To say being the parent of a child with special needs is synonymous with the word "adventure" is a hysterical understatement. Riding a roller coaster without a seatbelt is more like it. Because my son was diagnosed "late" (he flew under the radar before diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum at 11-years-old), I still spend a lot of moments feeling guilty that we did not provide him with the proper support systems until he was in 5th grade (he's now in 8th grade).
Diving into the world of Autism has been an eye-opening ride, to witness first-hand how a human being can see the world so differently from me. It's caused me to slow down my thinking and reacting, questioning every instinct of what I thought parenting was.
Next, my attitudes and opinions about how a child should learn, complete school work, and manage relationships, was broken down, and once my son was approved for an IEP, I saw education in an entirely different light in terms of what teachers can do to support my child.
I knew my child needed something additional in the classroom - but what? I didn't know where to begin or what to ask for. Overwhelm quickly set in.
As a parent of one teenager on the Autism Spectrum and two neurotypical kiddos, all I want for them in life is to be happy, self-sufficient, and kind human beings. I hope the suggestions below will provide insight on how educators and families are integral partners, both with the same goal: to support our children in school and in life.
The ideas below have greatly benefited our entire family to provide support, boost communication, and get grounded from anxiety and overwhelm.
Educators and parents all have one common mission: to help their students/children fulfill their individual purpose in school, establish mutual expectations, and work collaboratively to help with personal, social-emotional development, and academic achievement. Each student has unique set of needs, requiring a tailored support system that's easy to understand for all parties involved and most importantly, flexible.
Parents and care-givers of learners on the Autism Spectrum possess valuable information. Why? Because you know your child best, making communication and collaboration with school administration, teachers, social workers, and therapists vitally important.
We're in this together!
how being on the spectrum fits into special education
"Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a group of complex neurodevelopment disorders characterized by repetitive and characteristic patterns of behavior and difficulties with social communication and interaction. The symptoms are present from early childhood and affect daily functioning" (NIH, 2020).
While this definition sums up the basic diagnosis of ASD, being on the "spectrum" means each individual can have a broad range of symptoms and each level of the disability may vary. Children considered "high functioning" may need smaller class sizes, a modified instructional presentation, and still participate in general education classrooms, while others need one-on-one support with paraprofessionals to maneuver through a school building and transition from one class to the next.
A FLEXIBLE PLAN OF ACTION
instruction strategies (for educators)
During instruction, it's imperative to establish a learning environment that feels safe physically and emotionally. The three instructional strategies below can help ease stress in the classroom and allow children on the Autism Spectrum moments of success integral to learning and boosting self-esteem.
Processing and Transitional Support - Teachers can present instructions in multiple capacities including written on dry erase board, spoken aloud by teacher/aide, and/or directly in front of the student via a print-out. After instruction is given, allowing time to comprehend expectations is beneficial for learners with slow processing speed.
Social Emotional Support - Understanding and managing your emotions is empowering. Building relationships, troubleshooting conflict, and establishing a safe space for learning encourages social, emotional, and academic growth. Taking the time to identify feelings, practice compassion, and manage stress in the classroom helps foster relationships and create a foundation of community and empathy once students transition to adult-hood.
Sensory Support - Allowing opportunities to help students cope and replenish after sensory overload (where the brain is receiving too much input throu