Son-Rise Program® Teacher,
Autism Treatment Center of America®
In order to know whether your child’s current therapies and school environment are a good fit for them, one step you can take is to contact the principal at the school and set up an observation of your child’s day. This will help you gain important information and understand what their day looks like in much more detail than you can gain from reading a teacher’s report. I have heard from parents over the years that observations aren’t encouraged, so it often doesn’t occur to them to request the opportunity to observe. Know that it is well within your rights to observe your child in school.
Observing your child will help you educate yourself to be able to make the most well-informed decisions when it comes to your child’s various learning environments. Observing your child will help you gain a glimpse into the day to day events her/his current environment provides and will also help you further support and make decisions regarding your child’s development. When you are observing your child, be aware of the following three areas:
Creating an environment where your child can more easily trust and relate to people is going to support their social growth and inspire them to want to step outside their comfort zones and take more steps toward social interaction. Your child’s world is already unpredictable. It’s important that we reduce the limits and boundaries imposed upon them and make their interactions more helpful and user-friendly. Our children thrive on predictability and being in control so look for how many transitions there are throughout their day and how they cope with each transition. Also note any unpredictable events that occur during the day.
2. Distractions – How overwhelming and distracting is the school environment? When our children are over-stimulated they tend to need to do their repetitious and exclusive behaviors (isms) more often and need time to recuperate and adjust to the external distractions and sensory overload that is happening. Is the classroom highly distracting with noise and visual stimuli or is it calming and soothing to be in? What happens when they ism? Are they put in a “time out”? Are they stopped from doing their ism or are they re-directed to another activity? We believe that children are taking care of themselves, calming themselves and regulating their sensory processing systems when they ism. Providing them with a quiet space or room they can escape to when they need to ism, will be more supportive than stopping them or judging them for the ism behavior.
3. Socialization – Are your child’s attempts at socialization being encouraged or discouraged? Since connecting and relating to people is the core challenge children with autism face, socialization is the primary focus in The Son-Rise Program. Track how often they are making eye contact with others and what happens when they do. Is their eye contact being acknowledged and celebrated? Is there any one-on-one contact where someone can be with your child positioning themselves in front of him/her, really helping them relate to people? Or… is the focus all about them doing academic or self-help tasks? If their eye contact is not being recognized and encouraged to develop, how can they learn to continue to use eye contact as a means of connecting with others? Record how and when they use language to express themselves or to verbally participate. Is your child’s communication welcomed and acknowledged throughout their day? It is important that we really encourage our children to share their language and perceive that their social communication is valuable. When you observe recess and lunch time … is your child approaching other children or vice versa? Is there an adult present to facilitate interaction between peers? As you observe, you want to sit quietly at the back of the classroom and take notes. If your child comes to you and tries to engage with you, sweetly explain you are visiting and won’t be participating with them and lovingly re-direct them back to the task at hand. Sometimes parents will watch from a window of the classroom to minimize distractions.
Taking the step to observe your child means taking a more proactive role and having a greater say in how you want them to spend their time. Certainly, you want your child to thrive and succeed in school, not just to simply scrape by. To thrive and succeed not just in their classes and therapies but throughout out each step of their entire school day.