Back to school time is always an emotional time for parents of special-needs kids. There is the stress of not knowing what a new school year will bring.
Unlike other parents, special-needs parents are concerned with a whole host of things that are emotionally draining. We must try to learn to be patient with new teachers, help our kids make new friends and fit in, as well as navigate a new set of classroom rules and personalities. As a parent of 3 autistic boys, I would love for teachers to know the following:
REMEMBER THETY ARE KIDS TOO
1. My kids are just like any other kids in your classroom so please treat them as such. You are aware of my child's diagnosis, so don't single them out, ignore them, or expect them to be worse than any other kids in the class. They will behave the same way as any other child their age. The parents trust you with their child and the knowledge of their diagnosis so don't take that lightly or abuse that information. Our children face challenges and we are afraid everyday our child goes to school because anything can happen and we can't protect them. I have a nonverbal child who understands everything that hears so don't underestimate a nonverbal child.
BE PREDICTABLE IN YOUR ROUTINE
2. Please try to stick to a routine as best as you can. Autistic children function better when they are on a predictable or strict schedule and know what to expect. Some children are unable to be flexible in a change in the routine. So please be mindful of that. My first grader was given a daily schedule taped to his desk which he loves. One of my 4 year olds works best with first then pictorial schedules.
3. If a child has a meltdown, please just be patient and give them time and space to work through it. Some autistic children have sensitivities to lights, sounds, and may even experience some sensory issues. If you don't know what to do, please contact their parent and let them know what's going on so they can strategize the best way to get through it.
BE FLEXIBLE WITH EXPECTATIONS
4. It would be really helpful if you can be flexible with some of your rigid expectations. It is not that an autistic child has behavior issues , anymore so than any other child, but they may need sensory breaks to reboot and get themselves in line to continue throughout the day.
5. I'm sure as any teacher already knows, kindness goes a long way to getting through to children. Please know that autistic children deserve just as much kindness as every other child. They are learning to understand you as we hope you are trying to understand them. The things most people take for granted such as talking, understanding jokes or nonverbal cues are not as easily understood by autistics. Keep in mind for the most part, everything must be consciously taught or modeled.
In a nutshell, please just try to be predictable with a schedule, be flexible in your expectations, kind, patient, and understand that autistic children are just like every other child. They just may have some sensitivities that may make it difficult to make it through the day.
If you work together as a team with the parents and the child, you can successfully educate an autistic child. We just ask that you don't throw your hands up, get frustrated, or irritated that you have an autistic child in your classroom because you don't have the training. As parents we didn't have any training when we got our children and we are learning just like you are.