These two special education technicians (SET) are part of the Cégep de Sherbrooke adapted services team, where they help students with physical and learning disabilities or those with other medical conditions that might impact their studies.

The team’s counsellors assess the situation of each young adult and suggest different methods to help them access the same opportunities for success as other students. For instance, some might need a quiet space to write exams, a computer with Antidote or help taking notes, or some might need to be accompanied by a sign language interpreter. In other cases, the counsellor might suggest some personalized guidance with a specialized educator.

And that is where the adapted services team’s SETs—namely Catherine Goulet, Stéphanie Deschambault and two other colleagues—come in. They work with some 160 students. “About 70% of our interventions involve organizing their school life,” explains Catherine Goulet. “We talk about how things are going with their classes or their relationships with their teachers, we check if they’ve bought their school supplies or if they need some financial help with that. We make sure they’ve told their teachers about the measures they’re entitled to through adapted services. We can also help them break down their homework and assignments.”

A broader intervention plan

Most of the students meeting regularly with an adapted services SET are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. Intervention plans, developed in collaboration with the student, often go far beyond academic issues. “Simply mustering up the courage to ask their teacher a question can be very difficult for them,” adds Catherine Goulet. “We work very hard to help them get there.”

A SET can also be a bridge between students and the teaching staff. A person may have a hard time making eye contact and some teachers can find that upsetting, for instance. “Once we explain that their student can either look or listen to them, they respond differently.”

Starting college is a pivotal moment in students’ lives. Many are standing on their own two feet for the very first time. Stéphanie Deschambault notes that “at the elementary and secondary level, students receive excellent support. And then, overnight, they need to learn how to be adults. Renewing their health insurance card, booking a dentist appointment, taking care of their taxes, planning their schedule, managing their education... Our goal is to help them develop into self-reliant adults.”

Personalized guidance

Each student is provided personalized guidance and takes part in regular or occasional meetings with a SET. “Nothing is quite as complex as a human being. Everyone is different. Two people might have the same diagnosis, but how we help them may be different,” argues Catherine Goulet. And that means that a SET can help one student having a panic attack and help another book a quiet space for an exam.

“In our room, we have stress balls and tons of other sensory objects that students can borrow if and when they need them. We even have a Nintendo Switch—the perfect tool to foster interactions between our young patrons!”

The SETs can also help those they support better understand their own diagnosis and themselves. They can also direct them to other resources, both in and outside of the CEGEP, if need be.

An essential service

SETs have, among others, been extremely helpful throughout the pandemic, as in-person services were maintained. “We felt we were really providing an essential service,” recalls Stéphanie Deschambault. “Meetings were even more important for our students. In certain cases, we were the only person they’d see that entire week.” Special educators were able to help them weather the crisis, referring those who had lost their job to the CEGEP’s foundation for instance.

Most users of the Cégep de Sherbrooke’s adapted services have handled the health situation very well. However, being isolated was harder for those who find social interactions particularly challenging, notes Catherine Goulet. Some needed help with their concentration during online classes or to get a better handle on the different virtual tools used by their teachers.

Simply said, the work of a SET is anything but routine, and really quite stimulating. “These young adults have their whole life ahead of them. It truly is inspiring to work with them, to help them believe in their abilities and make their own decisions,” says Stéphanie Deschambault. But, above all, she and her colleague Catherine Goulet are really making a difference in the lives of these kids. What a wonderful source of motivation!