Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Home Support Instead of Homework!

I have not raised a child with autism, but I have worked in enough homes of families raising children with autism to know that it is not easy.  Sometimes just getting through a day is all that can be expected when parents are dealing with challenging behaviors that result from impairments in communication, social interaction, sensory processing problems, disengagement, need for sameness, sleep problems, food allergies, reactions to medication,  emotional regulation difficulties, etc.  School teachers often view parent-teacher collaboration as teachers telling parents what academic skills they should be working on at home.  While that may be just fine for typically developing kids or kids with mild disabilities, some kids with autism present such an overwhelming variety of challenges to families that working on academic skills is not the first task on the list.  Of course, there are some families of children with autism who do not deal with such great behavioral challenges, and they can certainly focus on teaching academic skills as part of their daily activities with their child.  However, if families are in crisis or are struggling just to get through each day, teachers need to view parent-teacher collaboration very differently.  Instead of having the mindset of "Here's what you need to do to support the work we do in school," teachers should be asking, "Is there anything you are working on at home that I can help you with?" Effective special education teachers have a skill set that they can share with parents to help them achieve their goals at home.  Of course, this cannot be accomplished by one parent-teacher conference with teachers just telling parents what to do.  Instead, teachers need to more of a coach to parents as they are working on a specific goal with regular communication and ongoing feedback and support.  This doesn't necessarily mean that teachers have to go to the home of all of their students (although, that can be helpful at times).  Parents can bring video clips to a conference for teachers to view for purposes of problem solving together.  The parent-teacher notebook can be used for teachers to say something such as, "How is it going with the bedtime routine?" instead of saying, "Aaron did not have a good day. He refused to work and was aggressive." Teachers need to understand that autism is a lifelong disability that effects the child and the family across all home, school, and community contexts.  These families need support in learning how to effectively support the development of their child and how to manage challenges that arise.  While this is the main focus of early intervention services, the problem is that early intervention programs do not serve families after the child turns three (in most states).  In many cases, the family only receives early intervention services for six months by the time their child gets diagnosed and goes through the assessment processes.  Six months (or even two years) is not enough time for families to learn all they need to know about raising and supporting a child with autism.  In my "Pollyanna" world teachers in the public school system would continue the supports to families in a similar fashion as early intervention providers.  It doesn't necessarily take a great deal more time, just a different use of time and a new outlook on parent support.


  1. Yes, yes and yes! From my experience schools are only focused on academics. When I was student teaching I found that FCAT (standardized state testing in Florida) was the big focus. While I realize that the teachers may feel that their hands are tied to provide only academic instruction, I think it is important that we find ways to work around that and work with parents on "real life" skills. Like you suggested above Deb there are different ways to do this that wouldn't require tons of time.

  2. You touch on the difference between a good teacher for students with autism (and many other disabilities) and a GREAT teacher for students with autism. Teacher training needs to focus on emphasizing the whole child which inevitably includes families. Without addressing family needs and impact, we are simply not doing our job! It is imperative that teacher education and practices address the needs of families and incorporate it as an integral part of the education of students with autism and other disabilities. Teachers needs to see parents as an assets rather than burdens. Parent-school collaboration does not need to rest solely on the teacher. Collaboration can occur across school professionals who have a variety of expertise. Until we see families as partners in the process of providing quality education to students with autism, we can only impact students to a certain degree. Quality of life for students with autism is closely related to our work with families and it is crucial that we implement strategies and practices that reflect that belief.