For many parents, the prospect of sitting down and talking with your child’s teacher is intimidating, but for parents of children with autism, you may dread the idea. What is the teacher going to say? Will she judge you as a parent? Will you hear a litany of all the things your child does wrong? Will the meeting accomplish anything or just make you feel frustrated?
Parent-teacher meetings, whether set up through a formal process or an informal telephone conversation, are tools to help your child better succeed at school. More than likely, your child’s teacher wants the same thing as you: for your child to learn, to feel good about himself, to develop friendships. To best help your child, you need your child’s teacher’s help and she needs yours. You, as the parent, can provide valuable information about your child’s needs, strengths, weaknesses and how he best helps. Your child’s success depends on how well you and his teacher work together.
The following are some suggestions for improving communication between you and your child’s teacher:
If a parent-teacher conference has been planned, take time to prepare for the meeting. Conferences are usually for a limited amount of time, often between 15 and 10 minutes. You won’t have much time to go over all the areas you want to discuss. Having your questions written down will make sure you remember what you want to talk about and can move smoothly from topic to topic. Before making a list of questions, look over your child’s school work - including class work, homework and tests.
Ask your child if he has any concerns or problems at school he would like you to discuss. Because children with autism frequently have a hard time with communication, he may be willing for you to bring up concerns he has not been able to talk about with the teacher.
Make sure to arrive early for the appointment. There are probably parents ahead and behind you in line and if the teacher spends time waiting for you to arrive it takes away from your time or theirs. If the appointment is not scheduled during parent-teacher night, you should still arrive early and show your respect for the teacher’s time.
If you haven’t already done so, set up a method of regular communication. Today, email is often the preferred method of communication, but if you would rather have a daily or weekly phonecall, let the teacher know. Discuss what is expected from the communication - what information do you want from the teacher - and how often communication should occur. Ask for detailed communication, for example, rather than "Tony had a good day today" ask for specific information: what made the day good, what were Tony’s successes? If your child did not have a good day, ask for specifics about that as well.
Keep your communications positive. It is easy to become defensive, especially if your child is experiencing problems, but it is best if you refrain from negative comments and stay positive. Appreciate the efforts your child’s teacher makes each day and compliment areas they seem to connect with your child. Look for ways the teacher is helping your child make progress instead of focusing on what areas, if any, you feel she could improve. Rather than pointing out problems, try to offer solutions.
Offer information about your child. As the parent, you know your child better than anyone else. Letting the teacher know what works at home and how your child learns will help her do her job better.
Ask about classroom rules and procedures. Since many children with autism feel more secure in consistent and structured environments, being able to incorporate some of the classroom procedures at home will help provide that consistency for your child.
"A Parent’s Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder," Revised 2011, Staff Writer, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, Publication No. 11-5511
"Partnering with Your Child’s School: A Guide for Parents," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, The George Washington University, Graduate School of Education and Human Development
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.