Contributor: Thomas Frazier, II, PhD
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A new school year comes with a range of emotions for any parent. But for parents of children with autism, emotions such as anxiety tend to run even higher.
To ease your fears and set your child up for success, take action. Start with a few simple tips to build two-way communication with the people who work with your child, from teachers to counselors. And remember this communication lasts all year long, not just in the early days of school.
1. Get to know your child’s teachers
Make sure teachers know as much as possible about your child. That includes basic information, such as your child’s level of communication skills, but especially any challenging behaviors they need to consider.
For example, is your child prone to aggressive behavior, self-injury or wandering off? Let teachers, specialists and therapists know about all of these things. And if you have a strategy for managing such behavior, align with them on that strategy.
Here’s a tip: Prepare a packet of information about your child, and share it with anyone who needs it. 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.
“Children with autism can’t always tell you how their day went, or how things are going at school. But a teacher can.”
2. Learn the environment
Ask if you can get a tour of the school and spend extra time there outside of school hours. Sometimes letting a child get used to new locations — from the classrooms where they learn to the playgrounds where they interact — relieves anxiety.
If possible, have another student who will be in the same classroom go with you to further ease the transition and provide a familiar face. Ask if the school employs a “buddy system,” too. Many do this. Pairing a new student with a more experienced student can help your child make new friends and practice social behavior.
3. Align your systems
This advice goes both ways. For example, if your child uses a speech-generating device to communicate, make sure teachers understand the system. The same is true of pictorial or other communication systems.
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.
4. 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, non-confrontational way. The more you collaborate, the better your child’s chances of success.