Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Note Home From School: Necessary for Moms, Nuisance for Teachers

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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11 comments:

  1. You expect the school, on a daily basis, to tell you about the minutiae of your son's day via written note. Every day.

    Every day?!?

    I don't think that's a reasonable request -- because, well, it is spectacularly time consuming and they have lots of other kids to teach.

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    1. What blog post did you read? What I asked for was a sentence or two about specifics. Quickly write out: Tate's pencil lead broke and I taught him to use the pencil sharpener. He LOVED turning the handle. That takes about ten seconds. If every 30 minutes to an hour there was something happening at school, that might add up to 3 minutes of note taking. If something happened that might possibly be interesting enough for me to engage my son in a conversation in the evening and teach those skills then it was worth the battles to get it. My son qualifies for and has a one-on-one aid so there were NOT always lots of other kids to teach for the one giving me a note home.

      Reread the post: 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?

      You probably want to read someone else's blog from now on. Please.

      Delete
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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Suzanne wrote:

      "Because teachers should devote all day, every day to writing the zillion and one things that your little autistic dumpling does all day?!

      Not. Reasonable. So. Not. Reasonable.

      Imagine if they did that for every kid? Why the heck do you think YOUR dumpling deserves to have a million tiny things he does at school written down for you?

      It's not a teachers job to tell you what kid lost his shoe in gym class or that his deskmate spilled a drink.

      1 in 68 kids have autism. Their teachers aren't expected to give you conversation points.

      Helicopter parenting? Isn't go so well for you now is it? The girl physically assaulting her classmates? It's only a matter of time til the stupid girl is charged with assault!

      I sincerely hope you do better for your awful kids! "

      Suzanne, A person that would call children names certainly carries a lot of credibility and deserves a lot of respect so I will immediately start following all of your advice and disregard all of the things that I know are working. I am so sorry I have been doing it all wrong for so long.

      Once again, I will ask you. Please, Won't you find a different blog to read?

      Delete
  3. Every child is different and has different needs to help him/her develop to his/her full potential. As a teacher, I am more than happy to work with parents to benefit the child. I am just so thankful to have parents who are willing to work so hard to help the child to succeed. So often I try to enlist a parent's help and I'm unable to obtain it. As a parent, I'm horrified that any parent would not do anything and everything within their power to help their child. It truly takes teachers and parents working together as a team to achieve optimum benefits for the child. There are several parents that I e-mail on a daily basis. E-mail is my preferred method because it is quick and easy. It usually takes me about 10 minutes after the kids leave to send out a quick update to the parents who need daily communication. Not all students and parents need this, however, they may need something from me that your child doesn't. It doesn't matter, I went into this profession because I do love children and I do want to help them to the best of my capabilities. On my drive to school each morning, I pray for God's wisdom to guide me to know how to best help each child and not to overlook anything that I need to see. I have one student whose house burned to the ground last week and his mother was arrested for selling drugs. Guess what....he doesn't need me to teach him to divide right now. He needs to know that there is someone stable in his life that cares about him and his well-being. He needs me to be his advocate. I wish more parents would take the time to become as involved with their child's education as you have. Lisa, you are my hero. Any adult who would call children names and say things about a parent who works so hard at parenting (and she doesn't even personally know you) has problems and needs our prayers also. It's just a lot easier to understand this type of behavior from kids than it is adults.

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    1. Robyn C, What a great perspective from a teacher and an encouragement to me. Thank you so much for your comment. A child with a teacher who prays for them is the best kind of teacher there is. YOU are a hero to MANY of your students I am sure.

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  4. Suzanne, you are clearly an unhappy and wretched woman to verbally assault innocent children in a blog intended to raise awareness. How dare you call children with special needs names? You are what is wrong with society. Teachers are paid to teach the children, that means all the children. You don't think children with special needs deserve extra help? I have a feeling that if your views (which are completely invalid) were to be considered in our education system we'd find ourselves facing tyrants like Hitler once more. How dare you come here and act so horrid? You should be ashamed of yourself. If you get your jollies from belittling a great mother and her two children, who through no fault of their own, need extra help in school and in life then you make me sick. And you want to say that a ten year old is guilty of assault? I can guarantee you a grown woman who verbally assaults others on a blog, when you have repeatedly been asked to stop reading, can be guilty of much more. Just for starters: intentional infliction of emotional distress, harassment, defamation... should I keep going?

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    1. Regan Smith, by the way, I love your name....
      Thank you for jumping to the defense of innocents. I appreciate your passion and your eloquence. Lisa

      Delete
  5. We had the same problem once we hit middle school. We were not dealing with autism , but ADHD. We never got a satisfactory resolution the first year. I took to emailing the teachers the year after that and that group of teachers, for the most part, were responsive but only one would initiate emails. We are on to high school this year.

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  6. My son can't tell me what he has done, so I asked for a note in a book so I could try to engage him and encourage him to communicate, his teacher thought it was a brilliant idea. The first time it came home I actually cried reading it as they had put in photos of him going about his day. It really made it easier for me.
    Don't do it as much now but I speak to his one-to-one every morning and get a verbal message most afternoons.
    I totally agree it is vital.

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