At the beginning of each school year I am always faced with the decision of how much to share with the new group of teachers regarding my daughter’s Asperger’s Syndrome. This question crops up any time we start a new after-school activity too. On the one hand, teachers need to understand the reason behind some of the behaviours they may encounter, but on the other I don’t want them to start treating Ashlyn as ‘different’ or lowering their expectations of what she can achieve.
Here are some things I’ve learnt over the years.
Assess each year individually
When Ashlyn was younger and struggling far more socially and emotionally than she does now, we found it essential to meet with teachers and other parties who would interact with her. Although we always waited a little while to have this meeting (to allow teachers some time to formulate their own thoughts and opinions on her), it might be necessary to have this meeting before the transition to the new class situation. Changing routine is one of the areas people on the Autism Spectrum struggle with, so ensuring that teachers help make this as smooth and easy as possible will go a long way to settling the child in their new environment and routine.
In the last year or two, Ashlyn has developed more skills to cope in the classroom setting, and last year we found it unnecessary to have the large ‘group meeting’. Rather, we addressed individual concerns with teachers as they arose throughout the year.
Get past teachers involved
It helped us a great deal to include sympathetic teachers who had worked with her in the past, in these ‘group meetings’. They were able to speak from the teaching perspective, and add their own experience and insights gained through dealing with Ashlyn in the classroom.
Provide articles and information
For the meeting I would prepare some notes dealing specifically with issues concerning Ashlyn, and the best ways of adressing them. However, I would also add a ‘professional’ article by a psychologist or Autism specialist, which described the disorder, and how to deal with it in school. I found it helpful to provide this ‘authoritative’ reading material. The teachers seemed to appreciate it since they felt more empowered and prepared, and I believe that it added ‘weight’ to what I was trying to bring across to them. Of course, you don’t want to overload them with reading, so choose something that you find the most helpful with regards to your child.
Keep the dialogue going
Something I’ve come to realise is that education requires a team effort between the child, teachers and parents. This is particularly true of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome. I’ve therefore found it very important to develop a relationship—especially with the register teacher—and to ensure that there is dialogue concerning difficulties that may arise. The sooner issues such as bullying or teasing can be dealt with, the better, because these escalate quickly for a child with Asperger’s.
Sometimes providing information backfires
Ashlyn’s old violin teacher was struggling to gain her co-operation, and so I told her a bit more about Asperger’s and how best to deal with Ashlyn. However, things went from bad to worse. She was intimidated by the condition, I believe, and started to treat Ashlyn as ‘different’. For instance, I found that she was cutting Ashlyn’s lessons short and wouldn’t push her with more difficult pieces. On the day she phoned me to tell me that Ashlyn was refusing to play for her, I knew it was time to change teachers.
Tell them what they need to know without the label
I learnt from my mistake. I didn’t ‘label’ Ashlyn with the new violin teacher; I just told him that she was very shy and nervous. As they’ve built a relationship, she’s flourishing again with the instrument. This taught me that sometimes you can equip a teacher (specifically one that doesn’t deal too often with your child) in a way that doesn’t require specifically mentioning the condition. I therefore assess how much information I give every person that deals with her.
Every child and situation is different, requiring a unique approach. If you’re a parent of an Asperger’s child (or any other special needs child) or—on the other side of the table—a teacher working with these children, I’d love to hear your thoughts and insights on this topic.
An article I often share with teachers is this one by Dr Bauer. It’s pretty old but I find it succinct in dealing with all the school issues.
Photo courtesty of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net