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6 Requests for the Mainstream Teacher of My Child With Autism

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Dear General Education Teacher,

I just heard you’ll be my daughter’s mainstream teacher this year. Congratulations! You’re so lucky. I’m not sure how many students with special needs you’ll have in your class, but each and every one will always add something incredible to the class dynamic. Everyone will grow, learn and remember this year a little bit more than others. That goes for you, too! Here are six things I ask of you:

1. Treat her like every other student.

She’s just another kid in the class. Make sure you speak to her in the same way, with the same tone and at the same volume as you do other children. Her hearing isn’t affected by her autism, and yet, some people think they need to speak louder. It might take her longer to process all the things you’re saying, so have patience. But there’s no need to overly simplify your language. She’s a student in your classroom and on your roster. Please treat her like she belongs there.

2. Presume competence.

She’s got a lot going on in that head of hers. She is very capable and very determined when she’s encouraged and gets the message that someone believes in her. Believe in her. Provide the same opportunities to her as you do for your other students. She is competent. Raise the bar. She may not always be able to reach it, but let her know you believe she will one day.

3. Make sure she’s welcomed.

Before she joins your class, take time to explain to your other students why everyone deserves a spot in class and why everyone deserves to feel like they’re wanted and belong. Here’s a list of books you can even share with them to explain disabilities. Encourage them to reach out and try to engage my child. Too often kids like mine are sent the message that they don’t count and don’t belong. Drive home that every student belongs. Let them know your classroom is a place where everyone is treated the same, which brings me to my next point…

4. Inclusion benefits everyone.

It provides your typical kids the opportunity to meet, engage and befriend someone different from them. It fosters independence, pride and compassion. Find those compassionate kids and encourage them to sit with my child at lunch, play with her on the playground and maybe even spend time with her after school. Friendships don’t come easily to my daughter. I’ll depend on you to let me know if there are students I can reach out to for weekend playdates. Inclusion can be a real-life anti-bullying campaign.

5. Communicate honestly with me.

When we meet and discuss her progress, tell me how she’s really doing in your class. Please don’t patronize me by saying, “She’s doing great!” if the subtext is “for a child with special needs.” I rely on you to help shape her educational experience and to help me decide which environments she will thrive best in and where to place her in the future.

6. Expect to fall in love.

If you embrace being a part of my child’s team, you’ll never want out! Once my child touches your heart — and she will most definitely touch your heart — you’ll probably become an advocate for her and for other students like her. You’ll feel overwhelming joy when she understands lessons that once seemed too tough and meets milestones that once seemed too far reaching. You might just remember why you became a teacher in the first place and find a renewal of energy and spirit. Yes, just one student can make that much of a difference in the life of a teacher — and one teacher can make that much of a difference in the life of a child like mine.

Dani Gillman the mighty.1-001

A version of this post originally appeared on Birdhouse for Autism.

Originally published: August 25, 2015
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