Juan Bustos was nominated by his colleague, Tina Hickman.
Mr. Bustos works with students who have severe autism. In his role, successes come in small doses, a trickle at a time. Mr. Bustos never loses his positive outlook on what his students are capable of doing, and he never gives up on any student. The world is a scary place for students with autism, since things can change suddenly, whether they're receiving too much information in the form of flashing lights or sirens, or they're hyper-aware of someone wearing a particularly orange shirt.
Mr. Bustos has established a very safe environment for his students. He uses visual schedules to provide a consistent daily routine, and he tries to prepare his students for occasional changes in routine. Mr. Bustos uses positive reinforcement with his students when they complete an assignment or successfully respond to an unusual situation, and the reward depends on what works with that particular student. The task varies depending upon the individual abilities of the student. Some students are great sorters, and they get to sort by color, by size, or however they need to.
Many students in middle school are anxious about standing out or appearing “different," and teens with autism are no different. However, certain occurrences bother them, like the shrillness of a fire drill or the roar of chatter in the lunch room. Mr. Bustos uses a variety a strategies, including sensory time, visual schedules, pictures, and proximity control, to instruct his students in social behaviors expected of middle school students. By establishing consistent routines and practicing every week, Mr. Bustos’ students are able to walk quietly out of the building with the other students during fire drills. They are calm, even with all of the noise. For those few moments, those students look no different than their peers. That adds to the positivity of the school environment.
It’s easy to tell when a student with autism feels safe. They relax, smile, and take the initiative to pull pictures out of their communication book and form a sentence to communicate their needs. They may use their communication device to ask you to sing them a song. Sometimes, they even give hugs. These students know that Mr. Bustos has their back, and that they can count on him, no matter what.