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10 Things Parents of Children with Autism Wish Teachers Knew

I want to be your partner. It absolutely takes a village to raise a child and you and I are in the same village. I know how busy you are and how dedicated you to are teaching our children. Let me help make it easier for you by sharing with you simple ways to help my son.
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school boy is writing
school boy is writing

1. I'm sorry.
I will be saying this to many of you many times over the next 10 years... probably weekly. And I really am.

  • I'm sorry because I'm the reason he's in your class. I fought for him to be mainstreamed because all of the doctor's and specialists told me that being in a least restrictive environment among peer models would be best for his development.

  • I'm sorry because I know that you aren't trained for this.
  • I'm sorry because I know you'll have 25 kids in your class, all with different abilities, and you're going to have pay special attention to my son.
  • I'm sorry for every day he acts out or hurts another child or melts down in your classroom.
  • I'm sorry because I don't have all the answers.
  • 2. I am my child's advocate.
    Before I even knew what autism really was, I was directed to the IDEA and told to fight. Before I fully comprehended what perseveration or stimming or what near senses were, I was in meetings with the school, the IDEA printed and 3-hole punched and highlighted.

    I fought.

    I got what the experts said my child needed but I got it at the expense of relationships with the school. I realized that a collaborative relationship was much more advantageous to all of us than a contentious one.

    I no longer fight. I advocate. But my son is going to be in this system for a long time and I want all of us to work together for his best interests. If that fails, I can fight. I'd rather not. I would much rather work with you.

    3. IEP Meetings SUCK!
    I will be there alone. EIght school personnel will sit across from me. You will all go around the table and tell me all the ways my son is lacking. You will tell me this his motor skills are poor, that his pencil grasp isn't the proper tripod, that he is impulsive, that he annoys the other kids, that he has a hard time paying attention, that he talks when he's not supposed to and won't keep his hands to himself. Everyone will tell me all of the negative things about my child.

    That's the purpose of the IEP Meeting; to define the areas of deficiency so that a plan can be made to accommodate my son.

    I will, once again, tell you that "I'm sorry." I will walk out of that meeting the same way I walk out of every IEP meeting -- in tears -- which is honestly the last thing a parent with a special needs child needs help feeling. We feel defeated and helpless and sad every single day.

    Next time you participate in an IEP Meeting, tell the parents the good stuff too. And let them tell you the amazing things about their child. We know about the problems. We really need to hear -- and share -- the victories.

    4. I am not excusing his behavior, but there are REASONS for his behavior.
    I can't tell you how many times I have heard "You're such a great mom. We're so glad you're not one of those who is always blaming your child's behavior on his disability." Do you know what that does to me?

    There is a reason that he did what he did. I would like to explain it to you so that you can be aware of the underlying issue and help him avoid it next time. But I can't, because you will view that as me excusing his behavior.

    So, "I'm sorry" is what I'll say. And I'll say it again tomorrow because you won't let me tell you how to make sure the behavior doesn't happen again tomorrow.

    5. I don't know why.
    "Your child stabbed another child in the hand with a toothpick on the bus. Why?"

    "Your child started pushing other children in the lobby this morning. Why?"

    I don't know! I need you to tell me more. I need to talk to my child. I will need to ask him the same question in several different ways to make sure he understands. I'll need to probe.

    You can do this too, you know. It takes time and I'm sorry because I know you're busy but together we can figure it out.

    Why did my child stab the kid on the bus with a toothpick? Because the kid told him to. I'm sure the other child was kidding. But my child is incredibly literal. He will believe anything you say. And he will take you at your word. His thinking is concrete. He won't distinguish any social nuances and he will be confused when he gets in trouble because he was just doing what he was told to do.

    Why was he being aggressive in the hallway? Because he was in the middle of a huge, loud, sensorily overwhelming group. Let him wait somewhere else and you won't see these behaviors.

    So I don't always know why. But we can figure it out together.

    6. I want to communicate.
    Often. A lot. As much as possible. This brings us back to #1. I'm sorry. I know you're busy. But I need to communicate with you. Call me. Email me. Send me notes. Tell me, PLEASE tell me when he has a great day. Tell me why it was great. Tell me when he has a rough day and let's spend some time talking about it. I think if we can put our heads together we can figure it out and come up with a simple solution so tomorrow is better.

    7. I want to help you.
    I want to be your partner. It absolutely takes a village to raise a child and you and I are in the same village. I know how busy you are and how dedicated you to are teaching our children. Let me help make it easier for you by sharing with you simple ways to help my son.

    8. I want you to help my son.
    There are some really easy ways for you to do that.

    • Tell him very simply and directly what you want.

  • Tell him what is going to happen next.
  • Help him transition between activities.
  • Always give him a plan B.
  • He is very literal. When you say "just a minute", he will start counting.
  • Pay attention to the signs that something is wrong. If he's fidgeting or rocking or hitting himself, he is feeling anxious and overwhelmed. Give him time and space to work through that.
  • Show him how to do something rather than just telling him. And then show him again. Often something he knew how to do yesterday he can't remember today. Help him remember.
  • Look for sensory issues. Your classroom is a very uncomfortable place for him. The lights and clocks and kids all hurt his ears and his eyes. When these get overwhelming he will act out.
  • Provide him a quiet space. This will help him calm down when he feels overwhelmed .
  • Help him understand inappropriate behavior in matter-of-fact way. Help him learn how to handle it better next time by showing him.
  • 9. Love my child and see him as an individual.
    Please don't define him by his diagnosis. Look for his strengths and you will find them. Every child with autism is different. So please see him for the person that he is and help him become the very best he can be.

    I place him in your care 5 days a week in an environment that I know is difficult for him. At home I can protect him, care for him, understand him, work with him and support him. I need you to do the same. When you really see him, you will realize what a hero he is for simply waking up every day, putting a smile on his face, and walking into your classroom.

    10. Believe.
    Believe that you can make a difference for my son and that he can achieve great things. Help him believe in himself. Help his classmates believe in him too. He has already achieved so much. Believe that he will achieve so much more. And he will.