Interview with Heather May on Poison Control





About Heather May
M.Ed. General Curriculum
Endorsements: Autism Spectrum Disorders and ESOL


I’ve had 18 years of teaching experience with students with ASD. As an ESE teacher, I started my teaching career in North Carolina at a public separate school. I was a teacher in NC for 13 years in which I taught elementary aged students with autism who needed the most intensive services offered on the education continuum. In 2016, our family moved to Florida, where I taught at a public school for one year in a classroom for students with mild-moderate disabilities. After that year, I moved to a public separate school in St. Augustine, Florida where I currently work for the past 5 years.

As an educator, what do you feel are the biggest concerns right now regarding poison control at school?

As an educator, I feel the biggest concern right now regarding poison control at school is educating both the students and the parents in the topic of poison control to help in the area of prevention. Educators can play an important role in educating their students about poison prevention. Young students are at greatest risk for unintentional poisonings, but schools are not focused on issues like poison control. Instead, there is a push for academics, leaving little, if any time for educating students about poisons. I also believe that it is important to get parents and other adults involved in this topic of poison control and to provide a safe environment at home.


What are the unique challenges that children in Exceptional Student Education face in terms of poison control and preventing accidental injury and/or death?

Most of my students with ASD struggle with safety skills. They lack the understanding of how dangerous it is to ingest poisonous substances and medications, and they often do not understand the ramifications of their actions. My students need direct instruction and visual supports to begin to grasp the idea of what a poison is. Most have difficulty with the comprehension of language, communication deficits, lack of social/environmental awareness, and difficulty with generalization. If it is taught at school, some students will have difficulty transferring this new skill of identifying poisons to other environments such as at home. Some of my students also constantly eat and/or mouth objects.


What are measures that you feel educators and families can take to ensure the safety of all children?

Measures I feel educators and families can take to ensure the safety of all children is to be proactive. It is important to address the safety skills and teach the skill both to students and parents. Some prevention techniques could include removing poisons from the house or classroom and securing them in a locked area, labeling all potential poisons with same label and teach to this label, locks on cabinets – in the house and in the classroom, and establishing areas of the classroom and home as off limits. It is important for educators to know that students with autism can be taught important safety skills. It may have to be taught a different way such as video modeling or role-playing, but it is an important skill for all students. Students with ASD can respond appropriately to safety signs (e.g., does not touch items with Poison and tells an adult).