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Navigating Education with a Child Who Has Been Diagnosed with Nonverbal Autism

I know he is 3, but I worry especially as he gears up for school.


Please know that before you read this post I do not know everything. This is just my experience, my knowledge, and the advice I have been given from others.

I worry about a lot of things like most moms do, but I mostly worry about his needs and wants, will he make friends? Will I ever get him potty-trained? Will he be excluded from a lot of things? Pushed to the side?


These are the thoughts that plague me daily.


As a teacher, I know how it feels to be a teacher. Now, I know how it feels to be a parent.


A Teacher's Perspective on Education IEP's


Yes, I am a teacher. A 5th-grade teacher going into my 5th year of teaching. I have zero experience with infants, toddlers, and pre-K but I do understand the ins and outs of the education system. I have seen multiple education plans and accommodations and have seen them change throughout the grade levels. Teachers talk to each other and we try to pass on the strategies that we have picked up to help your child succeed or at least that is what my coworkers and I do.


People have asked me, "Has the diagnosis of my son changed my teaching strategies?". Yes, to an extent but I also understand the pressures in the education system but that does not change the fact that I want the best for my son and I will fight the system. I am not scared to do so.


When I went into teaching I never thought my son would be placed on an IEP.


An IEP stands for an individual education plan. It provides accommodations, recommendations, and services to a child with needs. The plan makes sure that each child meets his or her expectations with the desired route of learning. If a child has an IEP then a teacher, instructional assistant, etc must follow those accommodations to a tee.


For a teacher, this can be challenging especially when you have 3+ in one classroom. Everyone's needs are different and most students who are on an IEP are not developmentally on the same page as the ones who are not. Therefore, it's one teacher vs "X" amount of IEPs with "typical" students. However, we are trained to do this, as challenging as it is, and once month three hits we know how to maneuver the room in a way that seems effortless but trust me the effort is hard. Teachers work HARD.


A Parents Perspective on an Education IEP's


As a parent, I always worry my son's accommodations are not met, but why would I worry about that? Honestly, not every teacher runs a classroom with IEP-appropriate tactics. I am not perfect at all and we are all human, I get it, but you hear horror stories all the time. I just do not want my kid to be one of those "horror" stories. Social media has probably increased that fear. I fear many things as my child gets ready to enter pre-K 3.


As a special needs mom, any mom for that fact, we work hard for our children and try to provide them with everything they need to succeed but sometimes we have no control. School, to some extent, is that grey area.


education IEP


School as a Whole


Then, there is the social aspect. I know how cruel kids can be, I have seen it firsthand and with the internet and social media, it is almost uncontrollable. I know that kids quickly figure out who is "different" and they do what they can to "make a laugh" even at the cost of feelings. There is a flip side where children are kind, compassionate, and accepting of all which I hope is the case for all children.


So, how do we navigate this area in our children's lives when it seems almost impossible to control every little aspect as we have done in the past?


Short answer. You can't, but you can make a few choices that will help your child during this process coming from

a teacher's perspective.


Proactive Checklist for a Successful Start at School


  1. Choose the "right" school. The reason I put quotations around this option is that this may not be accessible to everyone. I remember our doctor wanted Ellis to attend an autism pre-k. Unfortunately, our area has nothing like that so I had to find a facility that would adapt, was small, and would allow therapy to come in and provide their services. I know a lot of families who home-school or have a tutor come in and if that works for you great. You need to find a school that treats your child with respect, love, support, and kindness not to mention that follows the IEP and is serious about it. Public school is mandated to follow the IEP and in this area, the private school does not follow IEPs but that may be different in other counties or states.

  2. Get all the services you can but ask where they will take place. The services are great! Speech works on speaking, listening, and eating. Occupational therapy works on those fine motor skills and physical therapy is our gross motor skills. Special education works with academics and social work helps with our social skills and additional resources. I personally think the more services they receive at a very young age the better! What you need to be careful of is "pull-outs". This is where the service providers consistently pull your child out of the classroom and then they fall behind in the classroom. This usually isn't a huge issue until around 2nd/3rd grade. So, make sure you ask when and where the services will take place and be sure to include that you want most services to be a group effort meaning they use the other students to assist with the services. I also think it's great to mix the days too. So one week of speech may be a pull-out and then the next two sessions are in the classroom. It's a nice mix and nice for a teacher to see how to integrate those services into his/her practice.

  3. Meet the teacher and list things that will benefit your child. Always meet the teacher! I love when parents come to me and hand me anything that can help their child succeed. Parents know their children the best so it's really great to get that bond with everyone so that everyone is on the same page and the child will feel more comfortable in the classroom.

  4. Try to get a one-on-one instructional assistant. Ask, ask, ask for a one-on-one for your child because it makes a world of difference for the student and for the teacher. This generation has become very needy because they get everything they want at their fingertips because of devices so they assume every adult is at their beck and call. If your child needs extra support always ask for it because it's more meaningful coming from the parent than the teacher. Remember that the teacher is one person with 12-20 students and it's a lot, so if you want close support for your child you have to advocate that.

  5. Ask for homework. This homework is not necessary for your child, it's for you. Reach out to the teacher, IA, or service provider and ask what they are working on and how you can help from home. The more practice and exposure the child gets the better the accommodation will carry over in a school setting.


Remember We All Learn New Things Along the Way

As a parent, I am new at this and learning as I go. However, seeing the other side, I appreciate the parents that communicate well and can tell me their child's needs, wants desires, and communication preferences. I am able to adapt to situations better and understand the child's actions so that I can have a better connection which will lead to better learning. If you're not proactive then you fall behind and no one wants that. I have always seen that the more I provide a voice for my son the more opportunities he will have to have a voice of his own.


As a parent, I continue to fight or find what I deem necessary for my child to succeed and will always do so.


Here are a few things that we have or are trying to cross over from school to and from home:

  • Visual schedule

  • AAC device

  • Core Board

  • Turn-Taking Strategies

  • Sitting at a table for periods of time


Xo,

Erica



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