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I love to stay on a case for as long as I can. Starting a new case can be stressful! When you get a new special education case everything is different. What worked with your last few students probably won’t work with this new one. Every child on the autism spectrum is different. As SEITs it’s our job to find ways to help them grow and thrive. Today I’m going to talk about things I like to keep in mind whenever I am starting a new case.
Have you ever left a new case in tears, not knowing what to do, but just having had one of the worst sessions of your career? Please say yes, so I know it’s not just me.
In this particular instance, it was a new case. I hadn’t been working there very long. The family didn’t know me, and the student point blank refused to do anything with me. I was checking my watch every few minutes, mentally calculating how much of the session I had left to do. The panic was rising.
As I got more agitated so was the student. Then suddenly things were being thrown at me. My glasses were whipped off my face and chucked at the wall.
I ended the session and walked out the front door with basically no warning. It seemed more professional than breaking down in tears in their living room.
I hate starting new cases
I hate starting new special education cases because I usually wind up making tons of mistakes. So I’m going to get very real here, and talk about the common mistakes I make, what I’ve found works instead, and the best attitude to adopt when starting a new case.
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Three Mistakes I tend to make
- I get way ahead of myself – I am often able to get the students I’ve had for years to do some crazy things. Things they’re scared of, or things they find difficult. Because they trust me, and they know that I’m supportive and overall kind. When I’m starting a new special education case, the new kid doesn’t know me. I expect them to respond to me the way my other students do, and when they don’t, we all just end up frustrated.
- I get too worried about what other people think. – Those voices of doubt creep in when I am out of my depth. I start hearing the voices of every supervisor, every unhappy parent, and even the judgmental people on the street. I get caught up in what they would say about what I am doing and try something that does against my values and instincts. It doesn’t work. Plus students on the autism spectrum are great at figuring out your underlying emotions. If you’re upset, they’ll get upset. Make sure to stay calm and focus on what you’re actually doing at the moment.
- I forget to give the parents reasonable expectations. – Sometimes when a new SEIT comes in, especially if you’re the first one the family has ever had, they expect you to be Marry Poppins. You come in, whip out your fancy teacher bag full of resources and tricks, and everything is better before the wind changes. No. We are not miracle workers. A lot of my students have made tons of progress, but that took years. Make sure the family knows what your immediate instincts and goals are, so when you tell them how the session went, they understand what you were asking for.
So…what do I do instead?
Ultimately when you’re starting a new special education case, you need to focus on the students and getting to know them.
- Be Flexible – Not all students are the same. Take the time to learn what your new student likes. Maybe play their favorite game with them to assess what their current ability level is. Be willing to learn new strategies, techniques, and methodologies.
- First Observe – For my first hour in the home, I like to just watch. I sit and see the way the family interacts and establish the student’s likes. I take note of what I’d like to work on long-term and keep it in the back of my brain.
- Start Positive – For the first session, I like to come with some ideas from my observation about what my new student likes to do. I try to bring them something simple and fun we can do together. My goal is for them to have a good time, enjoy my company, and feel like they had a successful session.
- Make it harder slowly over time – After the successful first session, I still try to pack our sessions full of fun simple things to keep students feeling successful, so they associate me with success. As time goes on, and I feel like they trust me, I slip in a few new or harder tasks to complete. If they’re doubtful, I use the bond we’ve built to show them and help them, and I praise whatever they produce, even if it’s just effort.
- Smile and Be Respectful – This is what you should do with both the family and the student, whenever you’re starting a new special education case. Make sure to be nice and friendly with your new student so they will enjoy their sessions with you. Even if they’re nonverbal, everyone wants to have kind, caring, respectful people in their lives. Let them know you care.
The most important thing you can do is be kind and friendly towards your students and yourself. Set reasonable goals and give everyone a positive experience. You need to build up a rapport when you’re starting a new special education case.
Remember it can take time to see real growth and progress, and that’s okay. A SEIT is someone who is highly trained and specialized. If it was easy, anyone could do it.
If you need ideas on fun things to do with your students check out this blog post on fun things to do with Students on the spectrum in the summer!