When thinking about the difficulties of raising a child with Autism or ADHD, a great quote comes to mind: “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards and in high heels.”
All parents know some of those difficulties when it comes to their children’s education — homework, standardized tests, good conduct, projects, supplies, and lunch; not to mention cliques, puberty, and school safety issues. It is almost too much for any family to handle. If Fred Astaire is the parent of children with everyday needs, Ginger Rogers has the child with special needs.
Children with Autism and ADHD require a lot of extra step-work from everyone: the child, teachers, peers, counselors, siblings, friends and, of course, parents. It is completely worth it. Children with special needs can thrive with this support and really share amazing gifts if given the opportunity. But it is not always easy to figure out how we can make sure everyone is on the same page.
Here are some tips for the dance those parents must do:
Papers, Papers, Papers
Even with the increase in emails and online access to school records, parents of children with special needs get a lot of important papers from their child’s school. You are going to need a bigger file. From this day forward, start a new filing system to help you keep track of everything related to your child’s education. Use one folder for your child’s special education documents (whether that be “special education” or 504 meetings or whatever special program in which your child may be enrolled) and another folder for everything else (report cards, trips, PTA, cafeteria forms, etc.). Label these folders with the school year. If you ever need assistance understanding your child’s educational program, those helpers will want to see these documents. The more organized you are, the faster someone can assist you.
Thank Teachers In Writing
When you have a child with Autism or ADHD, you find yourself asking your child’s school for assistance with a variety of things. Because there are so many children with so many special needs in our schools these days, it is not hard to imagine that teachers who make well-intentioned promises can easily forget the details of what was discussed.
Sometimes, these can be critical issues such as medication or triggers that can cause problematic behavior. Save yourself, your child and the teachers a lot of grief and write a succinct email thanking them for agreeing to help your child in the specific way that was discussed. This way, you have let your child’s teachers know that you appreciate them, and you have put into writing what was discussed and agreed.
Use a very clear subject heading for your email with your child’s name and the topic, such as “Subject: Lisa Smith (new medication).” Thank the teachers, detail the plan, and let them know you are always available if they ever need to speak to you. If there is ever a question about the plan, you now have it in writing.
Meet Now, Sign Later
Making critical decisions about your child’s education should be done carefully. Many schools have meetings about getting ready for the next level of school (middle school, high school) months in advance. Teachers prepare their students for standardized tests for months, if not years. But, oftentimes parents attend meetings with their child’s school to discuss complicated educational decisions for students with conditions such as Autism or ADHD, only to be presented with a large stack of documents with hundreds of selections and asked to agree and sign these documents on the spot!
Make sure you have enough time to read and understand any educational document before you sign it. You can be agreeing to much more than you realize. Take a copy of the document home and review it. If you still are not positive that you understand the entire document, get someone to help you understand. Then, and only then, if you agree with all of the educational decisions, you can sign with the confidence that you understand what the school is doing for your child.
Call A Meeting
Do not get stuck holding the wall up at the big dance. Get involved in your child’s special educational programming by asking for meetings. Whenever you want your school to consider adding or changing anything to your child’s school plan, just let them know (in writing, of course) that you are requesting a formal meeting of the committee (ARD, 504, etc.). Let the committee know your concerns and requests and make sure that those concerns and requests are properly addressed. Make sure you take notes at these meetings and feel free to bring a partner. Your friend, mother, spouse or sibling is welcome to join you. You want to make sure you understand the discussions and the decisions made at these meetings, and an extra pair of eyes and ears may be just what you need to make sure that you do not step on any toes.
There are many ways to advocate for your child with Autism or ADHD at school. Hopefully, these tips will keep you on your feet and allow you to enjoy the music that is life with a very special child.