HCDE Autism Conference for Teachers, Parents Builds Student Support, Inspiration

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April 23, 2021 by HCDE Communications

Teacher Nicholas Guillerman doesn’t like the implications of diagnostic labels. As a child with autism, Guillerman recounts the story of a counselor telling his mom that he would never be independent.

“He won’t be able to take care of himself,” the counselor told his mother.

Watch a recap of the 2021 Autism Event.

Today, Guillerman is a successful high school teacher in Katy ISD who boasts two degrees and eight teacher certifications. In addition to teaching engineering, he is a lead robotics coach and Black Belt martial arts instructor.

“When I look at the fact that I have no debt, am living independently and paid for graduate school completed out-of-pocket, I see myself in students who have challenges with the curriculum and otherwise, including language barriers,” Guillerman said.

The 33-year-old Katy ISD teacher shared his story with educators and parents at the annual Autism Event held April 21-22 at Harris County Department of Education. The hybrid, in-person and virtual event held with collaborators Frontiers Integrated focused on reading issues on day one and communications skills on day two. Specialists Llewelyn “Cissy” Carter and Tisha Gonzalez supplied sage instruction and research, along with take-away classroom activities.

An estimated 1 in 50 babies in our country are born with some degree of autism. HCDE’s Teaching and Learning Center continues to hold the annual conference in support of the goal to serve students with autism spectrum disorder through teachers and parents.

“Our biggest takeaway is the literacy piece as we help students move up academically,” HCDE’s Director of Special Populations Brenda Arteaga said, “Second is communications as we work to diminish behaviors that deter students from learning.”

As a former assistant principal, Arteaga observed teachers working with children along the autism spectrum and was amazed at the range of student skills.

“The teacher had to differentiate instruction for each one of those students,” she said.

Teacher JoAnna Lee works with teenagers at Academic and Behavior School (ABS) West, an HCDE school serving students with special needs from multiple area districts. Her own child, age 6, is high functioning on the autism spectrum.

Last year Lee taught a student with autism who was an avid University of Houston sports fan. As a motivator, she continued to introduce lessons with a hook to the college and invited a UH athlete to talk to her student. Eventually, the student filled out his college entrance application.

“It’s important to find out what inspires each student on the spectrum,” Lee noted.

Helping students with autism gain confidence is key as Frontiers Integrated specialist Carter provides educators with “error-less” activities which help build student confidence. Learning exercises include introducing favorite colors or cartoon characters as building blocks to controlling student understanding and interest.  Concentrating on colors and shapes and their patterns are predecessors to introducing number and letter patterns.

“Practice, practice, practice,” Carter said.

As a teacher and through his own personal experiences with autism, Guillerman urges educators to practice patience and enthusiasm with struggling students. He once inherited a student with Ds and Fs who was routinely sent to detention. The teen discovered a passion for engineering in Guillerman’s class, eventually creating professional-level designs.

“Many students struggle in the classroom, with different backgrounds,” he said. “The ones who struggle the most, ironically, often become the most skilled at their trade, over time.”

Watch an excerpt of Guillerman’s keynote address at YouTube.com/watch?v=10PEPRv2sbs.

Recordings of the two-day Autism Event are available for purchase by contacting HCDE’s Teaching and Learning Center through Arteaga: barteaga@hcde-texas.org. For future workshops, access the HCDE website at hcde-texas.org.

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