Monday, August 12, 2013

A note for teachers

Dear teachers for the 2013 school year,

Hi. I'm the mom of an autistic third grader who also has sensory processing disorder. I thought I would drop off some tips for you just in case you're going to be working with a kid like mine this year in your mainstreamed or special education classroom. Trust me, these things are gold and might even save you being yelled at by a mom like me (I've been known to get a bit "testy."). You'll thank me later.

First and foremost, please understand that we, as parents, don't want to come into the school year hating you. If we seem defensive, on edge, or other wise squirrely, it's because a lot of us have just gone a portion of, or the entire, summer without some form of school and some of the services we depend on for our children. We're close to losing it, okay?

You are a huge part of our team for the next nine months. Please know that we're needing and wanting to work cordially with you. At least until you give us a reason not to.

We're special needs parents. We save everything including emails and notes from you. Keep that in mind when you're writing something to us about our child.

When getting a child's IEP, don't just glance over it. I want you to know that IEP and know it cold. It is a binding legal document. Don't ever say to a parent, "I don't know," when someone brings up an accommodation. Know what you're speaking of and  follow that IEP to the letter or someone like me will fry you.

Also, speaking of IEPs, if you have a meeting for one coming up, please use correct spelling and ensure that you're speaking about the correct child. It's the small things that touch a parent's heart, truly.

If we're offering up suggestions for your classroom setting, please take them seriously. We've been in this awhile and this is your first time teaching one of our children. If I tell you that it's all of the tacky fuzzy fake fur you have your desk draped in that's causing my son to stand next to your desk and tweak out, you might want to consider taking that sensory object out of the classroom.

Be willing to make some accommodations for your "mainstreamed" autistic students that you don't make for your typical students, like shoe tying. My son is eight years old and still cannot tie his shoes thanks to poor fine motor skills. There is no forcing him to do this; he practices quite a bit and feels embarrassed that he can't tie them. He's tied them twice, but hasn't been able to do it again. So, "forcing" a child who cannot tie his shoes to tie his shoes or else walk around with laces flopping, thus causing the child to fall down, is nothing short of mean.

Take a child's sensory break away from him or her, catch hell from the child and the parents. Just saying.

On that note, get to understand sensory overload. A lot of the "autism" (borrowing a phrase that a teacher once used on me) you think you're seeing with behaviors has to do with a child going into sensory overload. Imagine if you couldn't block out all of those classroom noises, both big and small, plus the lights. Then add in the feeling of that desk, plus the roughness of a uniform or jeans. Then add in smells and anxiety because someone wants you to hurry up, think, and try to answer a question. Or color and cut something out. Meltdown city.

Forget the test scores and look at the child. When I say test scores, I'm also speaking of the clinical ones sitting in my child's file. You know the ones.

Teachers are supposed to be support people. When they aren't, it's a stab in heart. Know that if you dislike our child, we will know. Know that if you treat our child in a disrespectful way, we will find out. If you cover something up, we will know. Your goal should be to help get our children through the school year and treat them with dignity. The bar should never be set so low so that your only goal is to avoid lawsuits, charges, and a CNN appearance. Don't be that teacher. Ever.

Finally, the majority of us are involved and caring parents, just as you would find in a neurotypical classroom. We're not all crazy, so don't judge everyone by me. However, most of us have been in the special education routine long enough to be jaded. We've had some bad teachers and therapists. We love our children more than life itself and are willing to be insane in order for them to receive services.

Don't ever underestimate my child, ever. Don't ever underestimate me as his parent. I'll try to do the same for you as his teacher.

Thank you,

Mom of Morgan,
A third grader with a great personality, fascination with trains and numbers, a deep belly laugh, and autism.

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