthood.
"I just see him building confidence in himself as an individual. He has the confidence to use different ways to communicate now," said Nelson. "It just makes my heart swell because there were so many people who maybe thought where he was at was where he was going to be, and that's not the case."
Thank you to all of our student support staff for all your hard work!