Monday, January 31, 2011

Writing an Introductory Letter for Your Aspie (or other Special Needs) Children

Mothers all over Australia are celebrating today because the school holidays are over and the kids are finally back to school. Some kids go back willingly, some are a little apprehensive and some are terrified. For many children the terror stems from the idea of change. Some are changing schools but most are simply changing clasess and teachers.

First impressions count and if the new teacher is new to aspergers - or simply new to your child, then sometimes those first few days can have an impact which affects your child's relationship with their teacher for the remainder of the year.

The first couple of weeks are your opportunity to make a big positive impact on your child's first impressions of their new teacher (and on the teacher's first impressions on you and your child). You need to make sure that you take advantage of this period.


Why a Letter?
Your child's new teacher will have an eventful first week with loads of parents talking about their children. It's going to be overwhelming and in many cases, the conversations will occur before the teacher has learned the children's names. Most of what is said in those initial conversations will be forgotten or worse - attributed to the wrong child.

There's an intense period of parental interaction before and after school and then suddenly it all stops. The teacher goes home and tries to remember and absorb all of the days input.

A letter is different. A letter can be read and re-read anytime and the teacher can save the information for a time when they are feeling particularly receptive. Even better, the teacher can make sure that they know which student the letter refers to.

A letter can become part of your child's student record. If the classroom has several teachers, then it may be passed from one to another. Instead of the other teachers simply inheriting the impressions of your child's current teacher, they will get the whole story direct from the source.

Finally, a letter invites reply. If the teacher has any questions about your child or anything covered in the letter, they will get back to you.


When should you give the Teacher the Letter?
It doesn't really matter if you give the letter to the teacher before or after school - or if you send it (sealed) with your child. The teacher will read the letter when they're ready.

It is however, best to provide the letter sometime after the first day of school. Wait until the flow of paperwork has died down a little so that it won't get lost. Just don't wait too long or you'll miss out on those vital first impressions.

Any time in the first three weeks (except for the first days of school), is appropriate.


About the Letter
Here's a few things you should include in your letter;
  1. Your child's name and a photo (preferably printed onto the letter rather than being attached). This will help the teacher to identify your child and learn their name.

  2. Your name and contact details for yourself and your spouse. It would also be good if you could include a line or two inviting the teacher to feel free to ask any questions they want about your child's condition/needs.

  3. The correct name and a description of your child's condition. It's not sufficient for example, to simply say that your child is an "aspie". You need to use correct terms so that the teacher can look it up on the internet and understand it.

  4. Symptoms to watch out for. These should be real-world examples. Your child may, for example, be quite obsessed by rules. When other children break particular rules (in my son's case by telling lies about him), this can provoke a meltdown.

  5. Information on how to calm your child down. Some children like to be touched while others do not. If your child has particular sensitivities, these should be noted. Perhaps your child responds best to a quiet voice, or better to a stern one.

  6. Tips which have worked in the past. For example; my youngest child had trouble sitting still and respecting personal boundaries in floor time. Giving him a carpet circle to sit on significantly reduced this problem.

  7. Information on your child's particular obsessions. If your child is into Star Wars for example, this can help your teacher to bond with them. They may suggest Star Wars themed topics for writing or drawing assignments.

  8. Information about your child's social interactions. If your child struggles socially, you might want to mention who his friends are. Perhaps the teacher can include some of his friends in group work. Don't assume that your child will automatically let the teacher know if he feels left out of a group.
Writing a introductory letter can strengthen the bond between your child and their new teacher. Get this right and you will provide the teacher with the understanding and techniques necessary to make your child's school year a great one.

5 comments:

outoutout said...

Very good advice. Just FYI, the NT and QLD started school last week, so we've already had our moment of joy (so to speak) - still, early days..

Lizbeth said...

So true! I gave my son's teacher a laminated note that she kept on her desk. I sent in several copies for his other teachers as well. It was invaluable during those first weeks when his stress and anxiety was at its highest and his teacher was getting to know everyone. She was able to quickly reference what to do and what to say before things progressed to a full on meltdown.

Thank you!

Terra Howard said...

I've been doing this for 3 years. I t really helps in middle school when the child may have several teachers during the day. I know it helped our son & his teachers were very happy also.

Yellow Robin said...

Thanks for this. My son with AS started at a new school today and I have followed your instructions and laminated it like Lizbeth suggested.

It looks great!

thanks for the ideas!

Laura_G said...

Thank you for this advice Gavin. I had never thought about this. Although, we are new to Asperger's and still trying to get our heads around it. I did sit down with my son's teacher before school started, but I can see how having a letter to refer back to would be helpful. Another thing that has helped us with school and family is sharing the "All Cat's Have Asperger's Syndrome" book. Thank you so much for your blog. I always look forward to your posts.

Laura