By Randa Habelrih
It's been a few years since our son graduated from high school. There were times I never thought he would, but the night of the graduation was our family’s proudest moment. Our son was blessed to have attended 2 very caring schools, his teachers did their utmost to help him succeed and we are indebted to them. Despite this we had our challenges particularly in his first school, which we left fairly quickly. Having spoken with many parents of children with autism over the years, it seems many of our challenges with schools are the same, so I have penned a letter to teachers everywhere in the hope that they may see things from our perspective:
Please know I am truly grateful that my son is in your class. You see I had to fight to enrol him in your school.
Please know that I will think 10 times before contacting you, his teacher or the school. I know that our needs are high, so I will pick my battles and only address the most serious concerns, I don’t want to burden you any more than is necessary. Rightly or wrongly I feel like we are a burden, and I feel I should be grateful that my son attends your school even though it is his legislated right.
Please know that I know you don’t have the training for this; it’s not fair on you, or on my child, but that’s the reality and if I can help you I will. Use me as a resource. Out of necessity I am an expert on the subject of autism and I know my son better than anyone, so let’s do this together, we are on the same team.
Please know I am fully aware that my son is a handful and that he does annoy the other students, but he also really wants to make friends, he just doesn’t know how to. Please know that he’s very lonely being at school without any friends and quite possibly this frustration is a reason for some of his behaviours.
Please know that I know your time is finite and you have a class full of other students you have to teach. I don’t expect miracles, but I hope that my child will also learn new things, it’s his right and if the school needs additional resources then let’s work on getting them as he needs as many skills as possible for life post school. Please know that I have sleepless nights, worrying about what he will do when he leaves school and ultimately what will happen when I am gone.
Please know that our family has put in an extraordinary effort to get our son to this point. He’s come such a long way, and we are so proud of him, we have lovingly invested so much time and resources into various therapies and interventions; I’m tired but I will never give up on him, he has so much more potential, please try to see what I see.
Please know that I have a love/hate relationship with my son’s IEP meetings. I love to plan according to his needs, but I hate that I feel like it’s an us and them battle, me against an army of school personnel, each one telling me what I already know, how far behind his peers he is; listing everything he can’t do. How I would love to hear what he can do and how he has progressed relative to himself and our goals.
Please know that there is one parent teacher meeting that will forever be etched in my memory, because for the first time in 11 years of schooling, I was told that he is one of the best students in the class. These words are never spoken in the same sentence when referring to my son. As always, after this meeting I left in tears but this time not out of frustration and a sense hopelessness, but because I had been given HOPE. Please know that it is HOPE which fuels my drive and energy, it is hope which gives me the strength to keep going, to keep researching and persisting in helping my son to achieve his potential. Please know that taking away a mother’s hope can have profound consequences, so too can cheering her on.
Please know that I am just as puzzled as you are for so many of my child’s behaviours, he is with me for more hours than he is with you, so I get it. I wish I could give you a magic solution, but I can’t, so please don’t see me as the enemy, I want to help you, I am your best ally so when I make a suggestion, please remember that I’m not trying to be difficult or make your life harder.
Please know that it is so important for him to feel that he is a valuable member of the school. We all crave a sense of belonging, to feel like we fit in and have friends. Don’t overlook him, include him, give him a role in the school play or in the student assembly and help him feel that he belongs; the other students will follow your lead, remember how powerful your example is.
Please know that there are only so many times I can apologise for my son. This is who he is, he did not sign up for this and neither did I, but I love him so much it hurts. Don’t make me feel guilty for things that neither he nor I can control, we are both doing our best; learning as we go. Please know that I respect you and your noble profession. Daily we place our most precious children in your care and trust that you will nurture, teach and care for them. Please know that I have faith in you and ask that you have faith in my son, because the effect of this alone on his self-esteem, will be life changing.
The mother of a child in your class