We’re about a month into the new school year, and for parents of children on the autism spectrum, getting the information you need about how they’re doing in school can be even more difficult than it is for parents of “neurotypical” children. This is partly due to the difficulties many autistic children have with communication in general, but also because their perspective on their social progress and behavior can be very different.
Why wait for the formal parent-teacher conference where the teacher has limited time and is focused mainly on academic performance? Whether in an integrated or specialized school for autism, your child’s teacher should be happy to set up an informal meeting so you can get on the same page and get all the answers you need. For many parents with autistic children, it can be very emotional and overwhelming to talk about their child’s condition and progress, so we recommend being prepared with a list of questions.
Does my child seem to like school?
Allow the teacher to respond with their honest opinion, but ask for specific examples. Be sure to share your opinion and experiences too, so that together you can form a more complete picture. If your child is upset every day when you pick them up, it could be because they are having difficulty transitioning from school time to home time, they could love school so much that they don’t want to leave, or they could hate it so much that they have been upset all day. This is important information for you to know.
How is my child’s behavior in school?
Again, get specifics. If the teacher says your child is being disruptive, try not to be defensive. Ask how you can work together to provide consistency on behavioral issues. Ask for a list of class rules and school policies so you can go over them with your child and help prepare them for a successful day at school. Most importantly, discuss discipline. Ask how the teacher punishes bad behavior, rewards good behavior, and how effective they think those methods are with your child. Be sure to share what works for you at home.
How’s my child doing socially?
If your child isn’t enrolled in a specialized school or special ed program, their teacher may not be fully aware of the social difficulties your child faces. If they are high functioning this can be particularly easy for a teacher to overlook, so ask them to look. Ask if your child has made friends and whom they play with at recess. Ask if they’re making eye contact or ignore direct questions. Because children with ASD are so sensitive to their environments, their social behaviors can differ dramatically from home to school. Get a clear picture, but also share your child’s “other side” with their teacher so they have a better idea how to relate to your child.
How is my child doing academically?
Ask which subjects they have difficulty with and which they find more interesting. Just as with any child, you want to find out what you may need to work on outside of school and what talents and interests to cultivate. Find out how much time they should be spending on homework and whether they are handing in their assignments.
How can we work together?
Find out the best way to communicate with your child’s teacher. If they prefer email, you don’t want to call them every day, but if they don’t read their e-mail you’ll only get frustrated. Make sure they understand that you are all on the same team with the common goal of giving your child the best foundation for a good education and life. It can be easy to establish adversarial relationships with teachers, but when parents and teachers work together, your child wins.