Neither parenting nor teaching a child with autism is an easy task. Success in both areas relies on a collaborative effort between parents and special education teachers. An important part of this collaboration is communication.
Scheduled parent-teacher conferences, IEP meetings and progress reports are ways in which school systems periodically communicate with parents. However, due to the nature of autism spectrum disorders, it is more important to have an open communication line between educators and parents at all times.
Is there a single best way to achieve this goal? Unfortunately, no. What may work for one parent or one teacher may not work for another. Finding the best system that works for one particular parent and one particular teacher is really up to those individuals; what follows is merely tips and suggestions for ways in which schools and parents can work together to ensure the best education for an autistic child.
All teachers, not just those in special education, welcome and appreciate parental involvement. But it seems more imperative for parents of special needs students to be actively involved in their child’s daily education. Since communication between a teacher and an autistic child is often difficult, teachers must rely on parental input.
For instance, it could be helpful to special education teachers to know more about each child’s behavior outside the classroom. Did he/she have a good or bad morning? Does the child normally sleep well? Did the child display any behavioral issues at home that were out of the ordinary for that particular child? This type of information can be vital to how a teacher will approach the child each day.
Communication can be in the form of a written note sent with the child, an email, a text message or a phone call. Perhaps weekly meetings or conferences can be set up in which parents and teachers can go over recent issues or challenges.
This can help to prevent what might have been a small issue from snowballing into a major problem. Parents should leave nothing out of this communication process. What seems insignificant or trivial to a parent could prove to be crucial information for a teacher.
Just as important as parental communication, special education teachers should strive to keep parents in the know when it comes to behavioral or other issues in the classroom.
Teachers should make themselves available for weekly phone calls or face-to-face conferences. Keeping a written account of a child’s activities and outbursts is a good way to prepare for these meetings.
It could even be suggested that some meetings take place in the child’s home. It might help the teacher to observe the student in his or her home environment, and it might help the child feel more at ease and open up to the teacher when in a more comfortable setting. This type of meeting might have a positive effect when the child is in the classroom.
Wherever meetings take place, it’s important to remember that communication should not reflect simply on negative issues. If a child has made significant progress or displayed improved behavior, then by all means this should be conveyed. While it may seem that conferences should be arranged only to discuss a downward trend in behavior or academic performance, positive changes can certainly be the basis for a meeting or phone call.
It can be most helpful, according to the National Association of Special Education Teachers, for parents to be supplied with handouts during a meeting or conference. This way, parents have a reference rather than trying to remember everything that was discussed.