As kids head back to school, parents have their own learning curve to navigate when it comes to forging a solid relationship with their child’s teacher. This is especially true for parents of kids on the autism spectrum, who often have a whole team of teachers, therapists and other support staff involved in their education, which can make keeping everyone on the same page seem like a daunting task.
“I think the most important thing to realize is that it’s a two-way street, and both the parents and the school staff need to go in with an open mind,” says Randee Kleeman, a Speech Language Pathologist and Autism Team Member with Zionsville Community Schools. “Relationship building is so important, and there has to be effort on both sides.”
Open and regular communication between home and school is crucial to building those partnerships, experts stress, and focusing on the positives, while keeping the teacher in the know, can go a long way, too.
Indy’s Child asked autism experts from Indy-area school districts to share their best tips to help parents start the school year off right:
What can parents do right away to help lay the groundwork for a good relationship with their child’s teacher?
Kris Baker, Autism Consultant, Johnson County and surrounding schools: “It’s always helpful for the teacher to understand more about what makes each kid tick and how their autism affects their life, both positively and negatively. Request a meeting at the beginning of the year to start out that positive communication, and consider making an info sheet about your child.”
Cheryl Boucher, Occupational Therapist, Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township: “Though the student may have an IEP (Individualized Education Program) with important personal information included, share a small list of helpful info about your child such as sleep habits, eating, medications and side effects, strengths, challenges, fears and motivators.”
Kleeman: “Even if you’ve worked with this teacher and team before, there’s a lot of development that can happen over the summer. Recap for the team, and let the teacher know if you’ve been using a new system at home that’s worked for you.”
What should parents consider when setting up regular communication?
Lisa Peterson, Occupational Therapist, Brownsburg Community School Corporation: “It’s important to discuss how often the parents expect updates and how the teacher prefers to communicate. Some teachers may only be able to check their email a few times a day, so they’d rather you call, while for others, that can disrupt their day, so they’d rather communicate via email.”
Kleeman: “As a parent, don’t be afraid to tell your child’s teacher, ‘If my daughter has a good day, will you let me know that? It’s hard for me as a mom not to hear from you for three weeks, and then hear that she bit someone.’ And remember, we still have telephones! Email and texts are convenient, but some of that nonverbal communication gets lost, and feelings can get hurt.”
What kinds of things should parents bring up with their child’s teacher and team?
Baker: “We always appreciate our parents who are early to give us a heads up if something changes, like if the child is sick or is extra anxious about an upcoming dentist appointment.”
Boucher: “Depending on your child’s needs, such as limited communication, it may be helpful to take pictures at home and send to your teacher of things your family did during the summer, or take pictures over the weekend, which may help with conversation, interests, writing or reading at school.”
Kleeman: “Be really intentional about what the school is doing well, and realize that successes for your child are going to look different. Maybe staying in the classroom for ten minutes during math and then taking an iPad break is big, so let’s celebrate! Approaching staff about all the good things they’re doing and then asking about something you’re concerned about is a good way to start.”
Ready to start the new year off on the right foot? By being proactive and keeping communication open, positive and consistent, parents can help create strong relationships with their child’s teachers. For additional information, the Indiana Resource Center for Autism has a comprehensive guide to help prepare parents for the school year, including tips and printables at www.iidc.indiana.edu/index.php?pageId=3568.