Spectrum Warriors: Life Through The Autism Spectrum

Why Good Communication With Your School is Important

Most educators are passionate about their jobs, they celebrate in our children’s successes and feel as defeated as we may in their perceived failures. As parents we are often given reminders and pats on the back even when things may not be going well to help us know no matter what, we’re doing a good job. It’s important we remember to pass on those same accolades to those in the school system who spend so many hours of their day with our kids.

Communication with your school is key. If you are not having regular meetings that involve the teacher, resource teacher, perhaps principal and other district resources or others involved in your child’s care you need to set these up. It’s incredibly important that as a group you are meeting to have open lines of communication and discuss milestones and challenges. You need to both celebrate the wins and problem solve together. These meetings should include setting attainable goals, determining how success will be measured and reviewing them.

While preparing for our recent school meeting, I sent a laundry list of items I wanted to address. In my brain, I perceived this list to be positive, showing we had moved past the “how do we transition MJ into school?” and past the “I don’t wanna go” phase into the “how do we now help her cope with other issues we couldn’t really address before?” I didn’t note this in my email ahead of the meeting, and highlights the problem with email communication sometimes: it can be left open to interpretation. Because I had a list of things to address which included discussing challenging behaviours and meltdowns that have been occurring at home (more frequent than pre-school), they took this to mean I felt they were doing something wrong. This was not the case, nor my intentions. I can’t stress the importance of face-to-face meetings enough.

It is well documented that kids, especially those with Aspergers, have an incredible ability to hold things in, appearing to do really well at school, only to explode when they get home. It can often be a source of disagreement between parents and schools because the teachers just don’t see it. This is called the ‘Delayed effect’ and it was nicely summed up on the Autism Discussion Group Facebook page and also answered by an OT in this article from Spectrums Magazine.

Delayed Effect DiagramFor us, this delayed effect is a way of life, and has always been MJ’s MO, but it’s not good for her. It’s not good for any child (or adult) to build up those stress chemicals in their brain. This is a very tricky issue to raise with schools, it can make the teachers feel as though they are doing something wrong, some may even go so far to suggest the problems lie at home because it doesn’t happen during the day. Perhaps you as the parent are pushing them too much to tell you about their day. All of these statements are false.

In our case, we don’t feel the school is doing anything wrong, in fact, it’s just the opposite. We are incredibly happy with MJ’s progress, but like anything, there’s always room for improvement.

At home and at daycare there is a definite decompression time after school where MJ gets to either have a bit of screen time, alone time or general stim time which could include physical activity like spinning or swinging, etc. We never ask her about her day until near the end of dinner or just after and in fact, most of what we eventually hear comes from her when she is ready to tell us, it’s often days later that we hear about things she found difficult. We have had countless hours of parent training and have read so many books, done so much research that we know about the functions of behaviour and to not pay lots of attention to some of the items she raises or to drill her for details about her day. It’s often in meltdown mode that she will tell us her day was just too much and what bothered her. In meltdown mode, there’s no real comforting that can be done, the meltdown happens and then it’s over. Then we move on and we don’t give it a lot of attention, but generally we have gleaned some key piece of information about what bothered her.

Through modelling we can later address these issues and show her examples of how she could have addressed things, or explain that she should talk to her teacher and the shared classroom EA about these things when they come up. We never address these directly after a meltdown to avoid giving attention to the in the moment behaviour.

So we are doing the right things, and the school is doing the right things during the day, but these meltdowns are still occurring more frequently than pre-school. So I wanted to problem solve this during our meeting and figure out as a group what could we improve on, how could we help her to be more honest about her feelings during the day to lessen the meltdowns that occur in her safe spaces of home or her (home-based) daycare where she’s been for close to five years. I also wanted to address some of her behaviour protocols, start setting goals and targets to decrease some of her behaviours and being more proactive about noting her anxiety levels so we could continue to create and meet new milestones and stretch goals.

I did not however, tell them how happy we were with the way things had been to date.  This was a huge error on my part. My laundry list of items looked like complaints, criticism of a job not well done. It made me stop and think about how much they care about my child and her well being and want to see her succeed as much as I do. So I urge you as parents to take a moment and ensure you tell the educators in your child’s life when they are doing something good, just like we do for our children and just like we want to hear from time to time.

Other tips for successful and open communication besides regular meetings include creating and keeping a daily communication log. This log should be used not just to record what happened, but to note good and not so good things about the day. It can be a way to help prep for any unexpected schedule changes that may occur in the days to come, and be a way for you to continue to praise accomplishments that happened in school at home. A way to talk about the day without asking your child what happened. For example, “I hear you shared your pencil today when Johnny’s broke. Mr. X was so proud of you and so are we, way to go. I know it must have been so hard for you to share your favourite pencil, but I bet you made Johnny feel really happy.”

This can go both ways, if you are sending back positive notes about something that occurred at home, these can become teachable moments in school and another way for your teacher or EA to connect with your child. For example, “I hear you ate peas last night! Great job. Did you know peas are my favourite food? I like them because they are green, they feel interesting on my tongue when I eat them. What did you think of them, were they soft or hard? What else feels like that… etc.”

The moral of this post is as follows: Communication is vital, and it needs to include not only issues you need to find solutions for, but accolades for the milestones both big and small that are being achieved as a result of hard work and dedication from the educators in your child’s life.

Happy communicating,


*Photo credit to the Autism Support Discussion Page

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