Billionaire and business magnate Richard Branson is famous for admitting that he has dyslexia, and some say that Albert Einstein was on the autism spectrum. Both Branson and Einstein are known for their different approaches to seeing the world – and for being exceptionally successful.
“Sometimes, being differently-abled does not inhibit your ability to participate in the world,” Emily says. “I see innovative problem-solving skills in students all the time. The ideas that they come up with are amazing. They are problem solvers.”
Working as a team with the parents
When it comes to getting additional support, there is federal legislation and other policies and guidelines that define what can be officially verified as a disability. There is also state and federal funding available for students who meet the eligibility criteria. “You need to have the parents on board to get that process rolling, through the school,” Emily says, “so the student can have access to additional support through funding.”
But also, in other respects, parents play an important role in giving neurodiverse children the best support they can get. “It's important for us teachers to remember that parents are their first support. It is essential that we work with the parents in partnership,” Emily says. “Parents know their children best. Working together as a team is the best thing that you can do to better understand the child.”
Support with four legs: Bernie, the Labradoodle
Mount St Bernard College also has a four-legged learning support worker. “His name is Bernie. Bernie is a Labradoodle, as in a Labrador-cross-poodle, and he is a very fluffy boy,” Emily says. “He is about eight or nine months old now, and he is being trained to be a therapy dog here at Mount St Bernard College.”
Emily thinks that Bernie makes a big difference in the school. “We have so many students with diverse needs. Diversity can also stem from children having trauma backgrounds, and when they are trying to manage their emotions and the stresses of school. Bernie can help with that,” Emily says. “Bernie is a very gentle soul and a great help. When we are going for a walk together, for example, he will always look after children that are not feeling so well.”
Just like the students at Mount St Bernard, Bernie is still in training. “But he will hopefully soon be a full-time employee and in classes all the time,” Emily says.
Leaders of tomorrow
Emily knows the work she, her colleagues, and Bernie the Labradoodle put in will eventually pay off. “The students we work with really are the leaders of tomorrow. We just need to continue to support them, through catering to their different abilities.”
How to become a learning support teacher
Emily says that everybody who is able to qualify as a registered teacher, such as Bachelor of Education graduates, can become a learning support teacher. “You would need to show your interest in inclusive education, of course,” Emily says.
Inclusive education for students with special needs and abilities is one of the core subjects for Education students at JCU. “When I was at JCU and working with my lecturer, Satine Winter, she really showed me that diversity can be a career in itself in a school setting,” Emily says.
When it comes to what a good learning support teacher should be like, Emily says, “it’s essential for teachers to always be kind, caring and empathetic with all students. Patience is really important as well.”