Back to school time is always a tough one for parents. But back to school time comes with a whole different set of issues for parents of a child with autism. And when your autistic child is starting a new school -- say making the transition to middle school -- you have a whole new world to navigate.
Fear not brave parent! The Stir talked with two moms who have been there, done that, and survived! Jean Winegardner and Shannon Rosa are well known in the blogosphere for talking about their children on the spectrum -- you may know them better as Stimey from Stimeyland and Squid Rosenberg from Squidalicious -- and they shared their tips on getting autistic children ready for school:
1. Make sure that your child's teacher is ready for YOUR child. They are supposed to read the IEP and know what your child needs, but I always make sure to create a one-page sheet with a photo of my child and some specific bullet point strategies that might work with my son and some behaviors they might encounter. It is so much more humanizing, practical, and easier to read than a 30-page IEP—which, of course, they should be reading as well. -- Jean (aka Stimey!)
2. Make sure your child is familiar with the school. Usually schools plan a couple of hour window of time where every parent and child is supposed to come meet the teacher. Consider skipping that and making an appointment for your child to check out the classroom and meet the teacher when it is quiet and they can focus on getting used to the school in peace. -- Jean
3. Make the most of their tour. Take pictures, make a story book (paper or digital) that they can review whenever they like before school starts. It helps if not everything is new on the first day. -- Shannon
4. Don't be afraid to visit! My son is going to a different school this year and I plan to stop by every day of the week before school with him to make sure he knows where his classroom is and how to get around the building. Also make sure that your student knows where and to whom s/he can turn to for support if he or she needs it. -- Jean
5. Use that first week wisely. See if you, or a professional you trust, can observe your child's classroom environments in action once school starts. If your child has sensory needs, and if classrooms, hallways, playgrounds, or lunch areas are too overwhelming for them, you'll want to know so you can ask for accommodation. Otherwise they might be spending all day coping instead of learning. -- Shannon
6. Meet with the educators. Take time to ensure that your child's entire educational team understands their accommodations, and their responsibility to follow through on them. If your child has a 504 plan (Accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act) or an IEP (Individual Education Plan under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), their accommodations are a legal right, not just optional guidelines. -- Shannon
7. Put yourself out there. I also always make it very, very clear to the teacher and administration that I am available at any time and want to help support what they are teaching in class and want to be involved. I give them my phone numbers and email address and tell them to get in touch at any time. I don't know if I would necessarily call it sucking up, but, I am friendly, polite, and make it clear I'll do what I can to help. But with a hard edge so they know I have my own ideas and I'm not playing around with my kid's education. -- Jean
You can get more tips from Shannon and Jean at their blogs. What is your biggest worry as you send your child with autism back to school?
Image via bsabarnowl/Flickr