How We Made It This Far
Tonight is Open House at my high school for rising 9th graders. For the first time in 13 years I will go in that school as a parent and not a teacher. Not sure if I’m ready for this!
For those of you with kids on the high end of the autism spectrum, the best thing I can say is that it gets easier as they get older. Not that I believed the people who gave me that advice, but it bears being said. School is tough business for any kid so I would like to share some things I have learned from being on both sides of the parent-teacher conference table.
First, the people in education are inherently good and have children’s best interests at heart. They are not there for the money or the hours! When my son first started elementary school I attended an Autism Parent Support meeting sponsored by the local Autism group. There was some pretty painful teacher bashing going on and I felt I had to interject. Those who know me know I never mind interjecting!
Teachers need information to be able to make good decisions about your child. Take the time to share likes and dislikes and interventions that work for you at home. If you know of certain things that upset your child, be upfront right away. Ask for a conference before the year starts to introduce yourself to the teacher so the first time you meet is not because of something bad or uncomfortable. Show up with the book You’re Going To Love This Kid by Paula Kluth – my son’s teacher read it before he entered her class and she was so excited to meet him. Share your phone number and email and encourage them to ask about anything. When my son was young, there were very few kids with a label of high functioning autism and teachers had had very little training. What I realized is formal training is not a necessity for my son to have a good year. Openness and honesty and the ability to entertain both his weaknesses and strengths worked wonders.
If your child has an official diagnosis of autism, there are other avenues for you to explore in the school system. If your childs IQ and their demonstrated level of proficiency are very far apart, it is possible they could enter the Special Education program. Stop having visions of your kid on the short bus – that’s not what it means any more!! Kids in Special Ed have extra support and can make special requests for classroom modifications. It is tough to meet all the criteria for Special Ed but
it is something to ask about.
Another idea is a 504 plan. If your child has a medical condition that could affect their performance in the classroom, they are possibly eligible for a 504 plan. In my opinion, autism meets those qualifications!! In this plan, there can be classroom modifications such as modified assignments or a place in the school for a quiet time out. These plans are made using input from all of your child’s teachers, the counselor, and any other staff on your school’s 504 committee. This is not a funded plan – meaning you cannot request extra support staff for your child using this plan. If your state has mandated testing, any modifications you believe your child will need for that test need to be in place all year. Click on the image to learn more.
There’s an abundance of information out there but remember this very special child is yours for a reason. Be proactive but honest with yourself and the school. Remember, all people – even teachers – respond best to kindness and a feeling of being a support team. Get to know your principal and describe the kind of teacher you believe would best suit your child. Trust them. These folks know their teachers and are just as interested as you in putting your kid in a great spot.
My son was in Special Education for a few years and had speech therapy in elementary school. FYI, those speech therapists know so much more than how to fix a lisp! Think speech, think communication, think brilliant!! He has moved out of Special Ed and now has a 504 plan. This will follow him to high school and will be modified as necessary. I’ll meet with his teachers at the beginning and then try to keep open lines of communication. I will know he should be making all A’s but will be happy if he can write just a little in his English journal. I will try to relax but not so sure that will happen!
We have been so very lucky and blessed with an abundance of helpful people as we navigate. Be educated and be gentle with yourself and those around you. This is tough stuff and no one has all the answers, even if they look like they do. Ask for help and Good Luck!
~ The Mildly Manic Mom