Dear teachers of autistic children
Disclaimer: The below is based on my own experience as autistic, as well as having a big input in raising my autistic brother, who is currently 8. Autism is a spectrum. Not all these points will be applicable to every situation. Written from the perspective of the parent/guardian.
Dear teachers of autistic children
1. Why would we lie!?
What do we have to gain by lying about our child’s needs? We don’t wake up one morning and decide today is the day I want to spend hours on the phone to educational psychologists, occupational therapists, you name it, I’m going to phone them and push for support for my child. Just for a laugh.
2. We want the best for our child. As should you.
We should be on the same side as you. All we want is the best for our child, for their educational development and quality of life. You should want that too. We should not have to fight you for this, to beg, plead and fight to get the slightest bit of support put in place.
3. We pay the price
Do you pay the price for pushing our child way beyond their limits? Right, no. We do. They come home agitated, aggressive and ready to explode at us, at the slightest thing. Because you push them too far. You push them to keep up with their peers, to tolerate sensory environments they are not built for, and this must be let out at some point. If you don’t see these explosions at school, trust me they are happening at home.
4. They are just kids
Childhood should be stress free. Primary school especially, should be stress free. They are supposed to be the happiest and easiest years of your life. We protect them from everything we can, but we cannot do that once they are handed to you.
It is not just about their education. While this is important, it would be nice to give them a quality of life, happiness.
5. Autism is a spectrum
If they are diagnosed as autistic, we do not need, nor want, your opinion on whether you think that is accurate. Autism exhibits itself very differently from one child to the next. They do not all look like the autistics you see on TV and in the movies.
Some autistics do not exhibit some of the visible behaviour that you would associate with autism. This is typically the case for autistic girls, however, that is certainly not always the case, it could present like this in boys (or vice versa). Autism can present itself very differently. So, drop the stereotypical judgement!
6. Compassion is free
Budgets. Funding. It always comes back to these doesn’t it?
How about the things that are free? Compassion. Understanding. Time.
How much does it cost to warn a child of change? Nothing.
How much does it cost to check in with them when it gets noisy? Nothing.
Yes, some things need funding. But some of the most crucial things, cost nothing.
7. It is a communication disorder
When our child walks out of school and is visibly distressed, we want to know what has happened. To understand the situation and be able to help them.
The problem is that autism is a communication disorder. Attempting to communicate with them when they are like this is impossible.
We should be able to trust that if something has happened at school, that you will tell us about it. Honestly. Without covering up fault or blame. When we pick our child up, you should be telling us if they have struggled that day.
Don’t make us have to ask the child. (or have to ignore it).
8. To you they are one child
To us they are our whole world. Yes, we will fight for them.
Naughty kids get the attention while the well-behaved kids gets ignored. Please don’t teach our child that to get help, to get someone to pay attention to their struggles, they must be naughty. Don’t let a silently struggling child get lost in the noise.
Equally, a ‘naughty’ child may be a child crying out for support and understanding.
The system likes to keep autistic children in mainstream schools where possible. This is not a bad thing, if the schools are equipped for this. This predominantly means the staff dealing with my child need to understand autism, really understand it. The dinner lady needs to understand why they may lose control if the lunch menu changes. If a school has an autistic child there, the staff who encounter them, should be trained in autism.
The school system needs to do better for autistic children.