Sending a child off to school can be emotional for any parent. But for parents of children with autism, emotions such as anxiety tend to run even higher.
To ease those fears, taking action is the key. Start with a few simple tips to build two-way communication with teachers and others who work with your child.
Get to know your child’s teachers
For parents of children with autism, establishing a relationship with teachers is especially important. You want to make sure the teachers know as much as possible about your child — especially if there are challenging behaviors to consider. Is your child prone to aggressive behavior, self-injury or wandering off? Let the teachers, specialists and therapists know about all of these things.
“Children with autism can’t always tell you how their day went, or how things are going at school. But a teacher can.”
Director, Center for Pediatric Behavioral Health, Center for Autism
Here’s a tip: Prepare a packet of information about your child to share with teachers. You can update this packet on a regular basis to reflect progress. Your teacher will be better prepared to deal with issues and help your child succeed in schoolwork, gain independence and expand social skills.
Scope out new environments
Ask if you can get a tour of the school. Sometimes letting a child with autism get used to new locations — from the classrooms where they learn to the playgrounds where they interact — helps relieve anxiety. Take a camera with you so that your child can look at pictures of these locations again before school starts.
Ask if the school employs a “buddy system,” too. Many do this. Pairing a new student with a more experienced student can help with socialization and ease your child’s fears, not to mention your own.
Align your systems
This advice goes both ways. For example, if your child uses a pictorial system to communicate, make sure teachers are comfortable using that system.
In turn, you should reinforce any school systems at home, too. Does the teacher use behavioral interventions or a token system for positive progress, for example? If so, work with the teacher on ways to extend the system at home. Is the teacher using a special technique to encourage social interaction? Make it a part of your home life, too.
Consistency goes a long way for children with autism. It can be a source of comfort and a recipe for success.
Check in regularly
Once you get to know a child’s teacher, build the relationship. To enhance progress reports you may already receive, ask for communication notes, particularly if you and the teacher have set goals for your child.
Children with autism can’t always tell you how their day went, or how things are going at school. But a teacher can — and he or she can bring you up to date on any successes or concerns.
Likewise, when you do notice issues at home, don’t be afraid to bring them to the teacher. Just be sure you do so in a collaborative, nonconfrontational way. The more you collaborate, the better your child’s chances of success.
Colleen Muhvic, MEd, NCSP, BCBA, of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Autism, contributed to this article.