They're stuffed into a drawer upstairs. Bundles of small lined notebooks, filled with dates and page after page of handwriting. I can't throw them out, because they're such a perfect encapsulation of a time in our lives that was intense and difficult and overwhelming. But I can't bear to look through them either -- because they're such a perfect encapsulation of a time in our lives that was intense and difficult and overwhelming.
When my oldest son went off to elementary school, he was assigned a one-on-one aide. He had autism and, while we wanted him fully included in a regular classroom, we knew he'd need some extra support, mostly with social skills -- in preschool, he'd ignore the other kids and dart around the yard during recess, chanting to himself and making hand puppets.
The principal of our small local public school informed us that she'd just hired an aide for our son who had never done this kind of work before. We were wary. We had been hoping for someone experienced. But we got something much better: we got someone who was naturally gifted and also willing to learn.
From the very beginning, Dawn got that the best thing she could do for our socially withdrawn son was to attract other kids to come play during recess, so she made sure he always found himself in a circle of happy, chattering peers. She was pitch perfect in the classroom too, moving back to let him work unimpeded and take instructions from the teacher, until and unless he seemed confused, in which case she would materialize at his side and get him on track, fading back again as soon as possible.
But every once in a while, something would come up that she wasn't sure how she should handle -- a voice modulation issue, say, or a worrisome interaction with a peer.
And that's where those little notebooks came in.
At the end of the each school day, Dawn would take the notebook out of our son's backpack and quickly jot down a note or two, then put it back. When he got home, I'd check to see if she'd written anything. If she had a question I could answer, I'd answer it. But if I didn't know how to address that particular new challenge, well, that's where our amazing support system came in.
Our son was working regularly at that point with a speech therapist, a behavioral therapist, and a clinician. Depending on the issue at hand, I'd immediately consult one of our pros. Then I'd relay their advice back to our aide via our trusty notebook and she'd set to work implementing the intervention. Since we knew that consistency across all environments is the quickest path to improvement, we'd also work on the problem at home if we could.
By the time my son went off to middle school, he no longer needed a one-on-one aide, but we knew there would still be plenty of challenges ahead of him. We altered our strategy to meet the new situation, letting his teachers know that if they contacted us with any problems or questions that arose, we would do our best to work on its solution at home, once again drawing on our support system for advice and intervention.
We know how busy classroom teachers are: they don't have the luxury of focusing on a single student for any length of time. But most are able and willing to shoot an email off to a parent now and then, especially if they know that the email will lead to helpful and supportive action. Around that time we added a tutor to our "stable" of support help, which meant that now academic problems could be addressed at home as well as behavioral and social ones.
We found over and over again that teachers wanted to help and were pleased that all we needed from them was information, and then we'd do our best to take it from there, to work with him at home on the skills he'd need at school.
They say it takes a village. I'd say it definitely takes a team -- and a lot of communication among those team members. And sometimes a notebook or two.
This post by Claire LaZebnik also appears on Parentella's Blog.
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