One of the things we have struggled with over the years is whether and how to share information about our sons' autism & sensory processing disorder in a useful way with those in the community who interact with them on a regular basis - gymnastics teachers, t-ball coaches, church teachers, summer camp leaders, etc.
Here's the dilemma as I see it. Do you tell people about the autism and risk them treating your child differently or somehow expecting less of them? Or do you take a chance that maybe they'll blend in just fine and not say anything, in which case you risk a lack of understanding or worse if your child has difficulty or displays unusual behaviors. There's no right or wrong answer, the conclusion we've come to is the ever-so-definitive "it depends." It depends primarily on what kind of interaction the person will have with your child and how often they'll be working with them.
If someone is going to be working with your child on an ongoing basis, it's a good idea to clue them in so they can be most effective in helping your child be successful with whatever activity they're engaged in. Here are some tips for how to do that.
1. Approach them in a cooperative, non-adversarial way
You want to partner with them to help your child be successful - a goal they presumably would share with you.
2. Share simple, easy-to-understand information about autism / sensory issues / whatever the specific issue is
Sometimes I make a handout to give people that they can read on their own. I keep it short (one page or less) so as not to overwhelm anyone with too much information. I can always provide more if they have questions or if specific issues come up. I also try to tailor it specifically to whichever child the person will be working with, because each of our kids has different areas where they have specific challenges and strengths.
3. Maintain open communication
Ask them to keep you apprised of any challenges and also to let you know when they find something that works well for your child - it may be something you haven't thought of that could work well at home too.
4. Try to observe so you get a sense first-hand of how your child is doing
Observing is helpful if you can do it without being overly distracting for your child or the rest of the kids involved in the activity (depends on what the activity is). If your child is like ours, we often get limited or no responses when we ask them for details about their day or the activities they are in (or we might get responses that really don't make sense unless you were there).
I will admit to having mixed results with this approach, sometimes it works out great and other times, not so much. Some people are more receptive than others. Sometimes people are great and really try, but the boys still struggle for any number of reasons.
There are times when we opt to not say anything up front and just see how it goes, and we've had mixed results with that too. Sometimes the boys adapt just fine and they do great. Sometimes things get off to a rocky start but end up ok. Other times, well, not so much.
I'm curious to see what has worked for other families too.
For more Try This Tuesday, visit 5 Minutes for Special Needs.
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