Partnering with Families of Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

Students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have challenges succeeding in school. Teachers, as well as other professionals, need to partner with these students' families to help increase student success.

Teacher-Family Partnerships Help Students with ASD

As a teacher, you are entrusted daily with the care and education of someone's child. That someone could be your friend, neighbor, grocer, police officer, nurse, or garbage collector. Joining with those parents to promote their children's growth and development is an inspiring responsibility.

While it is important for teachers to partner with all their students' parents, it is imperative for helping their students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Autism spectrum disorders are characterized by difficulties in communication, social interaction, repetitive behaviors, and sometimes other issues, which require coordination among teachers, other helping professionals, and families to ensure student success.

Let's look at some basic techniques that you can use when working with the parents of your students with ASD.

Show an Attitude of Respect and Compassion

An attitude of respect is critical when working with families. Remember that while you are an expert in education, and perhaps in the education of students with ASD, the parents are experts on their child. They have spent the child's lifetime learning the intricate particulars not only of autism in general, but of their child's autism in particular. You are intimately familiar with the academic, social, and environmental expectations and challenges of the classroom. When the teacher and the parents combine their expertise, the student receives the most benefit.

It may be helpful to remember that families living with ASD can be under a lot of stress. You may hear stories of parent-teacher conflict, and you may have even been involved in parent-teacher conflict. Look to replace that conflict with compassion and cooperation.

Communication Is Key

Your number one tool is a clearly identified, effective communication system. At the start of the school year, talk with the parents about their concerns and needs. Establish a method by which they can communicate with you and by which you will communicate with them on a regular basis. This may involve a daily or weekly communication book, phone calls home, emails, or in-person check-ins. Tell the parents how you would like to communicate, and be flexible about their needs.

If the parent is a non-English speaker, identify a way in which you can communicate. You may have a colleague who can translate, or the parent may have a relative who can help. Be creative and be available.

Promote Carryover of Skills

Many students with ASD work on a variety of life skills in the classroom and with their school-based service providers (such as an occupational therapist, physical therapist, or speech therapist). The student may be working on zipping a jacket, climbing stairs, asking and answering questions, or setting up and cleaning up their own lunch.

The best success will come for the student when the student is taught the same skill in the same way both at home and at school. If a student begins to learn a new skill, share that information with the parent. The parent may want to observe in the classroom, or you may be able to take a video to send to the parent. Ask parents to share with you when a student works on a new skill at home as well.

Helping Parents with the Special Education Process

The special education process can be confusing for families of students with ASD, especially when the student first enters school. Here are some tips for helping parents through the special education process.

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