Janet Mino, a special education teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Newark, NJ won the hearts of autism families when she appeared in the PBS documentary, Best Kept Secret. The documentary features Mino and four autistic minority students who are about to “age out” of the school system.
As their high school graduation rapidly approaches, Mino is determined to help these young men find appropriate placements so they can continue to grow, learn, and be as independent as possible. I was honored to get some insight from Mino on how parents like me can prepare our autistic children for adulthood.
BMWK: Ms. Mino, I am honored to be speaking to you. What are the chances that I would get your number from a friend who ran into you at The Lion King on Broadway?
Janet Mino: (laughs) I know right?
BMWK: How did you get your start in special education?
Janet Mino: I have been in special education for 20 years. I’m a parent and I didn’t know anything about autism. The first student who I worked with was in preschool. I remember helping him say his first word and I fell in love with him. This was at the Sawtelle Learning Center.
BMWK: What advice can you give to parents of young children with autism to help them prepare for when their child ages out of the school system?
Janet Mino: I know it’s hard but you have to come together and fight. If you don’t fight, they won’t get anything. I feel for the parents. Go to your IEP meetings and go with someone else. Demand that they start training in middle school. Build on something they can do. Even on the lower end of the spectrum there is something. Those IEP meetings are so important. Change up the IEP. Try something different. Don’t focus on the same skill if he isn’t progressing. Teach the same concepts but you have to modify.
For younger children, Early Intervention is important. In EI, if they can, go to a typical class with an aide. Put them in different activities. Expose them to things not just those for autistic children. I love ABA but sometimes it can make them robotic. They don’t want to be in discrete trials all day. Even though they are five-years old with autism, they are still five. Kids love helping kids. Typical kids can learn a lot from autistic kids.
BMWK: What advice can you give to parents of children who are about to age out?
Janet Mino: Even after 21, still find ways to build them up. They need support. Plan early.
BMWK: What do you think is the most crucial issue that needs to be addressed when it comes to individuals with autism aging out?
Janet Mino: Once they’re adults, they should experience living without their parents if they are able to. They have to really work on assisted living programs for those who can.
BMWK: What is the advantage of an autistic person being in an assisted living facility?
Janet Mino: It makes them more independent. It gives them a choice. We don’t want to put limits on them. Just because they’re autistic, that doesn’t mean they want us in their face all the time. When our kids are growing up, we think of them leaving home. The same can be for autistic children. I know my kids, even though some may be nonverbal, they still show me when they don’t want me in their face.
BMWK: How are things coming along for the nonprofit you plan to open… the Valentine Center?
Janet Mino: I am excited about it. I am working on my 501 (c)(3). I am also working on funding. It will be designed for the whole spectrum.
BMWK: Can people find your center online to get more information?
Janet Mino: Yes we have a Web site: http://www.valentinecenter.org/
BMWK: Parents of children with autism were deeply touched by your dedication to your students. I do not think there was a dry eye in the room. Is there anything you would like to tell them?
Janet Mino: I know it’s hard for you parents but keep fighting. Once you all come together, you can move mountains. Call your congress man. The journey is worth it. Your child is worth it. God does not make junk. It doesn’t matter where you are on the spectrum.
Mino’s sincerity and compassion for autism families was apparent as we spoke. She strongly believes that parents also need help and support. Her dedication to her students and children with autism everywhere was obvious throughout our conversation. Interviewing her was indeed an honor.
Check Janet Mino out in the PBS documentary, Best Kept Secret and stay tuned for the opening of the Valentine Center in New Jersey.
How are you preparing your child with autism for life after school?
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