As a human services professional or educator, you spend a lot of time devising a great autism education plan for each of the children you care for. For these plans to prove as effective as possible, you need to make sure that the child’s parents agree with it and practice it a home.
To learn how to do this, we spoke with Cheryl N. Engel, Ph.D. Engel works as a clinical psychologist who specializes in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). She has worked as a school psychologist in public schools in New York and as a clinical psychologist in various clinic settings. Through these roles she has gained considerable expertise and has some wonderful insights to share. So let’s get to it!
Why is parent involvement important to their child’s autism education plan?
Parental involvement in their child’s autism education plan is essential for all children to experience success. Oftentimes, children diagnosed with ASD are unable to communicate their needs and wants effectively. They rely on others to determine how best to educate them and help them with their daily functioning outside of the educational setting. We know, as well, that consistency and structure are important to those children with ASD, thus helpful strategies should be carried across settings. As Geraldine Dawson, author and creator of the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) states:
“Parental involvement and the use of these strategies at home during routine and daily activities are likely important ingredients of success of the outcomes in their child’s progress.”
In addition, in her article, “Autism Outcomes With Early Intervention“, Ella Rain states:
“…parental involvement is a critical aspect of a child’s success. When a family receives early intervention services, but fails to follow through consistently with the child’s treatment plan, the prognosis drops.”
Thus, it is the responsibility of both the school and parents to maintain open communication regarding a students’ education plan. Schools, in particular, can step up to assist parents in establishing and maintaining their involvement in their child’s autism education plan.
How can schools effectively motivate parents to participate in their child’s autism education plan?
While all schools and districts have their own policies as to how they work with parents, there are a few techniques that we have found to be particularly effective in maintaining parents’ involvement in their child’s autism education plan.
Our first and most important task is to establish rapport with parents and gain their trust. Establishing open lines of communication from the start is extremely important.
On a basic level, functioning as a team with the parents is essential for a child’s success. With designated staff members acting as the liaison between the school and home, and communicating with parents on a regular basis, the parents know who to contact with questions or concerns.
In addition, daily communication, in the form of a written notebook which travels back and forth from home to school and vice versa, is extremely helpful in insuring that communication is consistent. When parents take notes at home, this allows each member of the educational team (e.g., classroom staff, administration, related service providers) to understand the most important issues for each child. The goal of emphasizing open communication is to empower parents with regard to their child’s education plan.
Open door policy
In addition to emphasizing open communication on a daily basis, teachers should encourage parents to visit the school to observe their child in various settings/lessons, etc. For example, a parent may visit and observe their child receiving individual instruction from a teacher, speech therapy from a speech/language pathologist, occupational therapy from an occupational therapist, etc. This allows the service provider to model strategies that parents can use with the child as part of their autism education plan at home.
It is important to assist families with parenting and child-rearing skills. Monthly workshops are helpful for parents to address issues relevant to them and their children. Topics vary, but have included addressing issues related to feeding, communication, sensory needs, challenging behaviors, etc. These workshops often occur during the school day, wherein childcare is not an issue, and parents are able to take their children home immediately after school.
Monthly parent support groups have also proven effective as a resource for building rapport and trust with parents. To see the best results, hold these meetings in the evening with childcare provided by staff that are familiar with the children, at no cost to the parents. You should also make a separate siblings group available, free of charge. In this group, staff members can help siblings explore their own feelings about having a brother or sister with ASD, in a fun and engaging way.
Involving parents and families in various volunteer activities to support student and school programs is important, as well. Whether you do it via PTA/PTO, fundraisers, community activities, etc., this type of family involvement can help parents feel invested in their child’s autism education plan.
In terms of a child’s specific Individualized Education Plan (IEP), you should encourage parents to participate at all levels. At the beginning of each school year, invite parents to attend parent conferences with access to all of their child’s providers, should the parent wish. Let the parents know that you like to hold this meeting to review how their child began the year and the goals that they continue to work toward as the year progresses. Teachers should welcome parents’ input, with written follow-ups for staff in terms of any changes, additions, and/or concerns that a parent has regarding their child’s program.
As the year progresses, you can hold an annual review meeting to review:
- Their child’s progress
- Recommended placement for the upcoming year
- Goals and objectives you want to implement in the future
This meeting’s participants may vary, but always include the Committee on Special Education Chairperson from a child’s respective school district, parents, and a representative from the school the child attends (e.g., Special Educator, administrator, etc.).
What we have found especially helpful is to speak and/or meet with parents prior to the annual review meeting to explain recommendations and obtain feedback from them as to how they feel about these recommendations. In this way, we empower our parents and reinforce their trust, which is essential to working successfully with their children.
Are their barriers to implementing an autism education plan?
There may be instances when a team does not completely agree with a parent in terms of their child’s autism education plan. At such times, it is even more important to encourage open lines of communication between a school team and parents. Educators must emphasize that a parent is by far the most important advocate for their child. Obviously, it is then in the child’s best interest for an educational team and parents to work toward a compromise that can best meet the needs of the child.
What resources are available to parents to explain their rights to participate in their child’s autism education plan?
Many resources are available to parents, particularly if they have access to the internet. Some resources include:
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
- Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
- U.S. Department of Education
We cannot emphasize enough the importance of parental involvement in their child’s autism education plan. Parental teaching and involvement for children with ASD is essential for a child to progress. We have experienced a lot of success in building rapport with parents using the various supports mentioned, with our goal being to motivate parents to participate in their child’s education.