Commentary

EA Shortage Shortchanges Students with Special Needs

Students with an identified need for an individualized education plan are missing out on the education they deserve due to a lack of Educational Assistant resources.

By Debra Hughes
Published February 26, 2015

Back when I was in public and high school, words like "special needs" never came up. Kids with ADHD were simply very active, and I don't remember a single Educational Assistant (EA) in my entire school career. Times have changed.

My eldest daughter was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2007. She was deemed an Exceptional Student soon after, and her developmental delay made her need an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). She had no sense of danger, so she had to have a one-on-one helper while she was at school.

From Day one, resources were a problem. When I say "resources" I mean EAs. There have never been enough to give my Katie the one-on-one attention she needs.

A lack of resources is nothing new. I've been wrestling with it since 2007. I have been frustrated because the school system is not addressing the need for more EAs due to the explosion of the special needs population. Just lately my frustration has reached new highs.

Katie's main EA this year has taken quite a bit of time off. Her absence means the other EAs have to cover for her, or the school has to get someone in temporarily.

I have gotten calls as early as 9:15 AM from school saying that Katie is having a bad day and could I please come pick her up. Just lately I have been pushing back at that. Katie deserves an education. Picking her up early won't give her one.

Additionally, Katie's school hours have been altered to fit the main EA schedule. Lack of resources has basically forced the EA into a situation where she sees to the needs of another special needs student, and she can't see to those needs without Katie being picked up at 2:30 PM.

Katie is losing 20 minutes of school time because there is no one to be with her: a lack of resources.

Why is it that Katie is the one disadvantaged by this lost time toward her education? Shouldn't Katie be entitled to her full education like any other student?

The school offered to allow Katie to start her day at 8:45 AM rather than 9:00 AM, which appears to be an effort to make up the lost time previously mentioned. The extra time would involve Katie helping out with the distribution of food to other students as part of a meal plan.

At most, this should be considered an extra-curricular activity, and appears to be a matter of convenience as her EA is involved in assisting with the distribution of food at that time. It should not be considered and offered as part of her education.

I have two ideas that may help with this resource problem.

A number of years ago, Katie was in Intensive Behavioural Intervention therapy. There is specialized training involved in it, called "errorless teaching." It did Katie a world of good.

This specialized training could be offered in the post secondary school system so that more students are trained to meet the needs of the growing special needs population.

My second idea is to make this training compulsory when a student is studying to become a teacher. To me, that would address the resource issue in schools today.

Debra Hughes is a special needs stay-at-home mom with a home-based business called Little Treasures by Debbie for knit and crochet items. She enjoys writing editorials on occasion.

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By love (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2015 at 22:32:45

I am an educational assistant and as someone that works front line I can tell you that this is something that bothers me to the extreme. School boards have chosen to take the inclusive route with our students, but don't have adequate amounts of supports in place to support the students that need us the most. By being "inclusive" they've actually become exclusive.

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