Going To Bat For Your Autistic Child: Getting The School To Take You Seriously

Your High-Functioning Autistic (HFA) child continues to protest that his teachers are being unfair. He also reports being bullied almost on a weekly basis. And to make matter worse, he's making poor grades and often complains that he doesn't understand his homework. Finally, a red flag pops into your head. You feel angry and start to wonder what in the heck the school is doing to your child. What's next? Go to the teacher and make a scene, thus burning a bridge with school staff ...or become an "effective" advocate for your child?

Moms and dads of children with Asperger’s (AS) and HFA must learn to effectively navigate the abundance of public misinformation and prejudice that surrounds autism spectrum disorders –  and go to bat for their “special needs” children. In a nutshell, this means they must learn to be advocates.

Advocating for your HFA youngster is one of your most important jobs as a parent. It is your sacred duty to protect your child from harm, humiliation, and an unsupportive educational environment. You simply can’t stand by and watch your son or daughter suffer. It can feel overwhelming and intimidating to get into the “advocating business,” but when you remember that YOU know your youngster and his or her needs better than anyone else, it gets easier to fight the good fight.

Here are 21 crucial tips for the parent-advocate:

1. When you meet with school officials to discuss changes that you would like to see (e.g., more tolerance from teachers regarding your child’s need to have time-outs in a resource room in order to avoid meltdown), always have evidence and data to support your suggestions.

2. Become like a reporter whenever you are trying to effect school policy changes. Ask questions like, "who, what, where, when, why and when" and then listen carefully to the answers you receive. Research relevant questions, and then document responses instead of simply relying on your memory. Learn how to best ask questions, and don't come across as hostile or defensive to get the best open and honest replies from school staff.

3. An adversarial relationship between a parent and teacher is typically never in the best interest of your youngster. It's sometimes easy to fall in the trap of blaming school staff – or even pointing the finger at bureaucracy – for disappointments or a particular issue. However, blame doesn't typically result in anything more than bad feelings and an ill-willed outcome. Instead of blaming teachers or other school staff, try the opposite approach: keep calm, know the facts, and advocate about meeting your kid's unique needs.

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

4. Don’t be a problem-maker. Working together to solve problems with your youngster's teachers typically nets better results than becoming a problem-maker. Propose solutions or create a possible plan that works best for your child, the teacher, and you. Be open-minded and hear proposed solutions from the educational side as well.

5. Be an active, contributing member of the school community. Volunteer for committees and assist with school functions and events.

6. Be prepared for contradictions and objections when discussing important issues with staff. Think of issues or concerns that school staff might raise and prepare effective responses.

7. Be viewed by your youngster’s teachers and other school staff as a parent who wants to help initiate positive change for ALL students, not just your child.

8. Be willing to be agreeable – even if you don't agree! Say, "I can see your point, but if we make a few compromises and adjustments, we can make this work."

9. Become a "pseudo-lawyer" in special education law. Moms and dads of special education children don't truly need to become lawyers; however, it is good to become extremely knowledgeable about special education law. Learn the details behind the federal law that effectively created special education (now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).

10. Become a master planner. Moms and dads typically have goals for their children, and families of special needs children in particular should establish goals along with a strategy to obtain them.

11. Deal with conflict effectively. Recognize that, in the overwhelming majority of conflicts, no party is all wrong or all right. Try to see all sides of an issue. Walk in the teacher's shoes. Parent-teacher conflicts tend to eventually negatively impact the youngster.

12. Give compliments and praise willingly and often when working with school staff.

13. If you feel as though school staff is not listening or willing to help you, ask them to consider your recommendations and agree to continue the discussion at a later time. If you insist on an "immediate answer," they may feel intimidated or defensive. If this happens, you’ve just made your job as an advocate much harder.

14. Learn all you can about your youngster's special needs. Information is power, and moms and dads need to start with the facts about their youngster's special needs. Try and keep emotion out of it. Have fact-based knowledge from your youngster's doctor, therapist, special education experts, and anyone else who can provide information.

15. Provide school officials with suggestions and solutions that are pragmatic and workable. Consider their time and energy constraints. Don’t expect to move mountains (at least not initially anyway).

16. Don't assume that your youngster’s teachers don't want to meet his or her unique needs. Most do! However, a wide range of need combined with limited resources often create the potential for conflict between what reasonably can be provided versus moms and dads wanting what they believe is "best" for their HFA children. Parents should do everything possible to establish a positive, partnership-based approach and team together with staff.

17. Show school staff the benefits of your ideas. When possible, demonstrate how your son or daughter, the school – and the teacher herself – will benefit. Think win-win!

18. Moms and dads not only have the responsibility of planning their youngster's education and requirements today – they are also faced with the difficult task of thinking long-term. In other words, parents must be active futurists in setting up their youngster's successful academic achievement down the road.

19. Understand that the school’s Principal is a key player. You must have the loyalty, support, faith, and cooperation of the principal in order to advocate effectively.

20. Remind school staff that:
  • Each youngster is an individual and must be viewed as such. There is no one, solitary program or approach that works effectively with ALL children – even if they have the same diagnosis. If your youngster can't learn the way teachers instruct, then teachers need to instruct the way your youngster learns.
  • Effective Special Education services do not exist in a vacuum. Neither do they exist detached from the general program. They must be an integral and important part of the school-wide culture.
  • Special Education is not a place or a program. Rather, it is a flexible set of services and supports.
  • Under legislative guidelines, the “special needs” child is entitled to services. Staff is not "doing you a favor" by creating and implementing responsive programs. They are just doing their job.

21. Remember that: 
  • Change generally occurs from the top down.
  • Change is a process, not an event.
  • Change requires intense preparation.
  • Change will be effective only if accompanied by support.
  • In order for schools to change, individuals must change.
  • Mandates do not make effective “change” happen. Only a sound, supportive process makes effective “change” happen.



•    Anonymous said... Been there started early for us in Kindergarten and it was really sad what an impact the teacher and students had on my daughter. She was very good and an over achiever until the bullying and hitting started. They she didnt eant to work anymore and just wanted friends even though she was punched, kicked and threatened. She even left the school premises, they couldnt find her and told me if I cried or made a scene they wouldnt appreciate it because nobody needed to know. took 20 mins to find her. Worst 20 mins of my life!! So much has happened in one school year. When my husband and I finally decided to have a conference with the principal, I was told that the teacher confessed to the principal on the things she has done and said but never apologized to our child or to us!!! Ive never seen my child so miserable. We were even told that it doesnt matter if she has a diagnosis, stomach problems or a 504, it was up to the teacher to accomodate if she "wanted" to. This is the result of us advocating for our child in a public school. Zero.Thats when we decided to finish the year and not enroll her for next year. No one in our county has programs, time or patience so we decided to virtual school her at home. Best decision EVER!!! I will teach my child wher she is loved, understood and can be herself 2 years so far and going GREAT. I wish many parents out there had this option for their kids good luck to all!
•    Anonymous said... Dealing with this with my 8 year old son. As a former teacher, I have been both sides. We go to a school with tons of funding, staff, and are applying tons of resources for him. I am always telling them if they would throw in competition and structure my son would excel. Behavior class and aides don't motivate him. However, schools have feminized, making it difficult any competative student to excel. As I head into his IEP, I am going ask what competitive motivators they have. When a child is off task and wondering the class, I blame the staff. Moving the goal post with chances because special Ed doesn't help. I know they are trying, but hard when you know what your son needs, and you want to go in the classroom to implement it yourself.
•    Anonymous said... I also needed this info. Getting ready to go back for a reevaluation of my sons 504. Each year brings anxiety and intimidation. These are very good notes.
•    Anonymous said... Sooo sounds like my son... only it is daily for us.. not weekly
•    Anonymous said... This article has been very helpful because we now have been dealing with a few teachers that my son is having issues with and this teacher are special education teachers. I feel that if a parent does nothing, nothing will ever get done. So I encourage parents no matter what disabilty your son/daughter has be their advocate at all times.
•    Anonymous said... This came out on a day I needed it. My son has one teacher who we are having difficulty with who I have talked to many times regarding what he needs and we are still having problems. She feels all the kids need to be independent to get their work done. His other teachers have been working with us so it is so frustrating. I will keep the suggestions in mind today when I call to talk to her. Thanks!
•    Anonymous said... Wow, this is the story of our life. 
*   Anonymous said... Mark, I am having so many troubles with his school. I hope this helps me. You have helped me so much already. I feel as if I am crazy at times between the doctors and school. My son is one of four and marches to the beat of a different drum. He is 13 now and yes I am his only advocate. Some days are easier then others. Thank you so much for all you do. You have been a blessing in my life.

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