How successful parent and teacher relationships impact children with autism and how to ensure the relationship is effective, from a parent and teacher perspective.
Written by Harshita Patel, parent and author of ‘Autism in the City’
It’s Good to Talk!
The moment a child with special needs comes into your life, the paperwork pours in. It is bureaucracy gone mad! The parent becomes snowed under with form filling, a mountain of toys and a list of chores take over. Your once tranquil life is no longer. You try to juggle appointments, workshops and house work and become a personal assistant, communicator and advocate to your child. English may not be your first language, you may have more than one child at different schools, or you may not have family or friends who offer practical help and advice. This could be an added challenge.
We all learn how to build trust, adapting and understanding different communication styles with our child. The same rules apply to a good parent-teacher relationship.
Consistency and routine both at home and school, can aid the child’s learning, development and overall well being. It could be that something is working at school and not at home or vice versa. It is important you air the views and do not let your thoughts fester.
Here are some of the examples that I would like to share which have helped me:
- Having a good home/school diary out lining such things as; date, mood, behaviour, curriculum, lunch, extra information and space for parent comments.
- Attend joint teacher-parents training sessions where there is time to have frank discussion, the sharing of ideas, being open minded, make adaptations and make changes to support the needs of the child.
- Being transparent and updating each other of any changes. Share ideas as children may behave in different ways.
- Open door policy – invite parents into school, join classroom activities and school trips.
- Everyone working towards a child centred review e.g. Annual Review or EHCP working on goal aims and objectives.
- Photos of the child in the school/home – creating a memory book for the child to aid learning and communication. The child can share and make sense of the world through pictures
- A Parent Liaison Officer at my son’s school is ideal. They can help with the form filing and help parents navigate the special need jungle and sign posting
- Find out the preferred way and time to communicate with the teacher such as via emails, phone etc.
- If you are not sure or happy, do not let it fester as it may answer some burning obvious questions.
- Open to challenge and to be challenged
Effective practice of communication can allow both parties to share ideas and create better opportunities for the child and the peers, bringing out the best of their abilities.
Written by Steph Reed, Autism Specialist Teacher
A very important aspect of creating successful opportunities for children with autism to develop and continue learning, is to establish and ensure strong and effective relationships with parents and carers.
Strong relationships between parents and teachers will help to ensure that:
- There is effective communication going both ways. This is especially important as the child involved will have communication difficulties and will need the people around them to be advocates and pass on information for them. A child with autism may not be able to tell their family things such as what they did at school, what they ate, how they felt, if anything particularly positive or negative happened, and therefore, this should be communicated between the key people around them.
- Parents will feel supported and comfortable to speak and open up to teachers. This is particularly important in supporting the health and well being of the child and whole family. Parents of children with special needs can feel very isolated. Having a supportive teacher that they trust and feel comfortable speaking to can therefore make a huge difference. As a teacher, I have been in situations where a parent felt comfortable enough to discuss something they are experiencing with me which has led to often life changing support packages being put in place.
- Learning from school can be passed on and followed up at home and vice versa. Children with autism will find it difficult to generalise their learning to different contexts. Therefore, ensuring children can practice what they have learnt at school and at home in another environment and context will support their development even further. I can think of situations where self help and care strategies had been put into place in school and after it had also been put in place at home, the child became more confident and independent in both contexts.
- The sharing of information (i.e. how the child has been feeling, changes in behaviour, family circumstances) all help to ensure teachers and parents are well informed and effective support is put in place quickly. Both parents and teachers are often left guessing when they see changes in the behaviour of a child. If information such as the child had been feeling unwell the day before or the child did not sleep are passed on, this ensures appropriate support to be put in place immediately.
- Ensure continuous learning of the children, parents and teachers. We are always learning! Good relationships and communication mean that learning from everyone can be shared. Sometimes, children will do things at home that they do not do at school and vice versa, because it is a different context. It is important that the key adults involved are all aware and can learn together.
- Consistency is crucial in learning for children with autism. A consistent approach will ensure the child will know what to expect overtime. If an inconsistent approach is used, this can therefore be confusing. If a child is encouraged to eat with their hands at home and encouraged to eat with a knife and fork at school, you may expect an upset child at lunch times.
- It is important to communicate expectations, both parents and teachers to ensure consistency. If a child is able to manage self-care skills themselves such as dressing, this should be the case in all contexts. It is not helpful to the child if they are being encouraged to dress independently at school using visual supports and no direct adult help and then being physically supported to dress at home or vice versa.
It is especially important to have effective means of communication with parents of children with communication difficulties, as the children will find it difficult or will not be able to pass on information to their parents. This includes what they have been doing that day, if they fell over in the playground or information about an upcoming class assembly.
Different parents will have a preferred means of communication that works best for them. Try to find this out as soon as you can.
Effective means of communication:
- Home/ school diary: A home/school diary is a daily written form of communication such as a booklet or a sheet of paper. Important information such as what the child did that day, what they ate and how their behaviour and mood has been should be highlighted. Ensure this give details rather than being vague. For example ”had a good day” does not give much information. Instead, giving detail such as “enjoyed exploring paint with hands and feet” gives much more information.
- Photos: Sending a photo home can be an excellent form of communication to show the family what a child has been doing. It is also extremely valuable for teachers to see photos of children during home and family activities. Photos also open up opportunities for the child to communicate by giving a visual starting point. A favourite activity I enjoy doing with my class is to do an entry into their ‘photo book’ by sticking in photos of things they have been doing that week and forming a symbol sentence or writing about what they had been doing. Parents really love to look at this with the child each weekend.
- Phone call: A short phone call can go a long way. As a teacher, your time is incredibly stretched and I know how difficult it can sometimes be to try and fit in a phone call. In many cases, a short phone call will provide the opportunity for quick and effective communication with parents. I often find with phone calls, much more information is gained than what you originally set out to find.
- Email: An email can also be a quick and easy method of communication, depending on how often the parent uses email.
- Arrange a meeting: An informal meeting between parents and teachers, can really be helpful to all involved. If it is for a particular reason (i.e. difficulties with morning routine or changes with eating), it may be helpful to set a goal to work towards which can be reviewed at a later date..
- Online learning journals: Online learning journals are increasingly being used in many settings, particularly in the early years. Teachers upload photos and videos as evidence for learning, which can be viewed by parents. These are often extremely useful for communicating what a child has been doing.
With the fast paced context of being a teacher, it can sometimes be easy to overlook all of the brilliant, positive highlights and steps that has happened that day or week. I always ensure that these positive highlights are conveyed to parents as much as possible. Whenever I have a phone call with a parent, or write in the home school diary, I always ensure I mention at least 1 positive comment that has happened that day or recently.
For parents who do not have English as a first language, it will be important to ask them whether they would like an interpreter. In order for effective communication to occur, a parent will need to fully understand and articulate their thoughts and feelings. It is important to ensure that in these cases, that you have a translator at meetings and during phone calls.
Let’s ensure excellent relationships with parents and teachers to make sure we are supporting the children as much as possible!