* Christopher and me: balancing act

I had the pleasure of meeting Christopher‘s 4th grade teachers during the first parent-teacher conference this year.  The students in his class work with one teacher for language arts and another for math.  Both his teachers are currently reading books on autism with a desire to better understand his special needs.  They obviously LOVE this kiddo!  No wonder he still has energy for tutoring after school.

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The conference was memorable because of their openness to strategies which have proved effective with Christopher.  As an “outsider,” I am sensitive to classroom teachers’ uncertainties and (too frequent) reluctance to accept advice.  Often, I find myself in the midst of a balancing act between the special needs student and the classroom teacher’s rigid adherence to “the way we do school.”  I am loathe to share my qualifications, as I’ve found that makes some folks wary or defensive.  I’m aware that a classroom teacher has her hands full with 22+ students.  The class cannot revolve solely around Christopher’s needs, but unless he is provided some key modifications, his needs will start to usurp effective instruction.  What a huge relief when regular education teachers are genuinely willing to listen and accommodate special needs kids.  It’s a balancing act for them, as well, and I am grateful for Christopher’s special classroom teachers!

* Get real

In a previous post, I addressed four common scenarios I’ve observed in families raising autistic kids.  From an educator standpoint, what are the most helpful ways to respond to the three scenarios which are more problematic?  First and foremost, if we are not willing to admit our own predilections, there is no way we’ll have an impact on anyone.  Assuming we are not playing God, here are some suggestions.

  1. Home visits go a long way towards building trust and better understanding of family dynamics.  You may think the child is treated as royalty until you see family life in action.  You may recognize that it’s one thing to establish consistency at school, but quite another at home.
  2. If kingship has been conferred on a child, behavior interventions may be helpful.  The family is walking on eggshells, hoping to avoid catastrophic events.  It makes sense to use a child’s interests to improve compliance.  See if you can adapt successful school strategies for the home environment.
  3. For insulated families, help set up playdates with another child from the class, preferably a “typically developing” student.  I’ve found that lunch bunches offer opportunities for kids to develop relationships with peers.  Provide suggestions to make that playdate more likely to succeed: keep it short, focused on a specific activity, and carefully monitored.
  4. For families in denial, be patient.  You may no longer serve the child when the family finally accepts their child’s disability.  Autistic kids sometimes get labeled Other Health Impaired or Learning Disabled.  They may also be twice exceptional.  At least they are getting successful interventions.  (Or should be!)  Let’s face it: the era in which we live has determined how we “define” kids.  A label is less important than how we help kids succeed.
  5. When dealing with parents in conflict with each other about labeling, be cautious and recognize your limitations.  I have had parents ask me to “convince” their spouse that the kiddo is autistic.  No one can really do that.  SImply describe what is observable and measureable.  Eventually (or not), parents may grasp their child’s differences.  I try to get support for specific goals, not a label.
  6. Parents who have acknowledged their child’s differences and somehow manage to keep all their kids AND their marriage intact are amazing.  It’s a temptation to ask these poster parents to serve on every committee, talk at every parent event, and overall, add to their load.  Resist that temptation.  Help them find good, free resources.  BE a good, free resource for them!boys-883003_640

I now step off my soap box!  Thank you.