I’m a latecomer to this. We were very lucky with The Boy’s elementary school, and his elementary teachers, in particular his ASD teachers who really acted like caseworkers, made sure everything ran as smoothly as possible. They advocated for the kids with other teachers and with administration, they handled little problems as they came up, they didn’t think the world was ending with every not-so-good day, and thank goodness they were the foundation, the bedrock if you will, of The Boy’s education.
They spoiled us, but they also showed us how it was supposed to be.
When we moved south, I was shocked at how bad a school could handle it’s special education students. So I fought to get a better placement for The Boy, because I knew it existed, and I knew we would lose him if we didn’t. And we got it.
Better, but not perfect. If you follow my blog regularly, you know that even now we have issues with certain teachers who just don’t get it, strange schedule changes that don’t make sense, and administrators all too quick to wash their hands of anything that comes up. In short, I still have to “deal with the school” from time to time, and the following are some of the best strategies I have found over the years for getting what you want from them.
1. Listen and watch to determine who your allies are. Before we moved here, I contacted the local autism society who put me in touch with the autism specialist for the county. She was supposed to be this fantastic resource, but I’ve watched her and listened to her, and to this day, I don’t consider her an ally. She almost prevented The Boy from switching schools, and I’ve seen how she has handled other situations with other parents, and I’m not impressed. On the other hand, through that placement process, I was impressed with the assistant superintendent for special education – she cut through the bull on the second day of our IEP meeting (with 14 members present), and brought some chart paper to illustrate that this really was a no-brainer, and the best placement was at his current school. If you watch and listen, you can determine who might be a good resource, and someone to turn to when something’s not right.
2. Never trust anyone 100%. Unfortunately, you always have to be wary, because in a school setting, people are not always at liberty to say what they really want to say, and sometimes, due to the nature of autism, they will bend the truth about something that happened (or didn’t happen), or not tell you at all. A friend recently had a conference with two teachers, one of whom was a revered special ed teacher. The friend and her son walked into the meeting, expecting to meet with cooperative teachers trying to find a solution, and the revered teacher began to yell at the son for disrespecting his mom at home. My friend was so taken aback, she asked her son to leave the room, and in her words, “if that was supposed to be support for me, it definitely didn’t feel like it!” People are people, and they make mistakes. They also change, and teachers get tired. It’s a tough lesson to learn, but just because you could depend on someone “on the inside” in the past, doesn’t mean that will always be the case.
3. Don’t belittle the teachers. I read on another autism blog’s Facebook page recently something about actual quotes from IEPs she’s been involved in, and it said something like “I am a taxpayer and I pay your salary!” Ummm, no. As a former teacher, this is just about the worst and most alienating thing you can say. Many times, teachers’ hands are so bound by mandates and the wishes of the district and administration that they have little to no power, even over what happens in their own classrooms. Saying things like this ensures that they will not be your allies, and that can turn out really badly, in the end.
4. Keep a poker face. It’s ok, and even advisable to play dumb from time to time. Earlier this year, The Boy got in trouble for making noises when entering his last class, which is supposed to be a social skills class with his autism teacher. She had decided it was going to be a silent class, and you can imagine how well that went over with The Boy, who understandably feels like he can let loose a little at the end of the day in his little autism community. And his teacher escalated the situation, making him more and more angry and upset. She emailed me with a long list of all the things he had done. Rather than retaliate, and explain to her about autism (as she clearly had forgotten all of her training for that hour), i suggested that The Boy may have needed to *insert any usual autistic reaction here*. I could have gone off on her, asking her what the hell she was thinking, and didn’t she know that kids on the spectrum stim and make noises, and to make a social skills class a silent period is the definition of stupidity, but I didn’t. I simply let her know that The Boy may have had a hard time with it. Don’t tell them how to do their jobs, even if you know better than they do. Play dumb, and remind them that your kid is a kid, and will make mistakes from time to time. Together we have to teach them what’s appropriate sometimes.
5. Pick your battles. Most autism parents are very familiar with this, but realizing school is not the be-all, end-all was a big a-ha moment for me. I don’t care so much about grades, because they are based on a standardized norm, and my kid is not standardized, and definitely not the norm. I care if he learns the content more, but again, our home life is more important than the Types of Energy and the Pharaohs of Egypt. I have given up on the science teacher this year, who rather than modify assignments, is choosing to give my child grades based on effort. I can’t teach him science, so I guess he just won’t get much out of the class this year. Disappointing, but not the end of the world. The teachers (even the autism teacher) are still giving us only a day’s notice about tests and quizzes, so when that happens, we do what we can but I don’t stress. He usually does pretty well, and what do tests show, anyway? Sometimes you bang your head on a brick wall until you realize it hurts, and then you move on.
Some of these tips seem contradictory, but they aren’t. They’ve all helped me navigate for better resources and understanding for The Boy, and I hope you can use them too. Do you have any tips of your own? Share them in the comments, please!
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