6+ ways to help your child when they can’t communicate (Autism/special needs)

6 ways to help your child when they can't communicateHow do people; therapists, family, teachers, and friends view our child who is nonverbal? Do they truly understand our child? How does our child feel when they can’t communicate what they desire or need? Can you imagine the frustration of not being able to tell someone you’re hot, hungry, want to go to a certain restaurant, play with a certain toy, that you can’t find your favorite blanket? Can you imagine?

What is it like to parent a child who is constantly misunderstood and underestimated?

Over at Emma’s Hope Book, Ariane wrote an important piece about one of her daughter’s experiences when Emma couldn’t communicate. Problem was, the teacher should have known what Emma desired. You can read about the situation in the post, Picture Day Moments. It’s a great read and you can share it with others to help them understand Autism.

In that post Ariane writes, “Teachers are trained in a definition of autism that is incorrect.  A definition that assumes intellectual disability which is connected to an inability to make oneself understood, low IQ, problematic behaviors, unable to read aloud and therefore cannot read, a whole series of assumptions are being made daily about Emma and kids just like Emma, but

those assumptions are based on a false premise.”

When we attended our last Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting, I asked the school therapists and teacher if they could imagine NOT being able to communicate. I shared how frustrating it would be to not be able to tell anyone what you wanted or needed. They didn’t have much to say, either because they’ve never had parents ask them such obnoxious questions (I am the Queen of questions), or because they didn’t understand what I was saying. Most therapists and the teacher in the room are fantastic with Jeremiah, but I wanted EVERYONE in the room to understand why Autistic kids demonstrate “behaviors” (I strongly believe many “behaviors” are linked to the inability to communicate).

There was a specific person in that meeting I was trying to reach. Because of the “therapy” she did with my son, he stopped signing one of the only words he’s ever signed, and did so consistently before she “therapied” it out of him. He also stopped using a word (one of the very few words he’s ever used) we’d been working on, well, for years. You can read more about that experience here.

Kindly educating others helps them see the beauty in Autism
In that IEP meeting, I was making an effort to educate the educators on Autism and my son. We need to share what we learn and what we know about our child with everyone in our child’s life. We don’t have to be the know-it-alls, but we are the ones living it and researching it (share articles and pages from books you read), we didn’t sit in a room and learn from a speaker or text-book, and others can gain insight from what us parents have experienced.

Share everything you can about your child:

  • Stories about what they’re doing and interested in at home.
  • What your child is playing with.
  • How their play/behavior is changing.
  • What behaviors they’re displaying (discuss what you think is causing the good and the negative behaviors).
  • What your child likes.
  • How your child is communicating and changes taking place. I mention the word “changes” a lot because our children are constantly in transition, what was true yesterday or last week may not be true today, so it’s essential that we have constant open communication with everyone in our child’s life.

In the end maybe we can avoid those Picture Day Moments Ariane wrote about.

My hope is people would learn more about Autism, understand more about Autism, and accept Autism. My hope is that strangers, acquaintances, friends, therapists, family, and teachers would understand our children and people who are nonverbal. Sharon Draper wrote an awesome book, Out of My Mind LINK, that I think everyone should read, it was an eye-opener for me and showed me so much about individuals who are nonverbal.

Emma’s Hope Book is a great resource for parents of Autistic children, and a great website to share with others who are involved with anyone who has Autism.

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what is inclusion? (special needs)


I wish more people knew what inclusion is and the benefits of integrating special needs children in the mainstream classroom. When I share with others that our son attends the ONLY inclusive school in our district, they stare at me, having no idea what I mean. Information exists elsewhere on this topic, so I will share my opinion and experience, as well as share information from other resources.

So what is inclusion?

Inclusion is when children with special needs join mainstream classrooms for the majority of their day. This means children with mild to significant needs are in the same classroom with their peers. Each individuals assignments may look different when incorporating inclusion, as a child with moderate needs may not be able to complete the same task as a neurotypical child (one without a disorder, disABILITY, or developmental delay).

What does this look like for children with more significant needs?

This dynamic functions best when kids with more significant needs have a full time aid. Because of stress levels, social struggles, sensory needs, etc., the child may need to take occasional breaks from the classroom setting, which would be guided by the aid or Special Needs facilitator in the school.

More information on what inclusion is can be found at Kids Together.

Kids Together defines inclusion differently in some aspects. It really depends on where each school is in their readiness for inclusion. Our school does well with inclusion, but is not able to support a child’s every need within the classroom. When there is a child who needs intense sensory input, they’re not able to meet that need within the general classroom. Whereas, in the definition given by Kids Together, it says, “Supports follow the students, the students don’t go somewhere to get them.”

Tim Villegas of www.friendshipcircle.org says, “Inclusion is going to look different depending on each school and student. That is why I think it is helpful to see it as a framework as opposed to a one-size-fits all system.” Progress is progress, and we must work with what we have and move forward.

For a child who thrives on routine and lack of it can create turmoil within them, I believe the model of inclusion must be amended. For example, for holiday parties, assemblies, and times when the teacher is absent, one might consider creating an alternative for the child.

I agree with inclusion, but there needs to be leeway when the classroom dynamics are altered.

“Inclusion is part of a much larger picture than just placement in the regular class inclusion2within school. It is being included in life and participating using one’s abilities in day to day activities as a member of the community. Inclusion is being a part of what everyone else is, being welcomed and embraced as a member who belongs. Inclusion can occur in schools, churches, playgrounds, work and in recreation.” ~ Kids Together, Inc.

At this time in my journey with Autism, I’m in support of inclusion. I have two experiences with my son and inclusive classrooms. Jeremiah attended a mainstream classroom for two years, the teacher and aides did not have the training necessary to help Jeremiah appropriately. Because of their lack of knowledge and their unwillingness to learn about Autism, he was stuck in front of a television most of the morning.

In August 2012 he began attending an inclusive classroom that is part of our school district, and is connected to a primary school that’s inclusive. He thrived immediately. The difference? Teachers and aides who were well-informed about Autism, who were able to read his cues, and were willing to work with him where he was. He’s made great progress in his preschool (now in his second year – and we are VERY sad to see it going by so quickly). We also work with the teachers consistently, sharing his progress or regression at home, what he is saying (only a word or two), playing with, or how he’s communicating.

This helps us all meet Jeremiah where he’s at and encourage him to do more. 

Here’s a post from Special Needs Resource, which lists 10 Examples of Inclusion: For Those Who Need to See It to Believe It

Senminefield holds another opinion, he feels that inclusion doesn’t work for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Here’s what he has to say in Special School Vs. Mainstream: Pros & Cons. 

In Senminefield’s post, he discusses the teachers lack of knowledge pertaining to Autism. He does say that it’s not their fault; however, it’s my opinion that  parents should help educate teachers and staff on how to help our Autistic children. If we want inclusion, we can’t complain about every instance that goes awry, we need to work through them with educators to provide them with knowledge of our children they may not have.

Some other great resources for learning about and implementing inclusion are Think Inclusive and The Inclusive Church (for those who are interested in having inclusion work for church and Sunday School classrooms).

What are your experiences with inclusion? Do you think it would work for your child?

Some other posts that may be of interest:
Out of My Mind – including special needs
Great Special Ed Teachers = Priceless
the board’s decision overrides 

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make this school year exceptional (adoption/foster)

This article originally appeared in Adoption Today magazine.

Make This School Year Exceptional
by Tracy Dee Whitt

The kids have enjoyed swinging, swimming pools, sidewalk chalk, and scrumptious mud pies, but now it’s time to think about school. Some kids are excited about the new year and some are wary and worried.

My daughter, Payton, is a mixture of both. She has looked forward to kindergarten since she began uttering her first words, it has seemed to constantly be on her mind. Yet, despite the excitement, there is always trepidation when she enters a new situation; a new Sunday school class, another year of preschool, or Vacation Bible School. The jitters are fairly pointless, as she walks in with her fingers in her mouth, barely moving her feet forward, but when she is among the new kids, it all flitters away because she soon has friends, who she just met, following her every move.

I still have to pay attention to her worries and concerns, because in her mind they are real. We try to prepare her as best as we can. In the past months we’ve talked with her about what the new year, at a new school, will bring. At Kindergarten Roundup we found out class time would be vastly different from what we told her. Whoops. There are now so many requirements for teachers, they don’t have time for recess, indoor playtime, or snack. You’re most likely responding just as I did, “What?”

We made sure to share this with Payton right away so she wouldn’t go through the summer imagining something different. Many children like to know what’s happening in their world, and this is especially true for adopted children, and kids with attachment issues. The more you can prepare them for, the better it will go for them.

As school approaches, you will also want to consider what you want to share with your child’s teacher. Does your child have any behavior issues that you need to notify them about before school begins? Is your child ahead or behind academically? Do certain situations set your child off? If there is any information that will help your child succeed and the teacher to keep her hair intact, consider taking some time communicating this with them. Most teachers will be open to hearing what you have to say, will be willing to work with you, and will be happy you care about your child’s education.

Our daughter, Payton, had a very difficult time in preschool. Part of the issue was that she wanted to be in control. She would rush through her work and begin helping other kids with theirs. Most days she is a blessing at home in how she helps with her brother, who has Autism, but this proactive spirit of hers proved as a detriment in a school setting.

There were other behavior issues, many stemming from inconsistency in discipline between home and school. She was getting away with far too much in class, and most of the time it corresponded with having free time. She knew she would be warned several times without consequences, which reinforced the idea that she could manipulate her environment, and by the time consequences were put in place, she was out of control.

“After all, one of the defining elements of a traumatic experience…is a complete loss of control and a sense of utter powerlessness. As a result, regaining control is an important aspect of coping with traumatic stress.” Dr. Bruce Perry

We waited far too long before sitting down with the teachers to discuss what our daughter would need to succeed. We thought we had explained enough, but months later it was evident we hadn’t.

This idea of communicating with your child’s teacher applies to any parent of any kids, but it’s particularly important if you have a child who has behavior issues. We went to Payton’s preschool teachers with a printout they could keep and refer to. We laid out where she had come from, and what her life had looked like, they knew she had been adopted from foster care, but I don’t believe they understood the logistics of it all.

We didn’t write out all the specifics, just letting them know that your child was in an orphanage or foster care, and that they experienced neglect, abuse, and trauma is enough. On the paper we wrote what her triggers were, what behaviors might pop up, why she acted and reacted that way, and then we listed what to do about it.

I then asked the teachers to focus on what Payton did well, because there is so much negative in our kid’s lives. You can give the teacher specifics on what your child does well, where they can see them shine. At the end I wrote in bold letters, “If we are all on the same page, her behavior will get better!” You can add a little smile emoticon there if you’d like. Then welcome their questions, but try not to be offended by what they ask, as this may be something completely new to them.

I would suggest letting the teachers know that you want to hear about how your child is doing in class. Don’t wait for parent/teacher conferences to come around, continually keep yourself updated. Ask them how your child is doing at least on a biweekly basis. If you always get the same answer, “He’s doing fine/good/great,” ask pointed questions occasionally. How is he doing with the other children? What are her interactions like? How is she doing in (subjects she struggles in)? Does he listen to instructions?

You can consider volunteering in the classroom. If your child doesn’t tolerate you spending time in their class, dropping in periodically will help you get a feel for how he or she is doing.

We had a meeting with my son’s preschool teachers, aids, and therapists last year. One of them said, “When a parent is involved in their child’s education, the child is worked with more [in school].” Right or wrong, everyone around the table agreed, and they are all truly amazing educators. It’s sad that this is true in many instances, but now you know how it works in some school settings.

As my daughter has healed from her past trauma, we have found it less critical to share information with teachers. I was relieved this summer when I dropped Payton off at Vacation Bible School and didn’t need to go through her behaviors and worry about what she would do when I left. I didn’t pester the teachers when I picked her up, I knew that things had gone fairly well. Because school is every day, for most of the year, I will still need to talk to the teacher about things to look for, but the list has dwindled significantly from last years. You can decide what to share, and maybe as the year moves forward you will find more transparency is best for everyone.

Communicate with your child’s teacher so they will be better equipped to teach your child, communicate with your child so he or she is prepared for change in the coming school year. Everyone will benefit from knowing what to expect and what to do in given situations. May you and your children have a great school year!

How have you made a school year improve? I’d love to hear your ideas.
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