Parents of autistic children want the same things other parents want for their typically developing children. We want our kids to learn, grow, and be nurtured in a quality school with good teachers. We also want our children to have the supports necessary to give them equal footing (to the extent possible) in the classroom.
Although there are federal and state laws in place to guarantee the rights of our children to receive free appropriate education in the least restrictive environment, most people would be surprised to know how much support varies from one school district to another.
While we hammer out the details of the IEP for our kids each year, we know the truth is that success often hinges on how capable and willing the teacher is to teaching our children in a way that respects their differences.
Special needs parents talk to each other a LOT, and there are some universal truths that we want teachers to know.
1. We don’t punish our child when we he gets a math problem wrong. Please don’t punish him for making mistakes with social skills and behavior. Help him learn those skills in a positive way, not a punitive way.
2. Just because you’ve heard of Temple Grandin or John Elder Robison doesn’t mean you know everything you need to know about autism. Parents can offer a wealth of knowledge and resources, so try and be receptive.
3. I know you’re very busy managing the needs of all the children in your class. I realize that my child’s needs are sometimes greater than those of other children. If you communicate with me frequently, I can help you make things more manageable.
4. Behavior is communication. Instead of reacting, take a moment and figure out what is being communicated by the behavior.
5. If you feel the need to tell me that my child argues with you or speaks to you like you’re equals, then you don’t know enough about autism yet. Ditto if you tell me my child was playing in the bathroom sink.
6. Read the IEP and behavior plan and follow them. Parents agonize over getting the supports right for our children and we don’t appreciate IEP violations. Neither do your administrators.
7. Try and remember that we are utterly exhausted and often feel like a giant, exposed nerve. We know we shouldn’t have to fight to get our kids the supports they need in school, yet we end up doing it year after year.
8. We know the value of a good teacher more than anyone, and we will bring you gifts throughout the year to keep you happy.
9. We also know pretty quickly if we’re dealing with a teacher that isn’t inclined to do more than absolutely necessary to help our child learn. It will be a long, unpleasant year for you.
10. Our children are much more sensitive and aware than you may think they are. We would really appreciate it if you can help them feel accepted and part of the group, instead of different.
There are so many talented, caring teachers out there, but there are just as many who aren’t as knowledgeable about autism and special needs as they could be. Parents want to work with you to make it a successful year. A big part of that is respecting our child’s differences and understanding that they don’t have to be like everyone else to be valued.
Make no mistake, there is a lot of effort and learning involved in supporting our kids. But most parents will make it worth your while by plying you with coffee, cookies, and Target gift cards.
My kid was arguing with another student in class and instead of doling out punishment you distracted him and redirected him to something else? I really hope you like brownies.
If parents and teachers engage in a partnership of learning, we can help make every year successful for our kids. Remember that they’re working hard just to get through the day and they need to trust that you will help support them. We need to trust that, too.