Renay called in a favor because she had some ideas that were going unchecked. Renay met up with a familiar face—the person who taught Renay how to be a paraeducator over eighteen years ago. Today, that individual is now a special education teacher who works with adults—students who are 18 to 22 years of age.
Working with adults is a slightly different skill set than working in a traditional inclusive classroom. At this point, there are not likely to be many non-disabled peers nearby in general (this is a wholly different conversation). Adults who are in programs like these are also still following their IEPs and are taking significant parts of their IEPs and managing the skills that they want to enrich. Adults are given direct help with things like work skills, understanding the things necessary to apply for a job, and more skills budgeting. Some are working on self-care like making food, connecting in their communities, and navigating public transit.
Professionalism is of utmost importance. Being present with the students might be more of a challenge, but it is critical because you could easily lose a group of students on a topic, in a community outing, or even in a 1:1 situation because you were not emotionally, physically, and mentally present with the adults. The model of professionalism becomes more important: this is what some of the students will use when they go forth in any job they have during and after leaving adult program.
We want to mention we keep saying ‘adults’ and not ‘students’. There is a certain level of autonomy that needs to be provided at the programs that do not exist prior to this age group. Certainly, the groundwork for autonomy in previous years of their lives should be evident, but there is a need for more independence.
So when the group goes into the community, the motivation should be based on the individual needs of the adult students. Things to look for:
- How do they handle large crowds?
- How do they navigate public transportation?
- How do they communicate with unfamiliar individuals?
- What things are they able to do independently?
- Can they step away from an activity when they are truly stressed?
- What tasks within a job do they like? Which tasks within a job they do not like?
- Can they cross a street? This breaks down further, looking both ways, pushing a crosswalk button, and waiting for friends/peers to join up at the corners.
- What tools do they use when they are lost or in an unfamiliar situation? This will include technology.
- What goals do they have for their lives after they finish their program?
- What do they care about? What leadership opportunities have they taken/can take within the adult education program?
- What activities do they like to do?
- What is truly important to the adult? How do they go about doing those things? (is this religious, cultural, or entertainment? And how do you support that individual doing those activities?)
- What skills do they need to continue to hold a job?
- How do they handle money? Can they budget?
This is only a partial list, however, unlike in the prior fifteen years of education (Preschool through high school), paraeducators should be helping the case manager constantly evaluate these parts for every student. Keep in mind how many times one might have had to redirect an individual and what circumstances were they under. Have a focus on understanding the adult that is there learning and finishing their last attempts at getting skills they might not have had time to focus on previously. Finding ways for the adults to be more independent in small groups and alone.
The takeaway here, the relationship between a paraeducator and adult students is very different than the paraeducator-student relationship in the Preschool to twelfth-grade age group. If nothing else: you have to be more together and focused to help the adults connect to the pieces of their future they might need the most help with.
Do you have any comments about this month’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online here, here, here, here, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published once a month during the academic school year. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.