Occupational therapists. Physical therapists. Speech therapists. Teachers and resource staff.
For parents of children with special needs, it can be a full-time job keeping up with all the people who need to know what’s happening with your child. So how can you have everyone on the same page while maintaining your sanity? Regular, simple communication is a good start, experts say.
“The more communication, the better,” says Gillian Johnson, autism consultant with the Metropolitan School District of Pike Township, where the Pike Autism Network keeps parents up to date with regular emails and quarterly support group informational meetings. “We do a lot to promote that collaboration between staff and parents,” she says. “We want that open communication because parents help provide us with the whole picture of the child.”
A good way to open the lines of communication with therapists or teachers is to simply offer your honest observations about your child, says Kelly Donley, the founder and CEO of I Can We Can Pediatric Therapy, which coordinates a variety of therapy options, counseling services and adaptive programs for children with special needs across Indy. “Be open and honest and share what you’re seeing at home,” she says. “Then you can ask the therapist or teacher, ‘What do you observe are my child’s challenges?’ It will help you both understand if the child’s challenges are consistent, or if they’re struggling with A at school and B at home, which might change your approach.”
Encourage team communication
It’s also essential that all members of a child’s team, including outside therapists who don’t regularly interact like members of a school team would, be in the loop about your child’s path and progress.
Donley says she’s seen great success with using technology to keep everyone connected. She suggests parents use group email to send everyone updates at the same time. Important documents, such as your child’s treatment plan and a list of services they receive can be easily accessible yet still secure with services such as Google Drive or Dropbox.com.
“When your child is in multiple therapies, but team members aren’t communicating, it’s possible they could be using conflicting methods without realizing it,” Donley warns. “It’s like teaching long division – there are so many different ways to teach it, and if your child is learning one way at school and you’re teaching a different way at home, you’re just backtracking and confusing the child.”
Johnson agrees that it’s beneficial for school staff to know about outside therapies, techniques and progress a child is making. Regularly sharing that information also encourages more parent engagement and discussions about the child outside of a yearly case conference, she says. “It’s helpful for us to know how things are going at other therapies and at home. It’s our goal to make Pike as welcoming and open a district as possible, and we want to provide families with as many supports and resources as we can.”
Get everyone together
If you’re interested in taking open communication one step further, Donley suggests parents broach the idea of getting the entire team together in person once or twice a year.
“You don’t hear about people doing this, but I know some who have, and they’ve said it’s a great experience,” says Donley. “Even if you just bring up the idea, I think we’re learning that you have to take a team approach, and an in-person meeting could be one part of it. A lot of teachers and therapists would love to have parents who are that engaged.”
The Indiana Resource Center for Autism has several helpful articles on the team approach, including how to develop your child’s Circle of Support: iidc.indiana.edu/pages/creating-a-circle-of-support