All through school, every new school year there is a new teacher and a new teaching assistant to deal with. Sometimes they will also be new to the school so have no previous knowledge of the children in the class at all. This can be a big problem for children with Autism, Sensory Processing Disorders or ADHD. Not only do they have to get used to a new team of people looking after them but the team of people looking after them are not always fully aware of their needs.
Then, there is the problem of supply staff, dinner staff and visitors coming in to teach the class. None of them know the children. A lot of these are changeable jobs or are organised last minute and more often than not parents find that they are not aware of these new people until after they have already dealt with their child. In a lot of cases no information was passed on about their child’s needs.
There are certain things that it is useful to know if you are looking after or teaching an autistic child. Just knowing that they are autistic is not enough because every autistic child is different. Knowing the child’s sensory needs, their triggers and signs that they are getting stressed is invaluable information, as is knowing how to calm a child in the best way, how best to communicate with them and how to make them feel happy and safe at school.
Too often, parents end up going into school on numerous occasions trying to explain these things and feeling like they aren’t quite heard or taken seriously.
Home to school books are sometimes introduced successfully but usually when there are issues these are written in the book for the parents to read and then the parents end up explaining how the situation possibly came about or could have perhaps been avoided.
Other times home to school books are not seen as necessary by school or certain things aren’t written down, books go missing and sometimes disappear into the depths of a book bag or tray, never to emerge again.
I personally made sure I arranged to meet with my sons new teacher before the end of term each year. Sometimes I was given an appointment to go in and have a chat, sometimes the teacher expected to have a playground discussion after school. I normally sat or stood there rambling about my sons many needs while the teacher nodded politely and then I left wondering how much of the information they had taken in or if they just thought “oh no a fussy mum!” It often transpired it was the latter as many issues my son had during the first few weeks of the school year could have been avoided had that information been heeded.
As you can imagine this often ended in tears and meltdowns and avoidable situations happening repeatedly.
I tried talking to the SENCO, who would talk to the teachers but often this chinese whisper style approach still didn’t get the message across.
It is quite sad really because not only was my sons life made more difficult because of this communication breakdown or lack, but also surely the teachers were having a harder time than they should with him.
So I came up with a solution! It seems obvious but putting everything in writing can help, however it is best to be able to do this for the teacher before leaving the child with them. Piles of letters that might get read once and filed away somewhere may not be the best way, but a small amount of concise and useful information can really help the teacher to understand the child’s needs. If that information was then available to pass to all adults working with the child, including dinner staff and temporary cover staff then the child’s needs could be shared so much more effectively, making everyone’s lives easier.
I designed some official “Dear Teacher” cards. These are postcard sized. The cards have headings on the back and space to fill in information about the child including things that make them feel secure, their sensory needs, their triggers, how to tell if they are feeling stressed, how to help calm them, and an extra space for any additional information. They can be passed to the teacher at the start of the year, any one new throughout the year and kept by parents or class teachers to give to supply and dinner staff.
Obviously the cards don’t eliminate the need for constant communication between home and school, but they do help keep some avoidable situations from occurring. They also make sure invaluable information is passed to all adults working with the child at school, even if they are only there for a short period of time. Because they look official the information is less likely to be brushed off, and because of their size and appearance, they are less likely to disappear into a filing cabinet!
You can make these cards yourself but if you want one for 95p where someone has done all the work for you then feel free to use mine, which can be purchased here. I hope this idea may be helpful for other parents and teachers!
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