I typically do not post articles as long as the one that follows. However, I saw this article by Dr. DeAnna R. Burt in an autism newsletter I receive and thought it was relevant at the beginning of a new school year. I was encouraged by the information and hope you are, too!
Fostering Collaborative Partnerships with Your Child’s Educators
By Dr. DeAnna R. Burt
School is in session. For a child with autism, this often feels like embarking upon another unfamiliar and unpredictable experience; it’s unnerving and unsettling. This is how it feels for many children with autism who grapple with change.
Each school year presents a new learning opportunity for the child, his family, and his educators. At least that is how it was for my family; a new school year brought with it a new classroom environment, new sounds, a new teacher, a different set of expectations, new school policies, a new set of friends, a new class schedule, and a different lunch hour. Every year was full of change or, as I chose to see it, new opportunities.
Now the mother of a 20-year-old son with Asperger’s Syndrome (among other spectrum disorders), I knew very little about autism nearly 20 years ago when Mark was first diagnosed. But, what I failed to realize at the time was, that was also the case for the educators in his life.
Twenty years ago, we knew much less about autism than we do today. Oh, did I fail to mention that I too am an educator? Perhaps, this (among other reasons) contributed to my parenting journey being one marked by passionate advocacy for my son’s learning.
Still today, I maintain the opinion that everyone can learn within a supportive environment, but not every environment is conducive to learning. Some children require differentiated support in order to learn. We understand this better today in academics, but in those early years of my son’s life, my passion was often misunderstood; my presence resented by some of my fellow educators. But, that all changed. By the time Mark reached 4th grade, a collaborative and mutually respectful partnership had emerged between my family and his educators. So, what changed allowing us to foster such a supportive learning environment for Mark?
Honestly, I think we all changed. My son changed. I changed. And, his team of educators and administrators changed. We were on a continuum of learning, growing, and trusting one another. Perhaps, once we began to realize that we all wanted the same thing — a common outcome—a healthy, thriving, and successful learner—that is when Mark began to reap the benefits. We became partners toward his education.
So, in the category of “Helping Someone Else Along the Way,” I offer these tips toward fostering a collaborative partnership with your child’s educators this school year.
- Be willing to teach and be taught. Everyone stands to benefit from the knowledge and experiences of others. No one knows it all.
- Don’t stop believing. I raised Mark based on the belief that everyone can learn. My expectations of him and others were strategically aligned to this position.
- Be involved. Show up. Be visible for your child and others. Introduce yourself. Get involved so you can get to know the school and the school can get to know you. But, you must also know when to let others do their job and get out of the way.
- Use your external resources. There are times when the expertise of others (those outside the family and the school) is needed to offer a neutral perspective.
- Align yourselves as a team. Do not promote an “us” (family) against “them” (school) mentality. This only impedes progress and your child will be the one standing to lose the most in the end.
- Remember to say “Thank you.” (Can you imagine me saying this in your mother’s voice?) When the school gets something right on behalf of your child, praise them for it. Tell the superintendent of schools. Send the teacher a thank you note. Celebrate the success of your partnership.
- Finally, pay it forward. Be willing to share the learning with others. It did not take long before the school began to ask me to share my story, strategies, and resources with other families. Who wins? Everyone wins!
Have a safe and collaboratively positive school year.