Schools, Teachers, Autism: Working with the Specialists

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Boy with Autism writing on a magnetic tablet.Article first published as Schools, Teachers, Autism: Working with the Specialists on Technorati.This week we had our second (and my first) parent-teacher conference with my son's first grade teacher.  She just started, has a Master's degree in Special Education, and is very excited to be working with her group of students.  But this year, so far, she has been struggling with my son.  That struggle has not been because of his inability to learn, but rather her struggle is trying to find ways to connect with him and teach him.  We discussed how we work with him at home, and what they see as a barrier in my son's development.  It seems that he is highly visual and tactile, and needs a lot of deep pressure stimulation to calm down enough to perform in class.  We talked about strategies for working with him, ideas that would be tried over the next couple of days, and what we can do at home to help him focus and work on learning.  In the past I had talked about how I get defensive about my son and the work we do with him at home.  But it took a good talk with his Kindergarten teacher and the school psychologist (who tested his IQ and was frustrated, because there was no way to more accurately test him until he is more verbal) to understand that they were there to help us help them.  They were the experts in special education, behavior techniques, and tools necessary to teach him, but needed us as parents to use their methods to reinforce the lessons.  It seems odd to say this, as I teach for a living, but we as parents always want to "know what's best" for our children.  And sometimes, we don't. Perhaps that is why so many parents are now quick to blame teachers and schools for their children's failures.  Instead of working with the teacher, they fight them for "judging" their child.  It's frustrating for teachers, coddles children into thinking they don't have to work if they just make a big enough stink about every little grade, and parents are teaching their children that being a bully will get you what you want in the short term.  So what can we, as parents, do to help our children develop and learn?  Something I learned from my parents, you go to the parent teacher conferences with a goal:  learn what you can do at home to encourage learning.  It's more than just forcing your children to do homework.  It requires discussion about the topics, making games that reinforce learning concepts, and instilling a desire to read.When we came back from our consulation, we came back with specific goals: 

  • Work on writing, spelling, and spacing
  • Work on addition (mainstream 1st grader skill)
  • Work on sorting into categories and groups
  • Work on relationship between verbs and their concepts
  • Practice sharing and taking turns
  • Practice coloring
  • Find a deep pressure sensory solution to help him focus

Some of these skills may seem pretty basic for children in first grade, but they are common problems children with Autism have.  But the one thing that got me excited is the fact that my son is getting to the point of being mainstreamed in at least math.  It will make his uncle proud, I'm sure, and it thrills me to know that he is focused on learning as much as he can.  And with our take-aways from the meeting, we have a way forward to help him.  Autism is a scary business, particularly if you are doing it alone.  Having the support of your child's teacher and the school staff is something you definitely need.  Add into that a supportive family and, if possible, religious or social community, and you can see dramatic changes in your child's development.