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school111You’ve probably heard your child’s educators talk about the importance of communication between home and school. They usually bring this up at Back-to-School Night when they explain their classroom expectations and put their contact information on the overhead. When your student has special needs, it’s extremely important to create collaborative, cooperative relationships between school and home. Successful relationships between teachers and parents help the student establish continuity between classroom content and homework, and they also provide valuable insight for teachers (who don’t see the student at home) and parents (who don’t see the student at school).

Here are some thoughts about how to cultivate this symbiotic relationship.

  • Find an advocate at school. This person might be a classroom teacher, and then again, might not. Your choice for a school advocate should have a lot of contact time with your child, should have a pretty good idea of the child’s strengths and weaknesses, and should be willing and able to tell you frankly, honestly and optimistically. My school advocate is the school psych. She gets to see Chris in a variety of settings, including social groups, classrooms and unstructured time. She has the respect of the rest of the staff, and she’s not afraid to tell me Chris is just as distractible this year as he was last year. She has been thoughtful, incisive and persistent with him (and she returns my phone calls, which is always a good sign).
  • Set agendas and make plans. That doesn’t mean you have to be really formal and send Evites before every call or visit. My school advocate and I spend about 30 minutes on the phone to touch base about every 2-3 weeks. That’s not a lot of contact time, but it’s enough for us to get a lot of information changing hands about what’s going on at home, at school, and what we’d like to do next. We trade keywords and phrases. We talk about upcoming meetings. Mostly, we make sure we share a common understanding of what each of us finds important to do for Chris during the year.
  • Be considerate of each other’s time. Chris isn’t the only student my school advocate is responsible for. Neither is Chris my only daily concern. Every time I speak to her, I thank her for taking the time to talk to me. I want her to know I value her time and the effort she makes in keeping me posted and considering what would be the next best step for Chris.
  • Pass it on. The next part of the plan is getting buy-in from the rest of the student’s faculty and staff. I’ve found it’s easier when it’s an “inside job.” Teachers find it easier to adjust their expectations to a fellow education professional. For as much as parents are integral parts of the Special Education Team, we have one important objective: the success of our own kid. We can be passionate and not a little myopic. Teachers, on the other hand, have to weigh the rest of the members of our kid’s class into the bargain. Having an advocate at school means you have a person who understands the size and variety of the classroom and can explain recommendations for your child in context so they resonate with the teachers’ directive to promote every child’s success.

Added bonus: I don’t look like “that parent.” You know the one–she comes to school every week with fire in her eye and makes the teachers and staff want to hide under their desks and sob. The idea is to create an open channel of communication, not throw your weight around, and not get pushed around, either. You are working together as members of the same team. In the end, it’s your child’s education in the balance. That’s worth extending your hand any day of the week.

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Kate Dran is a user experience analyst, professional writer, autism advocate and parent of 2 beautiful and perfect sons, one with autism, one developing typically. She founded Adaptive Solutions Analysis, LLC , a private consulting firm that provides usability assessments and user experience analysis for adaptive technologies that support the cognitive, sensory and motor development needs of K-12 students with autism. She believes that autism-friendly user experience is human-friendly user experience.