It’s that time much anticipated, yet daunting time again—not just for children and parents—but teachers, therapists, school administrators, paraprofessionals and other special-needs personnel. BACK TO SCHOOL!
It’s a time when the transition from summertime freedom at home to being thrust into a host of changes in a new classroom brings up challenges for students, and we all feel it. Thankfully, while researching on how parents and their children can prepare for the new school year, I came across a gem of an article on autismawarenesscentre.com, authored by special-education veteran, Leslie Broun, M.Ed., titled, “Back to School Tips for Parents and Teachers.” I extracted three tips that I thought would be helpful to not just children and parents, but our dedicated school personnel tirelessly toiling every day in the field.
1—About Your Child
Provide the teacher with as much information about your child with regard to his or her likes and dislikes, previously successful strategies, sensory sensitivities, favorite shows, pets, family members, history of communication skills and preferred activities. It can be particularly useful if you prepare an organized document that the teacher can keep and refer to as necessary.
Although time consuming, for students who are identified as having special learning needs, it is critical to read their school records. You need to know the student’s history. Read all psychological and occupational therapy assessments making particular note of the most recent recommendations. Discuss with parents and incorporate them into the student’s program where possible. Also, spend time with your student to build a positive interaction pattern and build understanding of the teacher/student nature of your relationship.
How information is shared between school and home is an important issue. As parents, you need to determine what kind of format works for you. Note that teachers and paraprofessionals cannot spend a long time writing down everything that occurred during the day. If there is a format that was previously successful and answered your needs, share it with your child’s new teacher. Pictures are also very helpful. Teachers can use this information as a basis for conversation and communication skill development with the student. If you have concerns or you think that there is an area of difficulty, do not write about it in the communication book. Call the teacher. What we write can often be misinterpreted or blown out of proportion.
It is always helpful to keep in mind that a student with autism who has limited verbal skills or is non-verbal cannot tell their parents about their day. The communication book is their voice. Ideally, it is wonderful when we can involve the student in the home/school communication process as part of their literacy program. This may be with pictures or symbols or the printed word. With time and a consistent approach, this may increase the student’s awareness of the need to communicate information about their day to their family. Do not be overly sensitive if you receive written communication from a parent that appears to be aggressive, troubled or that suggests wrong-doing. That parent may be very stressed. Call the parent.
When Something Happens
If you are upset about a particular event or aspect of your child’s program, talk to the teacher about it. The first line of communication should always be the teacher. The teacher will probably not be able to talk on the phone during school hours. Make an appointment to talk after school. Cool off, jot down your concerns and be ready to listen.
If a parent is upset about something that has happened at school or there is an area of concern, be prepared to spend the time to discuss the issue. It is crucially important to maintain a good relationship and very often this kind of discussion yields a positive and constructive result. Be a good listener. The goal of this kind of discussion is to improve the child’s situation and to maintain an ongoing good relationship between home and school. Both parties must be careful not to jump to conclusions or have preconceived notions about what the other is thinking, feeling or doing.
I hope the above is helpful to parents and school personnel easing in to the 2019-2020 school year.