The best seminar I attended wasn’t about behavior modification or teaching or social skills… it was on making a snapshot brochure of my child for his teachers.
Of course, it’s difficult to wrap a child up in a tidy, easy-to-read instruction manual (or brochure).
And yet, that’s what a new teacher needs. He or she doesn’t have the time to listen to us meander on about our children’s foibles – and have learned, sadly, to discount what parents say, anyway – but they can glance at a brochure.
Particularly if the parent has cared enough to put one together.
Obviously, one can’t just say Asperger’s Syndrome and leave it at that. Many people have never heard of it. Also, each individual is different… Alex may be outgoing and lack a sense of embarrassment, while Elise remains shy and sensitive. Some may have extreme sensory issues, while others are more about behavior and rituals.
So start with an introduction, and then move on to specifics.
For our first page, I like to introduce Asperger’s Syndrome very very quickly. Think short attention span, busy teacher who really has too much to do and not much time to spare.
Then follow up with some details that pertain to your son or daughter. Keep it brief – yes, painfully short – and to the point.
Next, a list of triggers can be handy. Triggers as in what causes or precedes a full-blown meltdown or withdrawal.
For example, a perception of unfairness. That one’s usually pretty across-the-board. Our honest, literal-minded, black-and-white loved ones don’t handle unfairness – or just the perception of it, as there may not actually be any unfairness going on – well at all. There can be back-talk and heated exchanges with teachers, which does not end well. And that’s the mild version.
You all know what I’m talking about. You’ve lived it.
But to a lot of teachers, it’s new. Not everyone out there has experienced an older child collapsing in a tantrum, throwing a chair, screaming, pulling hair, withdrawing into a rocking, sullen state, or whatever it is. A list of triggers can help them to understand the cause, if not the behavior itself.
At the end of the brochure, it’s nice to include solutions.
Since I’ve learned through the years that credibility with teachers has to be earned – too many crazy parents out there spouting nonsense – it’s good to focus on solutions that other teachers (or professionals) have found.
For example, Deal or No Deal for us. I include the briefest possible explanation of this in my son’s brochure every time. It’s just too much of a winner to leave out.
The most important part about the snapshot – as in snapshot of an entire personality – brochure is to keep it readable. If it feels heavy, long, and wordy, it’s time to rewrite. The only exception to this might be in Solutions (last page), which teachers may ignore in any case.
Oh, and use bullet points. Teachers love bullet points. And yes, when I say this, I’m quoting the teacher of the seminar, who was herself – blink – an elementary school teacher.
I can’t tell you how many comments I’ve received about our brochures. We’ve even gotten calls from people I’ve never met who read our brochure and wanted a copy to show to another special needs family. A social worker I once met called me a year later asking about our brochure, wondering if her current autistic client could use it as a model.
My response, of course, was: Yes, please! If it helps, go for it.
In closing, I’d like to say that this may not be tremendously easy to throw together. It requires thought and effort, and we’re all busy people.
However, it’s great to hand out at IEP meetings, at open house, meet-the-teachers day, and especially for specials (PE, Art, music, etc) teachers, most of whom we never get to speak with in the first place.
Feel free to borrow any phrases you like from the examples I’ve shown, or to cut, paste, chop, rearrange, whatever.
Also, if you’ve made one you’d like to share, post it – with names removed – so that your examples can help someone else out there.
Note: Thank you, CARD (Center for Autism and Related Disorders) for this wonderful seminar. It’s been years now, but those little brochures continue to help us and the people who work with our loved ones.