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My Name Is... Shelby Harrigan

Instructional aide at school for children with autism


About me

I’m from Toledo, Ohio. I’m 26, and I’ve been here a little over a year.

I moved away from Ohio because I had a midlife crisis and wanted to be somewhere new. I have relatives out here, so my family came out here all the time anyway.

Colorado is one of those places where if you’re bored, you’re boring. There’s always something to do.

I never hated Toledo. I was just in a weird spot in my life, and if I end up back there I won’t consider it a failure. It’s a smallish Midwestern town. In the last 10 years they got a hockey team and a concert venue. There’s a downtown now. It’s like a Nashville or an Ann Arbor.

Teaching and learning

I’m an instructional aide at the Joshua School, a school for kids with autism. I’ve been full-time for two weeks, but I’ve been a substitute since August. It’s a one-on-one teacher to student ratio. The kids have varying levels of needs — it’s all developmental disabilities, but mostly autism.

As a sub, I would go in and try to learn a child’s individual goals and behaviors really quickly — what their short- and long-term goals are. It was stressful to have a different kid every day, and children with autism don’t always respond well to new people. Being full-time, I can learn about my kids much more in-depth.

I graduated from Bowling Green State University with a bachelor’s in communication disorders. Ideally that would fit into speech pathology, but I didn’t get into grad school, so I’m doing this for now.

Helping kids

I’ve never felt pulled to the special education field, but it’s the easiest place to get a job with my degree. Being there makes me feel like if I can do it, I should do it as long as possible because these kids need so much help. The teachers there are working so hard. If I’m able to push through and do a year, or two, or 17, I need to do that. I never realized how understaffed and underpaid the special education field is. These teachers do and give everything they can.

Saying it’s fulfilling sounds cliché, but it’s true. I tell people what I do for a living and I feel pretty cool.

If you have suggestions for My Name Is ..., please contact David Gilbert at dgilbert@coloradocommunitymedia.com.


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