Frances Burns (specialist clinic teacher consultant, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne): Communication between home and school is really the lynchpin of a successful school experience both for the parents and for the child. Whilst you might want your child to have an excellent school experience it’s also an experience for the whole family so setting up efficient communication paths are really important, but I would advise that it is two ways. You need to communicate with the school. They need to communicate back to you.
Dolores (mother of James, 14, who is autistic): I think if you keep the communications lines open that is a really good thing and always stay on the better side of them, so although you are an advocate for your child and sometimes you feel like it is going to be a battle, you need to keep everybody on your side or you’ve kind of got to be on their side as well.
Nancy (mother of Andrew, 19, who is autistic): With the school in particular we always had meetings on a regular basis so every month, if need be every week if I wanted. I would ring and say ‘I need an appointment.’ I had a communication book for him where I would write every night what his night is like, what is going on and then that would go to school with him and then school would write and say ‘Okay, this is the day, this is what Andrew did.’ They would take some pictures and they would put them in and the pictures would help Andrew identify, and I would say ‘Oh okay so what did you do today? Oh, you went cooking. Look at that? Is that what you did today?’ and I would see the smile on his face, and then if I had any concerns I would just pick up the phone and call at any time. I could talk to the teacher, the principle and that is very important for the parents to feel that they can trust the school system, and the other way around. The school system needs to understand that they can trust the parent on their judgement because they know their children better.
Lillian (mother of Tash, 13, who is autistic): If Tash has woken up in a bad way and having a bad day I let them know so they are prepared. Let’s face it, Tash is not going to sit down and talk to me about things so I have to trust the people. I have to show trust but I have to see and create the trust by having the communication.
Frances Burns: Schools are required to set up particular pathways to communicate with parents for children who have special needs. It usually involves at least a once a term meeting. Inside that support group meeting there should be a formal individual education plan that sets out specific goals, long term and short term that address your child’s needs.
Kerryn Burgoyne (trainer and educator who has Asperger’s disorder): Ensure that the student is making progress on that plan and revising that plan from time to time to make sure the plan is actually working, or write up perhaps a new plan for that student to maybe go on a different path and help the student to achieve and shine even further in their school academic year.
Frances Burns: For a child with special needs it’s valuable for the parent to know which particular staff member is going to be their go-to person, so you need that key contact nominated early in the piece so that parents aren’t dealing with every single subject teacher or the teacher in the school ground that didn’t understand that your child wasn’t wearing a hat today because they refuse to wear a hat, so if you’ve got that key contact set up in place and you are in constant communication with that person, that’s the best place to start.
Dolores: If ever I’ve got any issues I’ve only just got to call them or put it in the communication book and it’s addressed pretty much straight away which I think is really good, and I always felt at ease with James going off to school there every day.
Elena (mother of Alex, 15, who is autistic): If there is a problem it’s certainly not a problem for me to write a note to the teacher and tell them what the issue is and they can easily ring me. There was one time where there was an excursion coming up and Alex wanted to take his Nintendo DS and it had on the note that you weren’t allowed to take any personal items like DSs or iPods and stuff but I left a note to the teacher saying Alex was desperate to take his DS and he was allowed to take his DS. It would have been really hard for him to actually go on a three day excursion and have nothing, so that’s something that they are quite adaptable to.
Dolores: Quite often the teacher might say to me ‘Oh, Mrs Ryan can you come in. We’d like to speak to you about this’ and I’ll go in and I’ll have a face to face with them and I just find that any concerns that I’ve ever had they are happy to address them. They are very proactive at getting things sorted so that it benefits James.
Frances Burns: As a family, I would say join in to the school community. Become involved in the day to day running of the school. Join the tuckshop. Join the parents’ association. Be available for the school working bees. Put your hand up to participate in any way possible on a global scale in the school community. That’s one type of communication that you as a family, as a unit, can have at the school and get to know your community.