|Tate, age eleven|
Communication between home and school is important to maximize the educational experience for all children. Obviously, if a child’s communication skills are limited, the communication between parent and teacher becomes even more important. Many things can be accomplished when parents and teachers are vested and cooperative, working toward the same goals. If at any time a disagreement arises that is allowed to fester and communication is disrupted then the child’s education will suffer.
When my son, Tate, began a preschool program, the caretakers recognized the need for a note home that described his day to us. It was more than just information about his academics and physical wellbeing. It helped us to work on Tate’s conversation skills. Some children with autism are nonverbal and some are verbal but are not able to have meaningful conversations. Tate could not, and still cannot, have age appropriate conversations. Although I am VERY thankful that he can talk and that he can usually get his wants and needs met by using words, I am greedy and wish that he could converse with me and use much more complex language than he is able. He cannot usually talk about his feelings or things that are not concrete. He cannot talk meaningfully about the future or anything too abstract. He cannot process language quickly so that throws another wrench in things. He does much better than he used to because of constant practice at school and at home.
As long as we had that note coming home from preschool I could ask Tate very specific questions about his day and guide the conversation, using the information I had been provided. I could talk to him about books he’d been read that day, the art work he had done, the games he had played, what had happened during circle, what he had done on the playground, who he had sat by at lunch, and anything unusual that had happened. I needed conversation starters and things like a broken drinking fountain, a spill, a guest in the classroom, a classmate’s birthday treat, or a spider that startled the teacher, were invaluable to me as I tried to engage Tate in social communication.
When Tate transitioned to public school I asked for the same kind of note to come home with him and we added it to his IEP. The note that came home was not what I had hoped for. It was often just a list of subjects that were studied and the concepts that were taught. I explained over and over that I really needed conversation starters and I gave examples. I was told that other children’s names could not be shared with me in a note due to privacy laws. That was just one of many excuses given and the note home became a real conflict. The more I asked for, the less I seemed to get.
It is so hard to explain to someone without a child with autism, the reasons for so many of the things I have done, and why I have been willing to fight so hard for something so seemingly small as trivial information about my child’s day. But, those things are THAT important. What it might look like to a teacher is that I am a helicopter parent, hovering and needing to know about every second of my child’s day. In reality, I was (and am) a therapist at night, not just a mom, and I NEED something to work with. My child was away from me for eight hours. The conversation starters provided me about the escaped classroom pet, or the kid who accidentally kicked their shoe off in P.E. when they kicked the ball, were so valuable to me yet so stingily shared. I could not understand it. Was it a power struggle? Was it spite? Was it a misunderstanding despite my constant explanations? Was absolutely nothing interesting happening in my son’s time at school? For eight hours? Surrounded by 18 to 24 busy peers?
Fortunately, I had friends who worked at the school who were willing to share interesting tidbits about Tate’s day through emails some days. And eventually we moved to another school where the note home was not a point of contention for any of us. These days the teachers call me on the phone, text, email, and send notes home in Tate’s backpack, all of which are helpful for me when I try to engage Tate in conversation. And, the coolest thing of all? Tate can sometimes initiate a conversation with me about what happened at school. Could it be that all those evening hours of mom therapy and all those notes home are paying off? You bet your conversation starter they are paying off! The note home, autism parents, is worth fighting for.
For another post about Tate's language development click here: Reciprocity
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