As a community we spend a lot of time trying to educate our teachers, therapists, family members, family friends and more, but there is one group that often gets forgotten (most likely because it is the most difficult)…...the children and parents in your child’s classroom.
With the start of each new semester and with fall approaching, we always get the question, “What do I tell the other parents?” In the past we have told families to only tell them what they are comfortable with sharing but now we feel that we have been wrong with this advice. What this advice has done is allowed our families to only share what they want to and in turn, made it more difficult for the other families to understand their child.
Our new advice is to embrace these new families…..you still don’t have to share everything….but share enough to facilitate friendships for your child. Keep in mind that these are the children and parents that you want your child to become friends with…...to have sleepovers, campouts, birthday parties, football games and more. Most of these families have no connection to Autism and have very limited knowledge on this subject. Take this opportunity to educate them. We think that you will be surprised with their responses. Take this opportunity not to educate them about Autism, but to educate them about your child.
Our new suggestion is this: write a letter to these families and ask the teacher if you can give one to each family. Here are the main things you want to touch on:
1) Briefly introduce your family and let them know your child has Autism.
2) Let them know your child’s strengths and loves. He loves dinosaurs. One of her favorite school activities is book time during Circle, she loves books. Allow them to see your child as a unique individual, not as a label.
3) Let them know that they may see your child engage in different behaviors and let them know what this means. The more they understand, the better. It is unfortunate, but for these families, what they don’t understand can turn into being “scared”. We don’t how many times we have gone to schools and they have said that “we are scared of him/her” and in reality, it’s because they don’t understand why he/she is doing what he/she is doing. So tell them….
“He really wants to play with friends but he doesn’t know how to initiate the play. If he walks up and stands by your child, that is him trying to initiate play.”
“She doesn’t like loud noises. So if you see her with her hands over her ears, it’s because someone or something is too loud for her, not because she doesn’t want to play.”
“He loves to spin in circles. This gives him important sensory input that he needs in order to take in his environment appropriately. His sensory system is different than ours.”
4) Encourage them to interact with your child and give them a few tips.
5) Encourage them to talk to their children about your child. Let them know exactly what they can tell their children and how they can play/interact with your child. There is a great children’s series by Celeste Shally, where she writes books based on the friends of children with Autism……they are wonderful! You may want to suggest these.
6) Let them know that you want to plan play dates and fun outings throughout the year with their children.
7) And last, let them know that you want your child to be friends with theirs and that anything you can do to facilitate that, to let you know and that you are open to any questions they may have about your child.
The main key is for you to educate these families about your child so that your child will have a better chance and easier time building and sustaining friendships. Let’s embrace these new families and do everything we can to help our children succeed!
~Amanda & Laura