Autism and Going Back to School: A Must Read for Teachers and Parents

Autism and Going Back to School: A Must Read for Teachers and Parents

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I taught school off and on over eleven years. I am also a parent of a child with Autism. So one could say I clearly understand both sides of the picture when it comes to the beginning of school. It can be complicated, overwhelming, stressful, and yet exciting. The emotions are much more intense for kids with Autism. But the stress of having to face the social norms and functioning once again with peers can be daunting. I would even go as far to say that most higher functioning children with Autism stress more about the socialization aspect of school then other areas, though they may not always realize it or be able to express it.

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Here are some simple tips and reminders to help families and teachers prepare the darlings for going back to school:

  • Remind them weeks and days ahead of time when the first day of school is.
  • Go visit the school and the new teacher and classroom before the first day of school.advocate2
  • Email the new teacher a few days before going back to school. Allow your child to ask some questions, share some concerns, etc.
  • Spend some time playing on the playground before going back to school. This will allow time for your child to relax a bit and readjust back into school.explaining5
  • When you visit the classroom, take pictures of your child sitting in the new desk, with the new teacher, etc. This way you can help prepare your child for going back to school by looking at the pictures and talking about them once you go back home.
  • Read books about going back to school. Write social stories about going back to school. Ask the teacher for a daily schedule ahead of time so you can begin to process it with your child.
  • Find some students in the class that you might recognize or know from previous years that you know has been helpful and positive for your child. Let the teacher know who they are. Also, do not hesitate to express concern over any student who you know can be a trigger for your child.
  • Parents, consider writing a letter to the teacher, explaining who your child is and the “dos and don’ts”.
  • Teachers, consider writing a letter to the student (and family) telling who you are, things you like to do, etc. Make the family feel welcome to your classroom.
  • One of my all-time favorite ideas is to have the teacher within the first few days of school talk to the class about Autism. I usually suggest doing this while your child is out of the room, maybe for speech or something. The teacher can explain briefly what Autism is, how it affects people, and what we can do to help people that have it. If you are comfortable with it, allow the teacher to even tell the students your child has Autism. When I have done this for my son, the school year has been MUCH better socially! The students accept him and understand why he acts the way he does. They go out of their way to help him and understand when they need to back off from him to give him space. It truly makes all the difference in a school year. If your child is old enough, consider having him/her talk to the class about it, or even yourself! If you are the teacher reading this, approach the parents and ask about it. I have done this before and usually get a positive response from parents. Again, I have seen students go from feeling irritated and annoyed with the student, to complete empathy and understanding towards the student.

TEACHERS: Remember these parents are exhausted and very busy! Just like you! So they may not respond quickly to emails or phone calls. Be patient with them and understanding of their situation. We want what is best for our child, but often we need to process it. I sometimes think families that have members with any disability is a culture all of its own. Often teachers struggle to make connections with these families; I think this is likely why. Sometimes just asking the family how you can continue to help and support them makes them feel more appreciated and loved. Continue doing the best you can, get support from teammates, and love on that student!

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Feel free to ask any questions you might have about going back to school. Tis the season! And Good Luck!

Jen Edwards, LMHCA

Counselor and Behavior Therapist

jen@BeautifulAutism.com

Experts: I am the Best Expert on my Child; Teachers and Therapists are Experts for Their Field

Experts: I am the Best Expert on my Child; Teachers and Therapists are Experts for Their Field

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As parents we know our child best. We know their needs, wants, and desires. We see them through their best times and their worst times for more than eighteen years, then we send them on their way to college or work… usually. But in the meantime, we raise them the best way we know how. And we often say we know our child best because we are their parents… we are the experts.

We hear advice constantly from teachers and many of us hear advice from therapists on ways to help our child. At times we take their advice, many times we seek their advice and wisdom, and at times we look at them and think to ourselves, really? But I want to encourage all you parents out there with this thought: You are the best expert on your child and the teacher/therapists are the experts in their field.

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I look at my son with his Autism diagnosis. There have been times when therapist or doctors have recommended things to us and quite frankly my thoughts were there is no way that is going to work for our family. Something people outside of our family needs to remember is that Autism, like many other diagnosis, occurs within a family context, not just with my son (See Autism Occurs Within the Context of a Family). Changing something for my son means changing something for the family. I remind myself the person who just gave that recommendation is the expert in his or her field of study, but I am the expert on my son and the needs of our family.

Does this mean I turn down advice from people, or never go looking for outside help? Goodness no! That would go against all I believe in. It truly takes a village to raise any child, especially one with special needs! But I am always having to remind myself that I am the expert on my child. I often feel down or frustrated that I cannot seem to be doing right by my son. Or I get weary when things just are not going well. Or my particular favorite, when everyone around me wants to put in their advice on raising a child with special needs. But I am the expert on my child, not the speech therapist, not the doctor, not the teacher, not the counselor. I know my child best, I know his needs, I know his wants, I know his cries.

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I have seen many families feel pressured into doing things and changing their entire way of life because teachers, therapists, or doctors have told them to, and the parents did not feel it was the best choice for their family. I plead with you parents to think hard about your choices and ask if this is the best choice for your child. Find out if other families have done that change and if has helped them as well. You are the expert on your child!

So as you sit at the next IEP meeting for your child, remember that it is you that is the expert there. You are the best advocate for your child. Everyone else there is the expert in their field. Speak up for what your child needs. If you get push back, remember there is a reason behind it, which might be reasonable or not. But if you feel that your child needs it, continue to advocate for it. You only have one shot at raising your kid, might as well be the best expert at it now!

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Autism and School Conferences: 5 Things for Teachers to Remember

Autism and School Conferences: 5 Things for Teachers to Remember

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We dread conference time. As parents of a child with Autism, going to conferences and IEP meetings is just not a happy experience for us. The school staff is generally great and a blessing to our son and his needs. But unlike so many families, we do not get to hear glowing remarks and we often leave feeling once again defeated.
As a teacher, I tried hard to send positive emails to the families of students with disabilities. This helped with a positive relationship and it also encouraged the parents as well as the students. Thus I have put together some simple things teachers can do to help these families during conference time.
1) Begin with sending an email out ahead of time to the parents with some positives, but also, if needed, some things that you will be going over during the conference so parents can begin preparing themselves.

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2) Keep in mind these parents have a lot on their plate already and are dealing with special circumstances with their child. There is no need to tell and explain all the negative things unless they are truly necessary. And if you question what is necessary to talk about, then speak with the special education teacher in your building or your principal.
3) Find and give any and all positive remarks. Even if it is small things like the student was able to sit through circle time without rolling around on the floor. These are big things for families. Keep a list if that helps to remind you of things. And use your paras to help with this too.
4) Assure the parents that you will continue to do all you can to work with their child. Assure them you are not giving up on their child. Though as teachers we may not say we are giving up, it can often feel this way to parents when they hear so many negative things. Keep smiling and show your love and care.

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5) Follow up afterwards a couple days later with an email or note home just to check in with parents. If appropriate, give your thoughts on how the conference went. But more importantly, make the parents feel appreciated.
Parents always want what is best for their child. They want to help their child succeed in school and be supportive of their child. However, if they walk away feeling defeated, this will often transfer onto the child. Keep a strong and positive communication with these families. They will greatly appreciate it!
Teachers are amazing and often do such wonderful work! They work endless hours and do their best to meet each child’s individual need. Their work is hard and often under-appreciated. But anyone who works day in and out to do whatever they can for students with special needs is golden and your work does not go unnoticed by those who care and need it. Bless all of you and thank you for your hard work and dedication!

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Jen Edwards, MA Counselor and Behavior Therapist
jen@BeautifulAutism.com
425-387-3872

Autism: Understanding Your Child’s IEP

Autism: Understanding Your Child’s IEP

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Each year we all go to that annual meeting for our child’s individualized education plan, or IEP. We sit down and there are anywhere from 3 to 7 other people there, all involved with your child’s education. They start talking about how the year went and all the different assessments they did with your child with a lot of acronyms and long names. Pretty soon your head is spinning, you are feeling disheartened with all the negative things, and the paperwork is exasperating.
I have a background in education and even I feel like this every year. About 20 minutes into the meeting all I want to do is crawl under the table and hide. It takes all my strength to usually not cry and get irritated at things. After over an hour long meeting, I leave feeling exhausted and frustrated. But after reflection, I realize it is not about my feelings, but about my son’s needs.

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So how does one really understand all there is in the IEP? First, do not be afraid to ask questions to get clarification. Remember that a lot of it is fancy wording put forth by the department of education. Focus on the goals that are written for your child. Try to get an understanding of what your child is being offered and what your child needs. This will help you to look at the positive side of your child’s needs.
Remember you are your child’s best advocate. Speak up if you feel there is something missing that you feel your child needs. Even if you are unsure if your child needs it, still ask for it; it never hurts to look into extra services. But perhaps the greatest piece of advice I can give it this: listen to what the school professionals are telling you. Though we want our children to be as “typical” as possible, we also should listen to what advice and services the school thinks is best for your child. They often have insights and ideas that we as parents do not have the training for. At times it may be hard to accept what the school decides, but take it all in stride and listen to what their thoughts are.

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Finally, ask other parents to help you understand the IEP if you are still confused. Use any resources you have and can think of!
But if you find yourself still at a lost or stuck, feel free to ask me. Send me an email or give me a call!
Jen Edwards
http://www.beautifulautism.com
jen@beautifulautism.com
425-387-3872

Autism: Small Victories

Autism and Small Victories

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I was feeling rather defeated the other day after some negative news on resources for my son and he had a rough day. It was one of those days when I had the depressing feelings of am I a good enough mother, do I have the strength to do this? I know these dark thoughts penetrate the worst feelings I can have.

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After reflecting on this not-so-good day, I realized all the small victories we had that day. My son ate some healthy food (a constant battle), he entertained himself playing in his room, and attempted to pick blackberries with me. So I smiled and said a small prayer of thanks for the small victories that we had.

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What small victories do you get? Maybe it is a hug or eye contact, or maybe you were able to hide vegetables in your child’s meal and it was unknown. How do you hold onto those victories? I occasionally put our victories on Facebook for our family and friends to see and enjoy with us. Usually they are often in the form of funny quotes from my son, as these make us stop and laugh, a small victory we treasure. Perhaps you write things down in a journal or book of some sort.
It often seems as if we have more setbacks than victories. The setbacks causes stress and tension. Use the victories to relieve the stress and tension. Savor in these moments and treasure them. Remind your child (without overdoing it) how happy these victorious moments make you.

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So for now, press on and stay calm dear friends! Victories do come, often in small doses and at times even not recognizable. But nonetheless a blessing!
Jen Edwards
jen@beautifulautism.com
http://www.beautifulautism.com

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Autism: Obtaining all the Resources

Autism and Obtaining all the Resources

I will just be blunt and say it: obtaining all the resources and help a family needs for a child with Autism is exhausting. It is a daily struggle and battle, a lifetime burden. And what it almost always comes down to is either cost or the services are simply not available.

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There is the expression take it one day at a time or a moment at a time. Certainly one can do that, especially when the big picture seems rather daunting. But usually when someone tells me that, I want to just give them a dirty look and roll my eyes because there are a lot of moments I need to take at a time.

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But we all know that we cannot give up. We were given this precious gift and we need to treasure it and advocate for it. As we grow and learn how to handle these situations, we become stronger and more equipped.
My suggestion is figure out what the most important resource is and work on that first. For example, for a school age child, focus on getting the resources they need at school first. Focus on the IEP and the services your child is allotted from that. Advocate for more or less if you feel that is necessary. If you need help with this, there are family advocate services all over that will help for little or no cost or have your child’s therapist help.

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The idea here is try to focus on one battle at a time, if possible. It can be daunting and frustrating; so often you just want to give up or walk away from it. Find other parents and network with them. Ask your child’s doctor or therapist for resources.
Another tip, keep everything your child’s doctors, therapists, etc. give you, especially if it has the diagnosis written on it. This can help get services started quicker when you begin something new and sometimes the paperwork can have resources on them.

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Keep strong parents and share your resources with others!
Jen Edwards
jen@beautifulautism.com
http://www.beautifulautism.com

The Importance of Hearing Positive Words with Autism

The Importance of Hearing Positive Words with Autism

                Every day my son comes home with his behavior sheet and his back-and-forth folder.  Almost every day I get emails from one of his teachers or therapists.  And every day I cringe.  I cautiously and with optimism open these things, hoping for positive words- but almost 90% of the time it is negative information.  Information that scorns my heart.  Information that makes me wonder why.  Information that rarely makes me smile.

                Friday was a day off for me, and I was looking forward to my son coming home from school.  I had a lovely day being pampered and was excitedly getting ready for friends to come over for dinner.  I had not received any emails from staff at my son’s school; things were looking up!  The bus came around the corner, slowed down to stop at our driveway, and my heart was soaring.  I had a big smile and arms ready to open for squeezes!  The bus doors opened and my smile quickly faded.

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                The bus driver had a look of scorn on her face.  Here I was in a great mood, ready to tell her that he would be on the bus every afternoon for the rest of the month (a change in schedule temporarily), and she stared at me and said, “I need to talk to you.”  My anxiety rose, I even began to shake slightly, and my body felt tense.  I forced myself to walk to the bus, one foot in front of the other, as I looked up at her.  I forced a slight smile and listened to her complaining words of my son’s behavior.  I nodded and apologized, told her I would talk to him, and dragged my son off the bus.  I did not tell her he would be on more often; that seemed pointless at the moment.

                Needless to say, my mood was shot.  A few minutes later I got the dreaded email from a teacher about problems on the bus.  I sank lower and cried… real, true tears.  I grieved for my son, for the Autism, for myself, and for my husband.

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All Negative, No Positive

                I always think the worst in most situations.  I see an email from the school and my anxiety rises and I think what now.  I suppose it is just my personality- my parents are the same way.  My husband is not like this; I should learn a thing or two from him (though I would NEVER tell him this…).

                I crave positive remarks on my son.  They are rare.  My heart soars when I hear positive things.  I think sometimes people tend to compensate for this and tell us how we are such great parents.  Yes, that is nice, and we enjoy hearing it, but the focus is not on me- it is on my son.

                I tell myself to suck it up, get over it, and be thankful for the positive things in life.  But the hurt is still there.  An email or note from the teacher saying, he had a great day!  Or positive comments on his behavior sheet instead of only commenting on the negative things would be graciously accepted.  The bus driver smiling and saying good morning instead of fake-smiling and staring at my son until he sits down would be charming at 7:45 in the morning.

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Overcoming These Difficulties- Moving Forward

                So how can one overcome these frustrations and challenges?  Honestly, I do not know.  I do not have an answer that would be an easy solution.  So until then I keep moving forward and dwell on any positive remarks I get.

                In my job as a counselor and educator, I make it a point to say positive things to parents.  Yes, the negative things need to be said at times and need to be dealt with, but all a parent wants to hear on occasion is good things.   For all you professionals out there working with Autism or other challenges, remember to speak positive things to parents.  Even if it is something small, say it with enthusiasm and thankfulness.  Encourage the parents and remember their thoughts and feelings.

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                Is it worth saying something to the individuals involved with my son?  Sure, I can certainly explain it would be nice to hear positive things.  This is something any parents needs to decide if it is worth the discussion on.  I remember once overhearing a friend of mine talking to another teacher I was working with.  My friend’s mother had adopted some children that had special needs and one child was in my co-workers class.  They were talking about the day and how it had been a rough day for him.  My friend said she would talk with her mom and then looked at the teacher and kindly said, “You know, sometimes it would be nice for my mom to hear the good things he does rather than always hearing the bad things.”  The teacher was horrified when later on after reflecting on this, she realized the only time she contacted the parents was when something bad happened.

                Now I am that parent.  And many of you are too.  Conferences are next week, oh boy.  I think I will listen and simply say, “So I hear the entire negative, now please tell me something positive.”  Maybe this all seems selfish; after all I am the one wanting the positive news.  But then again, maybe it is assurance that my son has positive traits and others can see it too.  I feel tired, weary, and drained of it all.  But I keep moving forward.

 I love my son more and more.  And then he does that thing… that thing where he makes me smile and laugh without trying to… and I realize once again, my son is perfect the way he is!  I love him unconditionally and he brings me more joy than I can possibly understand.  And through all his challenges and frustrations, I thank God for him and am proud to be his mommy!

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