Good communication with secondary schools: how it supports autistic pre-teens and teenagers
Good communication between you and your child’s school and staff is important. It lays the foundation for a shared understanding of your child, and your child’s learning strengths, goals and needs.
With this shared understanding, staff are better able to work with your child’s strengths and help things go well for your child at school.
Good communication is also part of building a positive relationship with your child’s school. And when you have a positive relationship with the school, it’s easier to advocate for your child if you need to – for example, if there’s a problem or you need to make a complaint.
Who to communicate with at secondary schools
Secondary schools can be big places, with many more staff than primary schools.
Here are some of the people you might need to be in touch with:
- teachers – home-room teacher and subject teachers
- principal, assistant principal or year coordinator
- school office manager and administrators
- school nurses, psychologists, social workers or counsellors
- student support or welfare coordinators.
Depending on the school, you and your child might be given a special contact or support person at the school – often the student welfare coordinator, home-room teacher or year coordinator. You’ll probably do most of your communication with this person.
Some parents like to communicate with the school via email, so they can think before responding to issues. Others like to discuss things in person or by phone. Another option is to use a communication book or app. Your child’s school will appreciate knowing what works best for you.
Communicating about autistic children’s strengths, interests and needs
One of the key reasons for communicating with secondary school teachers and other staff is to help teachers understand your child. This is a solid foundation for a good relationship between teachers and your child, and it will help teachers support your child’s learning and behaviour.
You can build understanding by sharing information about your child’s strengths and interests. For example, it might help a teacher to know that your child likes a specific TV show, so that the teacher can use examples from the show to teach a certain topic.
You could also explain:
- how to tell when your child is having trouble coping or getting tired – for example, they might become very quiet, run away or lash out
- what helps your child recharge and refocus – for example, they might need to play with their phone or tablet, go for a walk, or get a drink of water
- what teachers can do to help your child calm down after an outburst or other challenging behaviour – for example, set up a special place in or near the classroom where your child can go
- how to help your child understand changes to routine, like new events, excursions and so on.
Another way to share this information is by including it in a profile of your child or in your child’s individual learning plan. This can make it easier for the information to be passed on to new or relief teachers who might work with your child.
Communicating about autistic children’s learning and educational goals
Many secondary schools have formal planning processes or activities, like student support groups and individual learning plans. These are great opportunities for you to talk with staff about things like:
- your child’s learning needs, goals and progress
- teaching methods – for example, if your child has difficulty understanding or remembering what is said to them, you could suggest staff use printed handouts, written instructions and other visual tools
- communication methods – for example, if your child has trouble communicating verbally or is non-verbal, you can help teachers or aides to use augmentative and alternative communication systems
- learning flexibility – for example, you could ask whether your child can do schoolwork or assignments in non-traditional ways, like recording an assignment as an audio file rather than writing it down
- curriculum – for example, you could talk about which elective subjects will best cater to your child’s interests
- classroom set-up – for example, you could ask about how teachers can cut down on distractions and noise levels to cater for your child’s sensory needs
- teacher aides – for example, you could ask about how aides are trained to work with autistic children and what to do if your child would prefer a different aide.
Where possible and appropriate, your child should know about and take part in some of these meetings. This can help your child to start taking some responsibility for their own learning and for working out what they need to learn.
Communication about difficult issues
There might be times when you have to communicate with the school about difficult or sensitive issues.
For example, this might happen if:
- your child is being bullied
- you and teachers have different opinions about the best teaching methods or curriculum for your child
- your child has been behaving in challenging ways.
In any tricky situation, it’s always best to communicate with the school. Talking through your concerns can help to clear up the situation and keep everyone calm. You can also talk through strategies that might help resolve the issue.
Any discussions you have should focus on the behaviour in the situation, rather than on a particular person.
If the school has asked to meet with you because your child is behaving in challenging ways, it’s best to listen to the facts and make sure you completely understand what has happened. The school will usually want to find a way to help your child, so talking with staff about your child’s behaviour is a chance to be a positive part of the solution.
Making a complaint to the school
If you need to make a complaint, start by checking the school’s complaints policy. You can also ask your state or territory education department or Catholic or independent school association about what to do.
A disability advocate might be able to help you make a complaint. With an advocate’s help, you could negotiate with the school for the best outcome for your child. You can find a disability advocate through autism support groups, websites and parent communities.
Once you and the school have discussed your concerns, the next step is giving the school time to investigate and do something about the situation.
Organise at least one follow-up meeting so the school can explain what it has done and what has happened as a result.
It’s a good idea to keep a record of all your communication with the school, education department or school association as you go through the process of resolving the conflict.
– Sarah, mother of an autistic child