We have interacted with some really great school districts and teachers who have made an impact on Will and our family! I'm thankful for their work on my son's behalf. Educators really can make a difference in the life of a child with autism (or any child with special needs for that matter).
If you are an educator, I'd like to give you a parent's perspective about the best things you can do as you interact with parents of a child with autism. Here goes!
- Communicate consistently and specifically with parents. Parents of children with special needs generally want to build on what you're doing in the classroom and vice versa. We want to know what specific struggles our children are facing academically and socially so we can work with them at home. Now, we know you have lots of kids with different learning styles and paces. But we SO appreciate having consistent communication (by notes in the backpack or emails home) letting us know if there areas that need attention at home AND little successes that we can celebrate. Will's Head Start teacher would email me little stories of things he did at school and even sent pictures (I still have them all!). Because my son was not able to tell me what happened at school, her info helped me ask good questions and communicate with Will. Communication also helped in Kindergarten when Will was struggling with some concepts. The teacher let me know and I worked with him at home on it. Teachers, we hang on your words so be sure to also tell us when they're doing well! I cannot emphasize enough about communication...it is by far the most vital thing to a parent. I have determined that each year, I need to tell Will's teachers that I would like consistent communication about his individual progress and then we can set expectations for how often and how we will communicate.
- Get to know the child's story. Once again, we know you have tons of kids to know and teach. I think it's important, though, that at the beginning of the year you ask a few questions of the parents about the diagnosis, the progress they've made, what the child's struggles are, and what they're good at. Appreciate what the parents have been through and know that they care deeply about their child's progress academically and socially. Don't think they will learn like another child with autism you've had in your classroom. Showing this consideration will earn you the parents' immediate respect and partnership.
- Learn, Learn, Learn! I love when I know that Will's teachers have gone out of their way to learn about autism and ways of teaching children with autism so they can be a link in the chain of his progress.
My next post: how educators can help a child with autism in the classroom!