Guidelines for Collaborating with Your Child’s School

“I’ve begged my son's school to test him for autism. I’ve had nine meetings with his principal, counselors, and teachers. They insist nothing is wrong with him except he needs more discipline, because he is ‘extremely intelligent’. Even though he has run away from school three times, they still don’t think anything is wrong. It's such a shame that these years of school are being wasted because the school doesn’t want to perform a test. How can I get them to change their mind about this?”

In short, you will need to be both a diplomat and an advocate. Being an advocate for a youngster with ASD Level 1, or High-Functioning Autism (HFA), can be tricky. Parents need exceptional communication and negotiation skills – and the confidence to support their youngster’s right to a proper education. Below are some very crucial tips to accomplish this goal in a tactful fashion:

1. Allow school officials to explain their opinions. If parents don’t understand what someone is saying, they should ask for clarification. For example, “What I hear you saying is…” can help ensure that both parties are on the same page.

2. Think in terms of “life success” rather than “school success.” Success in life (rather than just school success) depends not on academics, but on the willingness to ask for - and accept help, the determination to keep trying in spite of challenges, the ability to form healthy relationships with others, a healthy sense of self, and other qualities that are not as easy to quantify as grades and SAT scores. By focusing on these broad skills, parents can help give their youngster a huge leg-up in life.

3. Before any and all meetings, parents should write down what they want to accomplish. They can decide what is most important, and what they are willing to negotiate.

4. Parents can do their own research and keep abreast of new developments in various programs, therapies, and educational techniques for kids on the autism spectrum. Parents may be tempted to look to others (e.g., teachers, therapists, doctors, etc.) for solutions, especially at first. But parents are the foremost expert on their HFA youngster. Thus, they can take charge when it comes to finding the tools their child needs in order to learn.

5. Moms and dads of kids on the spectrum sometimes make the mistake of investing all of their time and energy into the school as the primary solution for their youngster’s disorder. Parents need to recognize that the school situation will never be perfect. Limited funding and too many regulations mean that the accommodations the “special needs” student receives may not be exactly what parents envision for him or her. This, in turn, may cause frustration and stress in the parent. So, in a nutshell, don’t have unrealistic expectations up front.
==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

6. Parents have the advantage of not being “part of the system” and may have fresh ideas. They can do their research and find examples of what other schools have done. So, offer some solutions based on the success of other schools.

7. Focus on strengths, not just weaknesses. Your youngster is not defined by his or her disorder. Focus on his or her gifts and talents. Nurture the activities where he or she excels, and make plenty of time for them.

8. Remember that the school system is dealing with a large number of kids; however, you are only concerned with YOUR “special needs” youngster. Help the meeting stay focused on him or her. Mention your youngster’s name often, resist the urge to fight larger battles, and don’t drift into generalizations.

9. Parents can remind themselves that everyone faces obstacles. It’s up to parents to teach their youngster how to deal with those obstacles without becoming discouraged or overwhelmed. Parents should not let the tests, endless paperwork, and school bureaucracy to distract them from what’s really important – giving their youngster plenty of emotional and moral support.

10. Remember that the school will be only one part of the solution for your youngster. So, leave some of the stress behind. Your attitude, support, encouragement, and optimism will have the most lasting impact on your youngster.
==> Parenting System that Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder

11. Stay composed and positive during meetings. The parent should try to go into the meeting assuming that everyone wants to help. If the parent says something she regrets, she can simply apologize and try to get back on track. In other words, try to stay on the good side of school officials, because they can be a big help – or a big hindrance, depending on how they feel about the parent’s attitude. This is not fair, and it’s not right. But, unfortunately, it’s the reality in some school systems.

12. Remember that the parent’s influence outweighs all others. The HFA youngster will almost always follow his or her parent’s lead. If parents approach learning challenges with a sense of humor, optimism, and hard work, their youngster will embrace their perspective (or at least see the challenges as a speed bump rather than a roadblock). Parents need to focus their energy on learning what works for their youngster – and implementing it the best they can.

13. Identify how your HFA youngster learns best – and share this information with his or her teacher(s). Once parents have figured out how their child learns best, they can take steps to make sure that type of learning is reinforced in the classroom and with homework. Let’s look at how to determine what type of learner your youngster is:
  • If your youngster is an auditory learner, he or she: (a) may love music, languages, and being on stage; (b) learns best by listening; (c) does well in lecture-based learning environments and on oral reports and tests; and (d) benefits from classroom discussions, spoken directions, and study groups.
  • If your youngster is a visual learner, he or she: (a) benefits from written notes, directions, diagrams, charts, maps, and pictures; (b) does well when material is presented and tested visually, not verbally; (c) learns best by seeing or reading; (d) may love to draw, read, and write; and (e) is probably a good speller.
  • If your youngster is a kinesthetic learner, he or she: (a) benefits from hands-on activities, lab classes, props, skits, and field trips; (b) does well when he or she can move, touch, explore, and create in order to learn; (c) learns best by doing and moving; and (d) may love sports, drama, dance, martial arts, and arts and crafts.

14. Lastly, write a respectful, business-like letter to the school that describes the issues and your suggested remedy. Ask what the school plans to do for your youngster. If you don’t get an acceptable reply, consult with an attorney who has expertise in special education matters. CLICK HERE for attorneys in any state.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD

Do you want to start an IEP process? Do you need accommodations for your son? You can request a comprehensive eval in writing. Many parents I know have gone the private insurance route and done a full psych/educational evaluation and then scheduled a meeting for them to review the results. But of course you can ask the school to do the psych testing--it just is a longer process. However your child has legal rights to receive any accomodations needed to succeed in school. Send a formal email to the principal, teacher, and the ESE person for the school. 
The schools are not required to accept any outside evaluation. But it will signal a necessary start to meeting for disability testing. Everything should be in writing. Since a formal request, in writing, is required for the school district to evaluate your child to determine if they are a child with a disability in need of special education and related services. That starts the legal clock running. The diagnosis itself does not guarantee an IEP (although it may get you a 504 with accommodations.) You will need to show that special education required. 
Do not let the school limit their consideration of need to academics - as other needs are direct instruction in social communication skills, executive functioning/organizational skills, self-advocacy skills, etc. are all valid "special education" needs. Developing appropriate teacher-student relationships, peer-to-peer relationships, being able to participate fully in extracurricular activities, not being bullied or shunned, etc. are all legitimate areas of special education need. 
Also, depending on the state and county, there are services available for free advocacy help where these advocates attend all meetings with the parent and help to move things along by liaisoning with the district. I myself have had the help of an educational advocate. Call your county district school board and ask for a list of advocates you can get help with. Sometimes going over the school's head and speaking with the county makes in my county they actually have an autism unit...someone who comes into the schools and helps the parent navigate through. And of course, you can go to the superintendent. Hope this helps.

Raising Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Parents' Grief and Guilt

Some parents grieve for the loss of the youngster they   imagined  they had. Moms and dads have their own particular way of dealing with the...