Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Great Teachers of Kids with Autism Deserve More Than Gratitude

How do you say goodbye and thank you to a teacher who has made an important, positive, lasting impact on your child's life? On the lives of your whole family?

This is an important issue for families who have children with autism spectrum disorders because special education services are an essential component of enabling a person with autism to learn and develop skills—in the classroom, at home, and in the community—that will form the building blocks of a better life.

And parents I've met rightly focus on not just the person doing the teaching—let's stipulate you have to be a kind, patient person to want to be a teacher of kids with special needs—but also on the person's qualifications, training and experience. (Good supervision also makes for superior teachers, but that's a topic for another post.)

The point here is: When you find a great teacher, you know it. You not only experience your child learning new things, you get to see data that tracks such learning. You not only see a child who enjoys seeing the teacher, but you as a parent get to learn new things about how to support and enhance your child's development. You get to ask questions, make suggestions. If you read someplace that it takes a village to raise a child, it can feel like it takes a town to raise a child with autism; and the teacher is a leading citizen in that town. A great teacher is a gift, something you can't quantify in terms of value. You know you have a great teacher because you dread having to say goodbye.

So how do you say thanks, how do you show your gratitude to someone whose work has been a gift? Here are some thoughts below. You are encouraged to add your own.

1. Don't wait until the end of the school year (or teaching cycle) to say thank you.
Offer positive reinforcement early and often. Learn what kind of praise resonates most with a teacher. It could be a written note, a donation to charity in her honor, a letter of commendation to her school, her supervisor.

2. Be a good partner.
Because teaching kids with autism requires a commitment by parents to complement what is going on at school, listen to the teacher's good advice, work with her on behavior plans to develop them and carry them out. Demonstrate you are not only an expert on your child's needs, what motivates her to do well, but that you also are a good listener, interested to learn more from skilled educators.

3. Look for ways to support educational institutions for kids with autism, which are training more great teachers.
If your great teacher is affiliated with an educational institution or school district, there could be a way to volunteer to help them, or become a contributor.

4. Ask other parents for their thoughts.
Other parents you meet along the way to figuring out how to make a difference for your child with autism can help you answer many questions. How do they show their appreciation for great teachers?

Also see:

Autism Specialist Market Heating Up; How Do You Thank Your Autistic Child's Teachers?