Communication is Key!

Editor’s Note – The following post was written by Autism Society of North Carolina Parent Advocate/Trainer Juliette Heim.

For some of our children, the beginning of the school year has already begun, and for others, school is just around the corner. There is often uncertainty, anxiety, and the fear of the unknown that accompanies this transition time, when we leave behind the fun of summer and adjust back into the structure of the school year. The stress and excitement can be overwhelming for families.

As a parent of a child with autism, I would like to share with you some tips and strategies that I have applied over the years that have been helpful in easing much of the tension that accompanies the beginning of a new school year.

I make it a point to meet with each and every new teacher that will be working with my child during the school year. I clear my schedule to accommodate their availability. I want to subtly demonstrate my view of the importance of this meeting without sounding rude or demanding. It is important to set a positive tone for a good teacher/parent relationship. This is key because first impressions can make or break a good teacher/parent relationship. Be flexible but assertive!

If possible, it is always a thoughtful gesture to bring flowers or a small box of chocolates to show your appreciation for the hard work that teachers do.

Be prepared for meetings. Write down your questions and or concerns ahead of time and take notes. Do not be hesitant to ask questions. The only “dumb” question is one that is left unasked if it is of importance to you.

Keep in mind that if your child has an IEP (Individual Educational Program) or a 504 Plan these are designed by ALL team members. Parents and teachers work together on the same team. Team members should keep one another informed of both challenges and progress. Any additions or changes to an IEP or 504 Plan are handled with a group effort.

Follow up with the teacher after each meeting. Remember to thank them, either in an e-mail or a simple thank you card. Teachers, just like all of us, want their hard work to be appreciated and they will remember that you took the time to acknowledge their effort. If you have several topics that were discussed, send an e-mail outlining the conversation, and be sure to thank them for their time and dedication in helping your child to succeed.

IEPs and 504 Plans are outlined on a standardized form, but minutes of team meetings will also be kept by one of the staff. A copy should be presented to you, but if not, request a copy.

Over the years, my child, Logan, has had some very talented teachers, as well as some that just could not “think outside of the box” or did not communicate well with me. I had to be consistent and diplomatic even when it was challenging. I continued to show my appreciation for their efforts. I made adjustments and kept a good stream of communication between us.

A gentle approach works better for any relationship than anger or negativity, and you will be more likely to help your child if everyone is willing to collaborate. Remember the old adage, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Using diplomacy and appreciation, while displaying self-confidence, is a great way to introduce yourself and your child.

As a Parent Advocate for The Autism Society of North Carolina working out of the Asheville office, I am here for you if you have any questions or concerns that you would like to discuss. I can be reached at: jheim@autismsociety-nc.org or you can call me at my office at 828-236-1547, ext. 1508.

I hope you and your children have a successful start to the school year!

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