Creating a positive school experience for your child on the spectrum can be a big job for any parent. From establishing routines, collaborating with faculty and staff and creating a safety plan, the challenges may seem insurmountable. But Nate Gaucher, special education teacher at Milford High School in Milford, Mass., gives some of his top tips on how parents and teachers can share responsibility for their kids’ learning. Here’s how to do it:
1. Create an Open and Honest Relationship: Keep an open line of communication with your teachers. Meet with teachers at the onset to understand how you’ll communicate on a regular basis. Whether it is through daily emails or monthly meetings, regular check-ins are important for discussing progress, sharing concerns and troubleshooting issues. Always talk with the teacher first if you have a problem, so he/she can help identify solutions. No one should ever be surprised on how things are going!
2. Make Connections with Other Parents: Teachers often benefit when parents of special needs children form connections. Parents experiencing similar challenges can share tips, support each other and develop life-long friendships that translate into a stronger classroom dynamic. Look into setting up a Best Buddies Chapter at your school; join Special Olympics; or arrange regular get-togethers with parents of special needs children in your community.
3. Show Your Appreciation: Teachers don’t go into their field for the money; they have a passion for helping children learn and grow. Recognizing their commitment and patience in working with kids on the spectrum goes a long way! Find ways to show appreciation for your children’s teachers. Send an email thanking them when your child has a great day, applaud their work through a note to the principal; or donate much-needed supplies that often come out of their own paychecks.
4. Prep Your Child Before School: When your child comes to school with the positive frame of mind, it makes a difference in his/her experience all day. Ask your teacher how you can prepare your child for a successful school day and follow through on the suggestions. This may be reviewing social stories or peer-modeling videos or it could be having conversations reinforcing expectations before the school day starts. You can play a big role in helping teachers start the day strong.
5. Get to Know the Whole Teaching Team: Your child’s success in school goes beyond a single teacher. Many kids affected by autism have a team of specialists and administrators supporting their personal growth – an IEP Team Chairperson, Principal, Speech and Language Pathologist or Physical Therapist. Be sure to build relationships with all of these experts and recognize their valuable commitment to your child’s learning.
Nate Gaucher has been a special education teacher for 10 years, primarily working with children on the autism spectrum. He currently serves as the vocational education teacher at Milford High School –helping students ages 18-22 with life and employment skills. Students perform various jobs at the school, including shopping for supplies; janitorial work; recycling program; a copy and mail center; and milk inventory program. Nathan also leads the Best Buddies program to connect special education kids with buddies in the regular education at the school.