One of the biggest issues facing our children happens to be that the educators charged with educating them do not know how. Most of them have been taught how to teach children with dyslexia, ADD, NVLD, processing issues, OCD (here)and even dyscalculia. But they do not know how to access the autistic brain. At this point you need to guide and engage the teacher, the principals, and the school district and make it a positive thing for them that they open up to teaching and understanding your child and listening to you about that.
Have your child teach their classmates
Get the school to let your child teach their classmates about their autism. One of the nicest things that was done for Highschoolboy, was that in fourth grade he, with the help of a special education teacher, prepared a power point presentation for his class all about aspergers. Of course it was very basic, but sufficient to get the point across about who HSB was and why. So not only did the children learn about autism, but HSB learned about his own disability. He understood himself alot better. Did it make a difference in his world? I think it did. The reason being that the other students understood why he did what he did; that he was not being difficult on purpose and they knew that he was basically a nice kid with issues. I think this presentation had a hand in why no one picked on him and he was not bullied. Even in middle school the students took it upon themselves to make sure he was treated nicely. Because of that HSB is probably one of the few children with aspergers who, so far, has not been bullied in school. His experience is very different than collegeman’s. Is a class presentation a guarantee? No, but it’s worth a shot.
Sit down with the teachers
A lot of teachers think they understand autism because they have taught one autistic child. They need to be made to understand that every autistic child is different. Even if they have the same co-morbid issues it doesn’t mean theses issues manifest themselves the same in each child. A good teacher understands that every child learns differently and that goes double for those with disabilities.Try to explain to the teacher your child’s learning style, be it visual, tactile or auditory.
Another thing that I would do periodically is to bring the teachers books. I know that this is expensive, but the district usually will not buy new books and the teachers don’t make that much money. So if there was a new book out on the market, one that spoke directly to one of the boys’ issues I would purchase a copy for the teacher’s library at school. It was always appreciated. It helped my boys. It also helped those that came after them.
Now, there may also be a time that the teacher just will never get it. We have had our share of those too. As long as the school doesn’t fault your child you don’t have a problem. Unfortunately though there are teachers who will not admit they made a mistake or don’t know what they are doing. Case in point HSB’s English regent’s exam: HSB’s case manager, who was also the English special educator, kept telling us they were preparing him for the test. They were teaching him to write the essays the way they should be written on the test. Now if I am told that he is being properly prepared then I tend to believe them. He needed to write more they said. They said they were teaching him to do that. Well, no they weren’t. Telling him to just write more doesn’t work. She never taught him how to figure it out. Even if she showed him once, that is never enough. How to accomplish the goal of writing is something that constantly needed to be taught over and over and over. Needless to say he passed but just barely. It really was very unfair to him. Nothing we can really do at this point. Just move on. The case manager was oblivious. Sometimes you too can do just so much.
Teachers are people too
Another thing I would do is remember the teachers at Christmas time. I know that when they were younger there was always a class present for Christmas and the end of the year. But I always bought something a little extra for the teacher from us. I don’t think it is so bad to acknowledge that your child does take extra work and extra time. It is a way to say thank you. An extra nice box of chocolate or a bottle of wine doesn’t hurt. I would even give the specials teachers (art,music,gym) and the therapists something. No one ever remembers them. In the high school because you can’t give presents to individual subject teachers, it’s considered a bribe, I bring in a tray of cookies or special treats. This year I bought chocolate covered pretzels. I also give something to the school psychologist who works with HSB and his guidance counselor who takes extra time with me figuring out his schedule and working on his College Board applications. What I also do is give the aide a present, usually a gift card. They are the ones truly responsible on a constant basis for your child and I know my boys can and could be a handful. Many parents don’t do this. They say it’s the teacher’s job to teach, to guide, to provide therapy, to support your child in class. Yes it is. But it never hurts to be gracious. Some of the nicest gifts I have found at BJs or Costco. The gifts don’t have to be a budget buster. It is the thought that counts. It’s really just a recognition that teachers are people too.
Rules are rules
Remember the school provides your child with an education. The school teaches behavior, and social skills. The teachers provide social stories, charts, organization, behavioral intervention, resource room, and appropriate goals. The school therapists provide OT, PT, speech, counseling, and maybe even a "circle of friends." At some point when everything appropriate is in play then you have to make sure that your child follows the rules. There may come a time when your child gets in trouble. Hopefully in these situations the school will take a kinder view of punishment. They will work up to the biggies. Hopefully if you have a good working relationship with the school, this is when it will show itself. Hopefully the school understands that your child needs to be taught in increments, even when punishment is concerned. But they do need to learn the rules and that they do apply to them. I would say at this time, make sure to pick your battles. It is truly a judgment call.
Sometimes these ideas work and sometimes they don’t. Nothing is full proof. But more often than not I have found that when you treat those charged with educating your child with respect they do listen to you and your concerns. Ultimately, of course, when everyone works together, it is your child who benefits.
Until next time,