UTICA — Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the United States, according to the Autism Society of America, who report that 1 in 54 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), totaling over 5 million young people and adults.
April is designated as Autism Awareness Month as a time to spread awareness, promote acceptance, and ignite change for those with autism, a complex, a life-long developmental disability that affects essential human functions such as social interaction, communication, self-regulation, and relationships with others.
A special education teacher is someone who works with youth who have a variety of disabilities, including autism. Children with special needs require instruction by highly trained professionals to guide them towards their highest potential.
Special Education Teachers are characteristically patient and understanding individuals, such as Kayla Grant, dedicated to providing students with the tools and guidance they will need to navigate the world.
Grant works as a Special Education Teacher in the Utica City School District. This is her fourth year teaching. She finds gratification from seeing her students tackle challenges and achieve success.
“Watching my students grow and make their goals that are created for them is my favorite part of my job,” Grant said. “I have been lucky enough to have some of the same students for four years now and watching them go from being unable to identify letters in the alphabet to being able to read has been an amazing experience. I also love the connections that I have made with some of my students.”
Being a special education teacher can be an emotional experience. Teachers like Grant get emotionally invested in the job and therefore when students achieve goals, it feels so much sweeter, they say.
“You learn to love them and that their fight is your fight,” she said. “Their wins are your wins.”
During the pandemic, Grant has had to pivot from teaching in person, to teaching completely virtually, and then finally to a hybrid model where the students are both online and in person.
“COVID-19 has definitely made it harder to teach students with special needs but, we have pushed through,” Grant said. “Making sure they have a little bit of fun lightens the mood and allows the students to get to know you on a more personal level than over a computer screen. Many of my students are hands-on learners so it has been hard to work with them, especially when they need hand over hand assistance.”
Grant has been inspired by her students and in awe of their potential.
“Just because a student has a diagnosis does not mean that they cannot do something,” she said. “It is important that we remember to work with them and encourage them to try new things.”