Throughout our educational years we’ve all had experience being a group member. The dynamics and preconceived significance of the roles within such groups may pose significant challenges and ultimately their effectiveness. Whether our experience was positive or negative, these groups provided us opportunities to learn, improve, and communicate with others.
My placements during my college years in the Developmental Services Worker program took this group interaction to another level where the significance of being part of team took on a whole new meaning as I applied my education to real life experiences and grew in knowledge and matured as a person. My team experience working with Autistic children in a classroom situation was a very positive one. I was excited that | would finally get to work with the children in the field I had chosen as a career.
Staff welcomed me and included me as a team member which provided me the opportunity to participate, grow as a person, as well as providing me with insight and experience in the field of Autism. A teacher, two Educational Assistants, along with myself and six terrific students worked together for four months. I quickly learned the classroom routine and felt at ease participating due to the wonderful team connection. For example I noticed one of the EAs using sign language with a student so even though I only had basic sign language skills I felt comfortable trying to use this skill with the student.
Each team member encouraged my efforts and provided me with feedback which was invaluable and provided insight. Gym was a new experience for me as we took the kids swimming every second week. I used to be a competitive swimmer so this provided me personally an opportunity to connect with the children while providing a fun learning experience. In the role of “encourager” I worked with the students finding new avenues to motivate them to complete their work. Of course like any classroom, difficult situations arose. I felt so bad when one of our students became agitated, and went into a meltdown.
As a first year student | wasn’t allowed to assist as I didn’t have CPI or TCI yet, so felt helpless as I stood on the sideline. As the others worked with the child and removed him from the classroom, I settled the others and refocussed them back on their assignments. This event taught me empathy, and demonstrated to me the difficult situations teachers, helpers and parents often find themselves in, dealing with autism. As I watched this situation unfold and being dealt with, I learned not just the procedures involved, but the importance of working together as a team to help and support each other and the client. .
In a group home placement I had the opposite experience. I was excited and very nervous as I knocked on the front door. Would I meet the supervisor’s expectations, was I ready to handle the varied medical issues of the clients? Although the supervisor wasn’t there I was welcomed and introduced to the staff and felt somewhat reassured. However, I soon learned that I was not considered an integral part of the team, I had little input, and no responsibilities with the clients. Discouraged after speaking with my supervisor, I talked to a trusted mentor. I decided to try harder to interact with the group and to be more proactive.
With my supervisor’s approval I planned and implemented a baking activity to do with one of the girls. Interacting with the residents to me was important. I felt my time talking to and holding a nonverbal client’s hand as he felt a seizure coming on, was meaningful for both of us. Part way through this placement the supervisor went on leave and the team weakened further. No one knew my capabilities or duties so as the student everyone told me what to do, even the home driver. Staff members from time to time were critical and didn’t get along with each other reiterating to me the importance of, utting aside our differences and learning to try to see another’s perspective for the groups good.
My perceived status and roles at the two placements were totally different. At the school placement, I was a welcomed member of a team dedicated to the students’ needs. As an educator I was encouraged to participate, my ideas valued and through open discussion and feedback I developed both personally and educationally. I learned through this team approach the importance of not making assumptions based on appearances or past experiences and how this approach enhanced the learning experience for all those involved.
At the group home placement I wasn’t considered a team member, I was not included in discussions, nor were my ideas welcomed. I was just another student, there to help with household duties, some staff members didn’t even know my name when I left. The lack of teamwork in this placement brought me the realization of its importance. These experiences helped me view and reflect on my role within the group and the importance of realizing how our beliefs, values influence our behaviour.
I know there will be challenges as an IT within an IBI treatment team but with these challenges comes the opportunity to grow, improve and contribute. I will be working with people on a daily basis and will have to speak out on issues that arise. As I am shy, I will need to work on my communication skills to effectively communicate with team and family members. I will need to look to my team members to guide me in implementing individualized ABA treatment plans as I have no prior experience in this area. I also realize the job may be repetitive and stressful so I will have to watch for the possibility of burnout.
My nephew is autistic so I also realize the importance and rewards this field provides. Teams can help each other by providing feedback, suggest improvement areas, and working co-operatively with each other. Although there may be some fallout along the way, working with a team can be a great learning experience. We all need to put aside our preconceived ideas and assumptions and participate actively for the group to work effectively. This will not just improve our lives but the lives of those we strive to serve.