To the Teacher Who Will Be Working With My Son on the Autism Spectrum
I realize you’re busy getting ready for the upcoming school year. You are probably spending many unpaid hours unpacking and organizing your classroom with little help. I know you’re spending your own hard earned money buying school supplies and your nights might consist of preparing lesson plans and schedules. As a parent, I see and appreciate all that you do and the extra challenges you face while just trying to do the job you dreamed of having.
I understand sometimes it may feel like a thankless job and at times you may feel stressed and frustrated beyond words, yet you mask it with a smile because so many people are watching and counting on you. I wonder if when it comes to dealing with administration and co-workers you feel your ideas and opinions fall on deaf ears; I understand how invisible that could make you feel. I relate to how frustrating it is when you feel like you have lost your voice. Your struggles and plight to be the best educator you can be does not go unnoticed by everybody, especially parents like me.
No, I am not a teacher, a paraprofessional, an aide, secretary or even a student. I’m not even a janitor, lunch lady or librarian. Nor do I have a teaching degree or credentials. In fact, when it comes to how the inner workings of a school are maintained, my knowledge of it stems from reruns of, “Saved by the Bell.” So how could a regular parent like myself relate to some of your feelings? How could I have any clue about the daily struggles you might face? It’s because I am not just a regular parent. I am the proud parent of a child with a disability.
Just like I do not know much about being a teacher, unless you are the parent of a child with disabilities, a special education teacher, have taken special education courses (which most general education teachers are not required to take), or have friends and/or family members you routinely visit who have children with disabilities, then I hope you hear me. I want you to understand me.
For us, there is no summer vacation or spring break where we can just relax and toss our worries and fears aside until school starts back up again. When it comes to parenting there are no vacations and our breaks might consist of taking five sips of coffee instead of chugging down the entire mug in a single gulp! But it doesn’t have to be this way all the time, and you as a teacher can help. Which is why I have compiled a list of ways we can not only help, but also listen, accept and respect each other’s feelings and struggles along the way.
I need details! When I ask you how my child’s day was at school (my child has limited verbal skills) please don’t tell me, “Good!” Good? What does good mean? Does good mean he spoke and interacted with other children? Does good mean he made it the entire day without a meltdown? Does good mean he got glue on his hands and didn’t react as if it were battery acid? Because my definition of “good” and your definition of “good” are probably not the same. My child communicating with other children without being prompted to do so, isn’t just good, it’s absolutely amazing! My child getting his hands dirty while doing arts and crafts without asking to have his hands washed, or just quitting altogether isn’t just good, its a major accomplishment! My child going eight hours without feeling too overwhelmed and letting the effects of a sensory overload get the better of him isn’t just good, it’s a freakin milestone! “Good” is something a parent like me associates with you getting front row seats at witnessing a major developmental milestone in my child’s life! So I need more than “good.” If my child conquered a life-long fear or achieved something he has worked hard at for years I hope you want to celebrate it, too. But, I can’t celebrate something I know nothing about. This is why I ask. So please, take an extra minute and an extra breath (or two) and elaborate on what made my child’s day so “good.”
2. Believe me.
Please don’t look at me as just another parent when I rattle on about what my child likes and doesn’t like. Because I am not just rattling. I am providing you with insight, tips and experienced tools of the trade that will not only make my child’s day run smoother, but yours, too. I’ve already learned if my child’s clothing gets a little bit wet from rain, food, paint or a water fountain, he will immediately strip them off no matter where he is at or who is around. I have already learned when he starts picking at the skin on his lips it’s a sign he is feeling overwhelmed and anxious and is on the verge of a meltdown. I have already learned he has a higher pain tolerance (which is not an uncommon trait for children with autism), and if he falls down on the playground and actual tears leave his eyes, there is a good chance he may have broken a bone. These are things I tell you because you need to know them. And don’t just listen to me, but believe me. My expertise may not come with college credits, but it comes from experiencing and learning all of these things the hard way so that you don’t have to.
3. Ask! Ask! Ask!
Call, text, Facebook message, e-mail, Instagram, tweet or send a carrier pigeon. I don’t care, but please ask me for help if you need it. Don’t make it harder on yourself or my child for months about something I may have a solution to. I know it’s hard to ask for help, especially when it involves something you think as a teacher you should be able to solve on your own, but if your regular teaching methods aren’t working or you have tried every trick up your sleeve with no avail, I may be able to help you both. Asking me questions about my child is not a sign of weakness, it is the sign of a great teacher who cares about my child’s education. Just like you, I want my child to learn and grow while he’s at school. Please do not wait until both of you are frustrated with each other. Do not be the least bit hesitant in reaching out to me. It’s about how we can help my son together.
Just like you have a degree in teaching, I have a degree in my child. While my degree may not come rolled up in a scroll tied with a ribbon, it’s held together by a bond with my child I can only trust others will believe. It doesn’t contain a typed out script, its wording can only be said aloud if you take the time to listen. The degree I have in my child cannot be placed in a frame and hung on the wall, but it is on display every single day if you take the time to look. And it wasn’t placed in my hand by a school official, but rather given to me by someone much higher up who believed I would cherish him and nurture him beyond measure. So please trust in me, listen to me and hear me while I share the knowledge of my child with you because he is my greatest accomplishment. I hope by the end of the school year he will be yours, too.
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