xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' Yeah. Good Times.: Getting your GenEd teachers ready for your autistic kid

Monday, August 27, 2012

Getting your GenEd teachers ready for your autistic kid

School is starting! School is starting! SCHOOL IS STARTING!!!! For us, it starts on Wednesday, I think it's probably already started for a bunch of you. LUCKY.

First, I guess, some background: Child 1 is what they call "fully included," which means he is in a General Education (GenEd) classroom with supports that are specified in his IEP ("supports" include a 1:1 aide, being pulled out for individual instruction, as well as various therapies, etc.). And school districts being what they are (read: tight asses), General Education teachers are rarely given appropriate training on how to have a Special Education kid in their class. Unless they have personal experience or have had a kid in their class before, oftentimes your IEP kid will be the first IEP kid they've ever taught. This has been the case for 3 of the last 5 teachers we've had, and I actually don't know if our teacher this year has any experience. As Child 1 gets older, it's becoming less and less important. Then again we haven't hit middle school yet. *gulp*

I heard from the school last week about who Child 1's teacher is going to be (we got the good one! Then again, we get the teacher I ask for every year, because... do you really want to mess with me if you don't give my kid the best possible option? No, you do not want me to be upset with you about the choices you have made for my child, if they are different from what I have requested. I know, I sound like an obnoxious bitch, but I promise you I only do this for my autistic kid; with the other one we just roll the dice like everybody else). Anyway, as part of my preparation for having a new teacher, I asked around on Facebook if anybody had any suggestions for some articles I could send him. In asking around, I found some great resources (links below) but also the advice (thank you Rhonda) that no one article is going to encompass all the information about my child that his teacher will need to know, and if I really want to help my teacher understand how to work with my child, what I send should be written by me.

This is really good advice, and I completely agree, but the crux of my advice to you, my reader who has a child with autism or an IEP or a 504, is that you are the one in charge here. You can't ever assume that anybody who is employed by your school district will 1. know your child well enough to know what is in their best interest, 2. have the necessary skills and training to carry that out and 3. have the motivation to even make it happen. You have to be on top of the IEP team, making sure it is being carried out correctly, and if there's something wrong, it is you who are responsible for finding that out and starting the process to fix it. I know... that kind of sucks. I mean, I don't know about you guys, but I'm no teacher; I've got no fucking clue how to teach anybody, much less a class full of kids, but I do know my kid; I know how to speak up and I know my rights. I also know that if I don't keep on top of things, my kid could very very easily slip through the cracks and it is my responsibility, as my child's best advocate, to make sure that doesn't happen.

So, if the issue is how to prepare your GenEd teacher for your SPED kid, you need to take that on, yourself. Like I said, never assume that they will know anything; in fact, to be on the safe side, you should assume that they know nothing. I've had teachers stop me in the hallway to ask advice on how to handle their autistic student; it's not their fault, they just don't get the needed training, and they likely never will. But it's not because they don't want to know, so it's your job to provide them with the information they need. Again. That kind of sucks that you have to do it; but that's the reality.

Before school starts every year I like to meet with our new teacher in person to discuss the details of my child, but some people like to write something up and give to them. My friend Michelle, who blogs at She's Always Write, and can be found on Twitter here, sent me the "resume" that she uses for her son, and I thought it was so awesome and well written that I asked her if I could share it here (I've removed the personal information about her son). This was written for her son, who is 3, and I decided not to modify it (even after I told her I would. Sorry Michelle! I got lazy) but it should be pretty easy to make this work for a kid any age, I think.


Hi! My name is XX and I’m 3. I love to play cars and trains and to ride my bike and run and jump and climb.

I’m excited about school, but my mommy is worried that some things will be hard for me. I can do everything the same as other kids; there are just times when I might need you to teach me a little differently than you’re used to.


My doctors told my Mommy that I’m really smart and can figure things out like a bigger kid. But, my brain works a little different so sometimes it might look like I don’t understand something. But if you take a second to help me see it my way, you’ll be surprised how fast I learn!

My Mommy and my doctors use these big words when they talk about me.
  • High Functioning Autism
  • Sensory Processing Disorder
  • Speech & Language Processing Disorder
  • Auditory Processing Disorder
  • My brain gets stuck on things and I can’t help it. I do best with verbal reminders a few minutes before the class moves onto the next activity, it helps me get unstuck and transition smoothly.
  • It is really hard for me to understand what other people are thinking and feeling based on their face or tone of voice. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that part of my brain doesn’t work the same as yours. I really like making you happy. If you are happy or frustrated with something I did, I won’t know unless you use words to tell me.
  • I really like to play with other kids, but it is hard for me to know if they like how I am playing. It helps me a lot if you tell me gently how to play nice and be a good friend.
  • I do best with routines. I can handle changes to what I expect (like fire drills) if you talk about it in advance.
  • I take your words literally – sarcasm, jokes that are plays on words and metaphors are very confusing.
  • My eight senses (did you know there are eight?!) don’t work the same as yours. Some days I am more sensitive to everything, and some days I feel like I can’t get enough of everything.
  • Noises that sound normal to you (like a toilet flushing) may be painful for me. If you know there will be a loud noise, it helps if you remind me to cover my ears.
  • Being touched (especially on the head) can really overload my senses and make it hard for me to stay calm. Sometimes it’s hard for me to sit close to other people.
  • A face can give more sensory information than I can process all at once – I can’t always look at you AND understand what you are saying. Sometimes I need to look down so I can hear you.
  • Did you know learning to write is related to your senses? I have to work extra hard to hold a crayon and make it do what I need it to. Sometimes I press too hard, and sometimes I can’t press it hard enough.
  • It can be hard for me to say something even when I know all the words – sometimes I need you to be a little bit patient while I work on getting my brain to make the muscles in my mouth work right.
  • It is very hard for me to answer open-ended questions. I do much better when I can make a choice.
  • I often say things backwards (I ate the ice cream because I am cold).
  • My ears work fine, but sometimes the connection between my ears and brain can be slow (like waiting for a web page to load) or kind of staticky (like a radio station that won’t come in right).
  • There can be a delay between when my ear hears you talk and my brain understands the words that can make it look like I’m not listening. If you touch me on the arm, I will know you need my attention.
  • Sometimes my brain hears a different word than you say. Not very often, but if you notice please tell my Mommy.
  • It can be hard for me to understand when you talk fast and give lots of instructions. I do really well if you show me how to do something after you tell me. My eyes understand faster than my ears.

Some good links (thanks for my FB friends for sending me to these places; I didn't find them on my own!):

Ten Things Your Student With Autism Wishes You Knew by Ellen Nothbohm

Back to School, a post by Diary of a Mom that has links at the bottom.

Tip Sheets for Teaching Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder by Sue Larkey

Questions? I'm happy to tell you more about what I know. jillsmo at gmail.com