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Latisha Tran

she/her
Science › Biomedical Physiology + Kinesiology › Biomedical Physiology
Co-operative Education › Local Co-op

Position Title
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"It was interesting being able to take a year off of school, to work at school, for school. The best part? Becoming friends with one very special student, who I will always remember for singing “the ball is stuck in the tree.”
Experience Details
Semester
Fall
Year
2021
2022
Preparation
Previous Experience

Apart from strong collaboration and communication skills, the job description recommended that the applicant had experience working with autism or with children. I had a very limited range of experience working with children, so I felt a little nervous about sending that application. However, since Co-op is all about getting out of your comfort zone and gaining new skills and experiences, I just went for it—best impulsive decision ever!

Preparation

I did a bit of research about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and some of the current areas of therapy or teaching practices in this field. This gave me a general idea of what it would be like working with an individual with ASD. It also helped me prepare for my interview, as it is always a good idea to expect questions relating to the nature of the job. I also made sure I knew the core values of the organization and spent lots of time practicing how to answer questions with the STAR principle.

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

I spent a month training at the client’s home. Most of this time was to become familiar with the client—the student diagnosed with ASD—and to learn how to run trials from the student’s applied behaviour analysis (ABA) program. Once school started, the first week felt challenging because it was a new experience not only for me, but also for the student, the home team, and the school team. For additional context, this student had a gap year before kindergarten due to the pandemic. After a year where everything was shut down, and everyone was isolated from each other, it was inevitable to see how quickly the student was overloaded from the various sensory inputs in this new environment. As a result, I spent a few more weeks at school learning how to help the student regulate themself.

Day to Day

Every morning, I organize my collection of visual cue cards that represent certain activities in the school routine. Throughout the day, I clap my hands to draw the student’s attention to the visual, state the prompt, and help the student transition between each activity. The school routine usually goes in the order of outside time, ABA program, snack/lunch, and bathroom. I may also bring the student to the exercise area to do some stretching activities if the student seems unregulated during learning trials. Materials for learning trials come from the class. Thus, morning check-ins with the kindergarten teacher became a great way to find activities appropriate for the student’s current abilities.

Learning and Adaptation

The first few months were a learning curve. Due to my lack of experience, and the big and rapid changes in this student’s life, I had to learn how to de-escalate challenging behaviours that resulted from internal dysregulation and emotional distress. Fortunately, my coworkers were always on standby if I needed help, and my supervisors always answered my questions. I was also provided adequate training from professionals in behavioural therapy for those stressful situations. The rest of the time, I applied what I learned when the opportunity came. With more practice, I began to understand how to anticipate certain behaviours, and I became better at handling them.

Accomplishments and Challenges

There were a lot of moments where the student would feel overwhelmed, and I had to learn how to de-escalate situations in a calm manner.  Fortunately, after a lot of collaborative effort from the school and from outside professionals, we all came up with strategies to help ease the transition to school. This includes the creation of a specialized school routine, implementation of visual cues and reinforcement, etc. Once there was a flow in this newly established system, I was able to start teaching the student’s ABA program, and help the student master specific skills, in preparation for classroom independence.

Reflection & Tips
Connection to Academic Studies or Career Goals

Many of the principles behind this student’s ABA program have sparked my interest in behavioural neuroscience and psychological theories. In terms of career goals, I can see how this experience could lead one into the field of occupational therapy, physiotherapy, or behavioural therapy.

Reflection

It feels somewhat bittersweet that my time with this student is over. I saw this student overcome the fear of this unknown world called 'school' through a journey of highs and lows. The student started school not wanting to try new things and was displaying a lot of difficult behaviours in protest. Yet, with time and consistent effort, this student now excitedly comes to school with a bright smile on their face—sometimes, not wanting to leave home time!

This student has taught me how to be empathetic and patient towards those with cognitive disabilities, specifically ASD, in addition to many other skills that have allowed me to problem solve under pressure, clearly communicate with others, and establish genuine personal connections. This has also solidified my passion for children, as well as child growth and development. I want to pursue a career that involves working with children or youth, and one that allows me to have a connection as their one-to-one support.

Advice for Future Students

Even if you do not meet all the requirements, submit that application! Ask lots of questions for clarification, and have an open mindset to try new things. Also, do not be afraid to ask for help or additional support. Establishing a support system at work can be a great way to avoid burnout, enrich the Co-op experience, and create long-lasting professional relationships.