Autism, which affects thought, perception and attention, is a broad spectrum of disorders that ranges from mild to severe. If an infant does not cuddle, make eye contact or respond to affection and touching, or have abnormal responses to a combination of senses; such as hearing, balance, smell, taste and reaction to pain, parents should be seriously concerned.
This lack of responsiveness may be accompanied by an inability to communicate appropriately, and by a persistent failure to develop two-way social relationships. The language skills may be poor, even nonexistent, sometimes repeating words or phrases in place of normal language or using gestures and pointing instead of words. In addition, the child may show unusual or extreme responses to objects, either avoidance or preoccupation. Another feature of autism is a tendency toward repetitive activities of a restrictive range, like spinning and rhythmic body movements.
Parents play a vital role in their child's education. They are equal partners in the team that develops their child's IEP and they care deeply how their sons or daughters learn and grow. In the course of their child's education, parents may interact with a large number of professionals. Being able to work effectively with different professionals, exchanging ideas concerns and openly communicating about what's working and what's not, are all important elements in their child's educational success.
Remember that, as a parent, you know your child best and have the greatest investment in him or her. You need to diplomatically but strongly advocate for your child.
- Develop relationships with the teachers who work with your child.
- Get information, and know your options.
- Remember that the people you are working with also care for your child.
- You need to be credible and informed to have people listen to and respect what you say. Be sure to learn what your rights are.
- Be aware that parents have a lot of power. Don't wait for two months to check in for results. If something is not resolved quickly, work on it. Teachers don't always have as much leverage as you think. You may be able to help your child's teacher resolve something much faster. Work as a team.
- Remember that working with the school can a very emotional, personal process, because this is your child. It's very easy to feel defensive. Try to describe your needs in behavioral terms, not emotional terms.
- Keep things in perspective: Ask yourself, "Is what my child is doing typical for his age group, or does his behavior have to do with his disability?" Encourage those who work with your child to do so, too.
- Know that everything you do is not written in stone. You can change things. Just because you decided something at the end of June doesn't mean you have to do it for the next year. You can change it at the end of October if it's not working. You can call the committee back and ask to reevaluate the situation.
- Remember to think of your child first. The disability is just part of who your child is. Remind people of your child's strengths. Encourage teachers to praise him or her.
- Ask the teacher to have your child be in the helper position at times, not always the one being helped.
- Encourage a work ethic at home. Put value on those traits that promote success in school: responsibility, consequences for behavior, organization, and punctuality. Jobs at home translate into expectations. A sense of cooperation and self-worth follow.
- If you are not sure about how to talk with teachers, connect with other parents. It's like an adult buddy system. Talk to other parents about what they are doing. You can get a parent advocate to work with you someone who's gone through what you're going through.
- Communication the most important thing to do is to establish open communication. Try to be non-threatening. You can make friends and get what you need.
- Look at yourself closely to identify habits or attitudes that interfere with effective communication or your being taken seriously.
- Be sure to communicate any concerns or ideas right away, over the phone or with a note, while the discussion can be relatively casual. By communicating early, you can avoid becoming angry and frustrated; by intervening early, you can avoid a situation growing into a bigger problem or crisis.
- One very effective way to keep communication open is to use log books. The teachers (and others who are working with your child) write in these each day and send them back home with the child. The parent reads what the teacher writes and responds and sends the book back with the child. These are especially effective with non-verbal children. It keeps the communication open between parent and teacher. Plus, sometimes writing to a teacher makes it easier to communicate an idea in the way that you want to express it.
- Inform teachers immediately of any unusual circumstances occurring at home. A stressed child cannot attend to task, often exhibits disruptive behavior, or may simply space out. Teachers may misread the signs. Examples range from divorce to a sick grandmother to a new baby. Each student has a very different response to these life changes.
- Creative Problem Solving.
- In order to get your point across or convince people to try something they might not be inclined to do, be positive and enthusiastic. Be very upfront and give them factual information about your child's needs to alleviate their fears. Explain the reasons you want something done, then suggest ways to do it.
- Keep experimenting. You never know what will work.
- Ask that your child participate in everything, even at a modified level of activity.
- Convince people to try new activities or approaches before disqualifying them, even if it's for a trial time of one month.
- If you feel that decisions are being made without you, call and ask to be included in discussions. You can suggest a "pre" IEP meeting to talk about some of your ideas and what your goals and the goals of your child are. This is especially helpful for meetings that involve therapists and/or both special and general education staff. By talking before the meeting with the specific people who are responsible for your areas of concern, you can structure the formal meeting so it goes smoothly and so the entire group can sign off with only one meeting.
- Make a list of things you want to say before you go to a meeting and take it with you.
- When you meet, give yourself plenty of time to discuss important issues.
- Bring someone with you to the meeting for moral support your spouse, a friend, a sibling.
- Good Parent-Teacher Relations.
- Write letters or make calls to say thank you when things are going well. It's always a good idea to let educators know about successes, especially those that occur outside of school. For really successful occurrences, send a copy of your letter to the principal or supervisor, so he or she, too, will know wha a great job your child's teacher is doing.
- Even if you don't agree with the methods that are being used, if your child is improving, recognize it.
- Maintain a "we" attitude. Ask how "we" can work together to solve a given problem.
- Write articles to the local paper about one of your child's success stories. It's good for the school, the teacher, and your child.
- If you're part of a parent group, consider inviting teachers and/or administrators to a meeting every now and again. They are probably curious about what parent groups talk about and would appreciate being included in discussions. Their perspectives are often very enlightening, and they may have concerns that never occurred to the parents. Remember, inclusion isn't only for kids.
- Work on creating a good relationship with all the people who work with your child. Be open to sharing information about your child.
- Be willing to take part. Volunteer to help out with things. Be as involved as possible.
- Remember people at the end of each year. Little notes or gifts of thanks will be very appreciated by those who receive them.
- Support the people who work with your child even when things aren't going as well. Encourage them to keep trying, that tomorrow will be better, and how you appreciate their efforts on your child's behalf.