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With ASD Nest, New York schools might have found the ideal middle ground where neuro-typical and autistic kids can learn together.

New York –Miss Dorothy Siegel envisions a school program for autistic kids that don’t employ paraeducators, the educational assistants who are sometimes tasked to follow through children in a class.

“A teacher’s aide isn’t there to help a student understand the other kids and the classroom setting in general, so he doesn’t get upset. Teacher’s assistants are there to keep troublesome kids (like those within the spectrum) to behave,” she said after showing how a para would act to enforce the kid’s attention to his teacher – by grabbing the child’s arm or poking him or forcibly turning his head towards where his teacher is.

Her endeavor to improve an autistic student’s learning experience inside a classroom that incorporates typical and atypical kids led her to put up the ASD Nest Program along with Shirley Cohen, a special education professor at Hunter College.

“The Nest program is built upon the premise of replacing the people who are tasked to hush the kids with those who will help them learn,” said Miss Siegel.

 

The Inspiration

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On a personal level, Miss Siegel shared why the program is close to her heart. Her son, now 34, has autism.

While he was the fortunate recipient of a good education and was able to graduate from New York University, other children within the autism spectrum disorder ASD) aren’t so privileged, education-wise. As what one research by a Drexel University team divulged, only 36% of students with autism continue to pursue their education beyond their high school years, although regardless of this, Licensed Psychologist Dr. Crystal Lee explained how self-advocacy is important, including the skill of communicating with others. “Without this skill,” she continued, “students with ASD may not get the accommodations they need to be successful.”

Her plight and the enlightenment she got after reading Thinking In Pictures, the memoir Temple Grandin wrote about her life and her work with autism.

“It was like a spiritual calling to me,” Miss Siegel said about her motivation to get started on the ASD Nest Program.

 

A Classroom Conducive To Learning

Under the ASD Nest program, a classroom consists of two certified teachers, four students with autism and eight to 20 neuro-typical kids, the number depending on the grade level. To be able to qualify for the program, children diagnosed with autism must be considered to have the capability of doing the tasks at the level they’re in.

They undergo social development interventions three times a week. For these therapy sessions, they’re pulled out from their classes and taught by a speech therapist ways to navigate through interpersonal relationships successfully. As Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson, PsyD stressed in an interview, “Social skill deficits are one of the hallmark features in autism across the spectrum.” She then added that this sort of “manifests itself is in difficulty with things like social communication, knowing how to have a conversation with someone.”

As for the general education kids, Miss Siegel said that many parents want their kids to be in a Nest class mainly because of two reasons: one, the classes are smaller with two teachers manning the helms so their kids get the attention and focus they wouldn’t usually get in an ordinary class setting. Two, Nest classes emphasize kindness, respect and building relationships with others, traits that they want their children to learn. However, Miss Siegel clarified that while principals of the schools that have adopted the curriculum consider these requests, how they put up classes could depend on their priorities.

 

A Significant Difference

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Mothers are hailing the Nest as an effective teaching method for their special needs kids. One mother disclosed that when her son was in pre-K, he’d often come home biting his nails and feeling anxious after every school day. However, ever since he became part of a Nest classroom setting, his behavior and learning improved. Plus, he’s able to make friends with regular kids now.

“It’s a great program,” she said with a big smile on her face.

“While magical thinking does wane, remember that your child with ADHD is often three years behind in maturing, so magical thinking might last a bit longer. In fact, certain aspects of magical thinking may stay with us into adulthood, since at the end of the day, we all wish the world could be the way we want it.” – Merriam Saunders, LMFT. 

 

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