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How Parents Can Help Their Autistic Children Thrive in School

Partnerships ~ Clara Beaufort

Many children with autism require additional support in the classroom. This guide will explain the steps you need to take to ensure your child’s special needs are met throughout the school year.

Keep Lines of Communication Open With Teachers

Parents should arrange meetings with their child’s teacher throughout the year. These meetings give you a chance to check in to see how things are going, discuss any changes, and problem-solve. The following are some things to talk about. In these meetings, discuss your child’s unique needs as they relate to autism. Issues to discuss include:

Temperament: Every child on the autism spectrum is different. Providing educators with information on your child’s temperament allows them to tailor teaching strategies accordingly. Let them know of anything new you may have noticed at home so that they are aware and ready should it occur at school.

Sensory needs: Sensory hypersensitivity or sensory-seeking behavior interferes with a child’s ability to learn. Eliminating sensory distractions and accommodating a need for sensory input creates an environment where your child can focus.

Dietary restrictions: Many children on the autism spectrum also have unique dietary needs, as certain foods can be detrimental to brain functioning. Provide a list, and let them know of any changes you may have made recently.

Interests, strengths, and weaknesses: Is there a skill your child gains great confidence from or a weakness you’re working on at home? Sharing this information improves the teacher’s ability to reinforce positive behaviors and correct negative ones appropriately. Broaching this conversation gives teachers an opportunity to further research how to best meet your child’s needs both now and in the future. It also establishes a collaborative foundation for the parent-teacher relationship, so that if problems do arise, it’s easier to work together toward a satisfactory solution.

Developing an Individualized Education Program

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written plan outlining the programs and services needed to provide a special needs child with a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). An IEP can be requested by a parent or a teacher. If your child had an IEP in previous years, you don’t need to request a new one. However, your child’s IEP will be due for its annual review, and it may be beneficial to review it quarterly as well, as this is when report cards go out.

If your child has never had an IEP, request a free special education evaluation. You can make your request to your child’s teacher or special education director. The evaluation must be completed within 60 days of your request. Before the evaluation, the school will send you an evaluation plan listing tests that will be used to evaluate your child.

Once a child is found eligible for special education, it’s time for the IEP meeting. Parents should attend the initial IEP meeting prepared with their child’s school and medical records, copies of school correspondence, and any other information relevant to their child’s special needs. Autism Speaks recommends researching specific programs, services, and technologies that you believe could support your child’s education.

Foster an At-Home Learning Environment with STEM

All children have specific school-related interests, and it is important to foster those interests at home too. Children with autism are often drawn to science and technology, finding passion and reward in learning exactly how something works and everything there is to know about it via books and online videos.

The reason for this could be that those with autism are excellent at analyzing and understanding rule-based systems. According to autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen, those with autism think just like scientists. “They look for patterns, and, in science, you are always looking for patterns that you hope reflect a natural law."

As a result, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) projects and curriculum are the perfect supplement to current and further learning and exploration, and can help with reading skills and executive function, both of which might be something your child has a hard time with.

Creating a space for your child to explore their interests will definitely help, especially when it comes to keeping these activities distraction-free and easy to clean. Of course, the space will probably look very different depending on where their interest lies, so it’s important to listen to your child and pay attention to their hobbies. Lastly, document any changes you make to this space by tracking receipts and taking photos — there’s a possibility that any alterations you make to your home could ultimately raise its value if you want to sell it.

Your child’s school plays an important role in his or her academic success, and so do you. Don’t wait until your child’s special needs get in the way of learning. Instead, be proactive and address your child’s special education needs throughout the school year.

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