Your child and school

Apr 01, 2022

When your child is starting school again for the term...

It’s no secret last term was a bit messy with Covid. And the upcoming term might be no different. We are all being asked to be more flexible and many of our kids are not highly flexible and need routine to feel safe. So this puts them at a disadvantage. Everybody is at a disadvantage, but our kids are at an even bigger disadvantage. And for those who are just getting by, just managing school as it is, these changes can be the tipping point. 

So how can we support our kids? Because a pandemic isn't the only challenge that they have to contend with. I would like to tell you a story from when I was working as a preschool teacher, I was about two and a half years into teaching. And I started to develop some debilitating symptoms such as I could no longer see what was in front of me even though my vision was fine and I needed to hold on to things to not fall over. I went to see a range of medical professionals and essentially my body was shutting down. At that point, I did not know that I had sensory processing disorder, or that I was autistic. But I was told that I needed to stop immediately. I wanted to finish the term and the specialist said, well, that will be the difference between you being taking years to recover or taking months so I stopped straight away. My entire sensory system was shutting down, my immune system was turning on itself because it thought that I was under some kind of threat. Even though I wanted to be there, my system could not cope with the sensory environment. 

Now, this was me as an adult autistic person with a more mature nervous and sensory system than when I was a child. Imagine how tricky it is for our kids. All autistic people are different and have different capacities but when our kids are struggling, we need to look deeper to understand what is the cause of their challenges. 

So here’s my top 4 tips for navigating school challenges:

1) The first step is to move forward with compassion for your child. We're putting them in an environment that isn't usually set up for them to thrive. Some neurodivergent people cope with school. Some absolutely cannot, and the more complex your child's profile, the harder it is to find a good fit. 

2) From that compassionate place, start to look deep inside of your child and observe them. And notice what sets them off. What are their triggers, if they're able to talk to you about what they are experiencing, then listen. A lot of our kids can't rely on words. But watch them and start to put pieces together. 

3) Become a great communicator with the school. I aim for 70% positive feedback about: what the school is doing that is working, thank the teacher for implementing strategies that the OT recommended, comment on how well their new communication systems is working, tell them when your child comes home and said that they really enjoyed a lesson or that they they felt really cared about. 

You are 1) giving them feedback on what works so they know and 2) you are building a positive platform for addressing challenges and problem solving collaboratively which is the other 30% of communication. I know this takes a lot of extra time and energy we dont have when we are already exhausted, but it is an investment that may prevent future conflicts. 

4) Tip number four is to write everything in email, leave a paper trail. If you can write clear requests such as can you please implement voice to text by the end of the term? Puting timeframes on things helps with accountability. And if you need to advocate we have everything written down.

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