6 Ways to Build a Positive Relationship With Your Child’s Teacher

positive relationship with child's teacher

As a parent of a child with autism, you want to know your child will be cared for at school. You want to send them to a quality learning environment and for their educators to know and understand your child. In order for your child to be successful, a positive relationship with your child’s teacher is a must. And establishing that relationship can also help alleviate stress on you. (This is a foundation of who we are at Healing Haven – providing strategies for parents to help manage their stress when you’re parenting a child with special needs.)

Here are some ways to foster positive teamwork between you and your child’s teacher to ensure a good school experience for your child.

1. Communicate well

This one is intentionally listed at the top- good communication is key to any healthy relationship! It is the foundation to how the school year will play out, how you will work through concerns, and greatly influences your child’s degree of success.

When communicating, especially for the first time, address your child’s teacher by their professional title and use a friendly tone. Remember to keep communication with your child’s teacher ongoing throughout the year rather than confined to only IEP meetings and parent/teacher conferences.

2. Start communication early

If you haven’t already, now is a good time to reach out to your child’s teacher. Though the beginning of the school year is typically very hectic for teachers, they highly appreciate this. Teachers often reach out first to parents, but you proactively reaching out shows the teacher you want to be on the same team. Establishing a positive relationship early can help ease solving problems later, as previously established trust provides a common foundation. Ask any and all questions you might have for your child’s teacher to solidify expectations. This keeps you in-the-know about what will happen in the classroom. And if your child has both a general education and a special education teacher, make sure to communicate with both of them.

3. Respect and trust

A trusting relationship between parent and teacher is almost guaranteed to help the teacher better understand the child. Likewise, practicing empathy strengthens relationships. Teachers, just like you in your role as a parent, are doing their best amidst many challenges. Even though it may be hard at first, err on the side of trust with the teacher. Most teachers would not be in their job if they did not want to put their students first and work for their best. Ally with your child’s teacher on the premise that you both want what is best for your child.

4. Go to the teacher first

Another way to build a positive relationship with your child’s teacher is to communicate concerns with the teacher first. It can be off-putting to the teacher when parents skip over communicating with them and go right to the principal to address issues or concerns. If no resolution is reached with the teacher, then consider bringing your concerns to administration.

5. Share about your child

You are the one who knows your child best, so communicate that with their teacher. Share helpful info that might not be included in your child’s IEP, such as likes/dislikes and strengths/weaknesses. IEP meetings often take place only once a year, so share any new info on your child with their teacher in the time between those meetings. Teachers want to know more about their students to better understand and serve them. A great habit to establish is creating an “About Me” sheet introducing your child to their new teacher at the beginning of the school year. This can be especially helpful if your child has limited verbal communication skills.

6. Show appreciation

Showing appreciation is incredibly impactful in building a positive relationship with your child’s teacher. Teachers often hear about the things they are doing wrong, which is very wearisome. Show your appreciation for your child’s teacher throughout the year in small ways, such as sending notes of encouragement and thanks. When the teacher does something you appreciate or value, tell them. Little acts of appreciation mean a lot to teachers as they manage so many pieces.  

BONUS Tip: Be a participative parent

We have added this one since we first published this post, so this is our bonus seventh tip: participate in your child’s classroom activities and events, if possible! Not only does participating give you a chance to experience your child’s classroom atmosphere, it shows the teacher that you care and want to be involved. Doing this can also be a great way of meeting other parents and building a community.

A note if your child also does ABA Therapy

Another important person to be brought into this parent/teacher relationship is your child’s BCBA. As teachers become more familiar with ABA therapy and how it benefits their students with autism, introducing them to your child’s BCBA can lead to a collaborative relationship between school and ABA.

Some of our BCBAs attend their client’s IEP meetings. They are another expert voice that can help ensure the proper supports are in place at school so your child can be as successful as possible.  BCBAs may also share with a client’s teacher strategies they use in the clinic. By bringing together all professionals working with your child, you can help create a more cohesive learning and therapy experience for your child.

All in all, cooperation between yourself and your child’s teacher not only benefits your child, but can also benefit you in reducing the potential stress of school, IEPs and supports. Remember that teachers want the best for their students and you want the best for your child. Unite on this premise and your child is likely to thrive!

Back to School Tips for Parents of Different Learners

A few years ago we created a pretty extensive list of back to school tips for kids with autism. At first it seemed there wasn’t much more we could add to it. But upon further thought and research, we want to share more in-depth back to school tips and resources. Many of these ideas can benefit typical kids in addition to those with special needs or a learning disability. In this post we also connect you with some great resources to help you as you get ready for the new school year.

So why is preparing for the transition back to school so important, especially for different learners? By doing some preplanning, you can help reduce anxiety in your child about a new school year. You can also make sure your child has the proper support they need in their new classroom or new school. And with some advance preparation, you can create some important routines that we know many children rely on. Read on for helpful back to school tips that you can start on now.

Use a Back to School Countdown

Let’s face it, there is so much going on in the rush before school starts. You want to squeeze in the last free days of summer, while shopping for school supplies, new clothes and scheduling any needed doctor appointments. How can you cram anything else in? This Back to School Countdown from Understood.org offers some great ideas to get your child ready to go back to school. Not all of the tips may apply, but there are sure to be some that will help you, as well as your child, prepare for that first day back in the classroom.

In addition to the practical back to school tips for you, an actual countdown calendar can be helpful for your child. Create a calendar of the few weeks before school. With your child, cross off each day leading up to the first day of school. Doing so provides a visual for them to see when school starts and may help reduce some anxiety they may have.  

Use Social Stories

Social stories are a great way communicate to your child what they can expect in a new situation, teach appropriate behavior, and much more. And thankfully there are a ton of free resources out there to help you so you don’t have to start from scratch. By creating a print social story, or using a topical video social story, you can help reduce anxiety your child may have about the new school year, new teacher, new classmates, new routine, etc.

Dyan from “And Next Comes L” has an extensive list of free back to school social stories you can download and print. She also includes some topical stories for times that may cause more stress and anxiety, like changing classes for gym, art or music. Additionally, she has a few video social stories about High School, riding the bus, listening to the teacher, how to greet people at school, and more!

Communicate With Their Teacher

Create a “get to know me” document or write a letter to your child’s teacher. By sharing your child’s diagnoses, strengths and weaknesses, dietary restrictions, sensory needs, things that interest them, and strategies that work for them, you are empowering your child’s teacher with important information for their success at school. There are a few templates available for introduction letters and “get to know me” documents.

  • This Card to Help Teachers Get to Know Your Child is from Understood.org. Older kids who are able to write and communicate could complete it on their own, which will help them develop self-advocacy skills.
  • Understood.org also has two different Back-to-School Introduction Letters for elementary and middle school students. They are fairly basic, but may be just what you need to communicate important information with your child’s teacher.
  • For younger students, or those starting at a new school, a more robust document may be warranted. The Autism Alliance of Michigan has a free download called “The Big Book All About Me. You can print it out and fill in a variety of important pieces of information like your contact info, family member details, photos, your dreams for your child, their learning style and so much more!
  • You can always just type up a letter detailing the above things for the teacher and email it to them before school starts – if you know who your child’s teacher is.

And don’t forget to make or send copies of whichever version you choose to your child’s aides, the school therapists, principal, “specials” teachers, basically anyone who will be working with your child.

Using Technology

If your child uses an AAC to communicate – an Alternative and Augmentative Communication device, ask if your child’s teacher(s) and aides are familiar with using them. There are several different programs available, so some training may be needed. Work with your child’s speech therapist to help ensure those working with your child day in and day out know how to utilize this tool to facilitate communication with your child.

In addition to communication, there are apps that can help students with a variety of learning and back to school challenges. Here’s a list of different apps to look through from supporting academics, executive functioning skills, managing anxiety and more. One of the apps that stood out to us is Tiny Tap. “TinyTap helps grade-schoolers and middle-schoolers work on specific academic or social skills. Families and kids can create lessons, games, or quizzes on any topic. Kids can also access dozens of lessons and games created by other people. There are a bunch of popular ones made by teachers to help kids learn to make inferences and understand social situations. It has reading and math lessons, too.

A few more reminders….

If your child has gotten used to sleeping in, be sure to start easing them back into the earlier wake up schedule a few weeks before school starts. Getting them to bed a little earlier each day and waking up a bit earlier each day will help them get the rest they need, and hopefully help reduce the stress that comes with rushing out the door because they slept too late.

If your child seeks sensory input or is upset by loud sounds, prepare a sensory kit for school with their favorite fidgets, chewy necklaces, noise-reducing headphones, etc.

Do you have some other back to school tips or routines that have helped you prepare? If so, share them in the comments. We wish you a smooth and successful new school year!

And if you found this post helpful, please share it with your friends.

Preparing For Your Child’s IEP

Preparing For Your Child’s IEP

There are a ton of resources out there if you do a Google search for “IEP tools” or “preparing for an IEP”. It can be overwhelming. We want to provide some information to help you sift through all the content so that you can walk into your child’s next IEP more confident than you did the last one.

One thing is for sure: when you have a child with autism, ADHD, Down syndrome, dyslexia, or any other condition that impacts their learning, becoming an expert in the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) process is necessary for parents. Read on for some tips and resources to help you in preparing for your child’s IEP.

Remember the law is on your side

First, there is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act establishing the framework for what students with disabilities are entitled to in school – a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).

And more recently there is the Endrew F. Decision in which the Supreme Court ruled in March 2017 that Individual Education Programs must give kids with disabilities more than a de minimis, or minimal, educational benefit. The Supreme Court ruled on the meaning of a free appropriate public education (FAPE). The case involved a boy with autism and ADHD, who made almost no progress on his IEP goals because his behavioral and academic needs weren’t addressed. Understood.org created this helpful resource as a result of this decision.

You are your child’s best advocate

Even with the law being on your side, the reality is, not all school districts are created equal. Whether it’s in the arts programming they provide or the special education services they offer, philosophies and services can vary widely from district to district and state to state. Know your rights as an equal member of the IEP team and be ready to step out of your comfort zone to advocate for what your child needs.

Walk in with the mindset that this is your child’s meeting, not a district meeting or a special education department meeting. Remember, you are the expert on your child. Come to the meeting with your own data – video of your child doing things, copies of their “’work”. They may not demonstrate their full potential during a standardized assessment, so compiling your own data can reinforce what you are advocating for!

Don’t forget the Parent Concerns Letter

Most IEP forms have a very small box for “Parent Concerns”. Know that you are not limited to how many words can fit in that box. You can draft an entire letter outlining your child’s needs and the concerns you have for their progress and learning. Here’s a great resource from A Day In Our Shoes specifically about the Parent Concerns Letter. Communicate your vision for your child and don’t allow anyone to change YOUR vision.

Framing the conversation

It’s important to tailor the conversation when it comes to preparing your child’s IEP. It is difficult to hear how your child stacks up to their typical peers. That’s the reality of the standardized assessments and evaluations presented by the IEP team. You know your child struggles with communication, fine motor, reading, math, or whatever it is. But to have that data in black and white can be quite sobering. Help set the tone by flipping weakness statements into strengths and needs statements. As this Brooke’s Publishing blog post states, by changing “can’t do” statements into “the student needs…” you will end up with an effective IEP that not only establishes high expectations, but also will meet your child’s needs.

What if you don’t agree with the IEP and/or others on IEP team

It’s OK to not finish within the first meeting. You can reconvene for a second (or third, or fourth) IEP meeting if necessary. And consulting with a special education advocate can be very helpful if your emotions are running high and you’re not feeling heard by the district. An advocate can help you with talking points, legality issues, and even attend the IEP with you to assist with communication between you and the school district representatives. Additionally, a free local resource for parents is Michigan Alliance for Families.

Additional Resources

There really is a TON of information out there to help you with your child’s IEP. Instead of making this post any longer, here are a few additional resources for you to check out:

We hope these tips and resources for preparing for your child’s IEP prove to be helpful for you. And if you have any tips that you find especially helpful, please share them in the comments!

Back to School Tips for Kids with Autism

back to school

Back to school is fast approaching here in Michigan. This time of year can be both exciting and stressful, especially for children with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, Down syndrome, or other developmental needs.

Children can have anxiety about new or possibly stressful situations just like adults! Remember how you’ve felt starting a new job or meeting new people. Now multiply that feeling by 100… or 1000, if you struggle with learning, communication and social interactions!

Parents of kids with autism and other special needs know how critical it is to be involved in your child’s education. So you may already be thinking about ways to help your child have a successful start to the new school year. But here are some tips to ease the transition back to school, for you and your child. Not all of these will apply to your child or situation. But there should be a few that will benefit your child’s transition.

Preparing Your Child:

back to school

A bit of planning ahead can make a world of difference in how your child acclimates to the new school year.

  • Talk about school often with your child. Look at pictures of friends and school activities from the previous year to encourage conversation about school. And if your child has a friend that will be in the same class, arrange a play date before school starts.
  • Discuss with your child about when school starts, what grade they are going into, their teacher’s name (if you know it). Just doing this one thing can help reduce their anxiety. Using a calendar to countdown the days is also helpful for visual learners.
  • If your child is used to sleeping in during the summer, start to prepare for the school morning schedule by waking them up a bit earlier each day.
  • Try to schedule a visit with your child to meet their teacher and see their classroom the week before the first day. Giving your child a visual of their room, locker, or desk can help ease anxieties they may have.
  • Get school supplies well in advance so that your child can get used to them. And your child may prefer their familiar backpack, lunch bag, certain colored folders, etc. A familiar item can bring comfort when there is so much newness happening in their world.
  • For older students, color code notebooks and materials (including making text book covers) for different classes. Blue equals English, red equals Math, etc. Color coding can help your child identify and keep their materials together more easily.

Preparing the School/Teacher/Therapists:

back to school

Your child spends the majority of their awake hours at school. Establishing a collaborative relationship with all those involved in his or her education will make for a smoother school year.

  • Ask to schedule a meeting with the teacher before the first day. This will give you a chance to discuss seating, potential distractions and your child’s strengths and needs. Take a copy of your child’s IEP to give the teacher. Review any specific items you want to make sure they are aware of.
  • If it’s a new school, contact them to ask for a tour. If permitted, take pictures of the school, playground, classroom, cafeteria, specials rooms and teacher to create a social story for your child.
  • Arrange to meet with the principal if your child is new to the school. Being proactive helps everyone to better understand your child’s needs. Also ask about the school’s experience with autism and how the staff works with children on the spectrum.
  • Create a one-page profile about your child, outlining their strengths, skills working on, possible sensory issues, dietary restrictions, and favorite reinforcers. Also include a few “fun facts” about your child. Make copies for your child’s teacher, LRC teacher, para pros and therapists. You can also provide one for the principal, assistant principal, office staff, librarian, physical education, art & music teachers. It is very helpful to everyone working with your child to have a “snapshot” of them.
  • Hopefully most school teams already do this, but if not, encourage communication among new and previous teachers. Ask them share information on known behavior problems and strategies that worked well. It can also be helpful to share teaching techniques that were beneficial to your child’s learning. If your child has therapists ask them to communicate any helpful information with the new teacher as well.
  • Collaborate with the teacher or a behavior specialist to create a reinforcement system. Use this system to reward your child for positive days, especially during the transition back.
  • Update your child’s medical information with the school, including any new medications your child is taking. Remember to get any required prescriptions for school therapies from your child’s pediatrician.
  • If your child has special dietary needs or has dietary issues, be sure to address (or readdress) these with the school to ensure they will be managed.

Preparing Yourself:

back to school planning

A calm mom and dad are better able to help their child have a smooth back to school transition.

  • Confirm who your emergency contacts are and make sure you have their current phone numbers. (Sometimes this is a little more complicated for families that have children with autism or other disabilities.)
  • Review your child’s IEP to ensure it is exactly how you want it to be. If the IEP needs updating (maybe due to growth in some areas over the summer), request a meeting with the IEP team to make changes.
  • Try to relax – if possible! Children can sense their parents’ anxiety. If you can keep your stress in check, it will help your child stay calm on the first day and through the school year.

We hope you found some helpful back to school tips to create a smooth transition for your child – and you – when that first day arrives!

And if your child struggles in a traditional school setting, needing more focused behavior supports, take a look at Our Programs supporting individuals with autism from ages 2 to 16. We offer both daytime and evening options.