Elena Ghionis, CAS
City/State: Spartanburg, South Carolina
School/Organization: District 7 / McCarthy Teszler School
1) How has earning the Certified Autism Specialist been meaningful and satisfying?
I have worked with children with ASD for 19 years. I have now worked in a few different countries and speak several languages. The number of cases of children with ASD is increasing all over the world. If you know someone with the ASD, it doesn’t matter where you are from, or which language you speak because autism has the same features all over the world. CAS provides the right to serve the children and adults with ASD professionally. CAS gives me the authority to bring the newest research and methods of teaching to the classroom. It is necessity to train professionals in autism in the USA as well as internationally. The Certified Autism Specialist Credential exemplifies my education, working experience in this field and highlights my professional knowledge and qualifications.
2) How has the CAS credential effect your professional growth?
CAS has vastly improved my professional growth.
I was the first CAS in South Carolina. I’m working for Spartanburg District 7 at McCarthy-Teszler School. Our school serves students with special needs from the entire county (Districts 1 thought 7). My job includes serving students with ASD in our school and students who are struggling from the entire county. Also in our school I have provided staff development training for the special education teachers and staff. Last year I founded the Autism Consortium for the teachers and professionals from the entire county which was hosted by McCarthy Teszler School. This year we have grown a little bit bigger, and two more counties joined us. We are meeting every month; I provide workshops and we are discussing the latest research on autism and practical solutions for teachers to use on a daily basis; strategies for working with students in the classroom, and behavior management. We also are working on case studies and sharing our experiences with each other. The result of this consortium is that parents have become very interested in participating. They are like no one else dealing with autism 24/7. They need support, encouragement and knowledge to make their live easier. This year we started the Autism Consortium for Parents, Families, and Caregivers. We are meeting every other month, providing support and training for them.
I traveled during the summer. I visited Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (Central Asia). I was able to use my CAS and provide International workshops for the professionals, and consult with parents of children with ASD. In Kyrgyzstan I helped in developing services for children with ASD. The families were included in these services.
3) What changes need to be made in your work environment?
I work for an exemplary District and school. We have highly trained professionals and I’m proud to be part of my school family. I think that our school can become the training center for professionals who work with students with ASD from the USA, as well as internationally. I would love to see that.
4) How do you like to be recognized, acknowledged and rewarded for a job well done?
The best recognition for me is a thank you note from parents or teachers who visited my workshop, or those I was able to help. The best reward in my job is my student’s eye contact and smile. Acknowledgment of success is to receive an email where the professionals ask for training. Many are ready to fly across half of the world to receive knowledge which I can provide. One of my students wrote me last year “Ms. Elena, Thank you for your wonderful job, thank you for helping my parents to understand me, you are a great person”. What can be more rewarding than that?
5) What is your greatest challenge or roadblock?
There is a lack of time. I’m very busy. I understand that I cannot help every child with autism, his teachers or family. But I’m trying to reach as many students, their families and teachers as possible in our state, and outside of the United States.
6) What makes you feel like a valuable contributor?
After my workshop, teachers or parents share with me their needs and ask my opinion. I can help because I know the answer! This is what makes me valuable. When I’m seeing a student with ASD struggling and I can help him to be successful, it makes me valuable. After I’m absent, upon my return to work I see my school family, who missed me. My students value me because I can help to make a difference in their lives.
7) What support, tools/resources, skills or empowerment do you need to be more effective?
My school supports me and provides me with tools/ resources I need. I think to become more effective I need to participate not only in American professional groups and societies, but also be part of International organizations. I need to be up to date on world issues and have access to the latest research and methods of teaching in other countries, especially when I speak the languages.
8) What strengths or talents do you possess that aren’t being used?
I’m trying to use my strengths to achieve everyday goals. What talent I don’t use? I love to write and would love to see my first professional book in English published soon. This talent I need to use.
9) What de-motivates you?
Nothing! I’m one of those people who never give up. Autism is all around us, we have no time to be de-motivated by anything. We can help children with autism to achieve in our world. If we encourage them to let us into theirs, we need to be motivated to do so.