This is based on a conversation I was having on Twitter last night with another parent of a child with Autism.
The Monster’s only partially verbal – he can communicate his basic needs (“Eat!”, “Drink!”, “Go to sleep!”) but he’s not very good at a narrative of what’s going on in his life. In some ways, I’d joke it’s like living with a teenager a couple of years early (“How was your day?” “Fine.” “What did you learn at school today?” “Nothing.”), but without the ability to really get useful information from follow-up questions.
One of the most useful things that we had added to the Monster’s IEP is a communication requirement.
Straight up, the IEP reads the following under Section III: Special Considerations and Accommodations:
Social/Behavioral Support(s) – Home-school communication System
Anticipated Frequency: Daily
Provider(s): General Education Teacher, Special Education Teacher
Clarify location and manner: [The Monster]’s teacher/s should regularly communicate [the Monster]’s parents regarding his IEP goals/objectives and other school-related feedbacks/concerns in a daily basis or when necessary. Communications system could be a form of a narrative report or a checklist through email, communication notebook, or by phone.
(That’s actually not a typo on my part in the ‘clarify location and manner’ section there – that’s verbatim from the current IEP. I ought to have them correct that when we meet a week from tomorrow.)
It’s that simple. They are required to send us a log report every day. If they fail, as I mentioned on Twitter… the first time, I overlook as a ‘slip’. (Everyone has a bad day.) The second time, the teacher gets an email. The third time – which has never happened – I’d file a protest regarding a violation of his IEP. Having it in the IEP gives you fantastic, firm enforcement ability.
When the Monster was in pre-K and kindergarten, we had a check-off sheet that we coordinated with his teacher that came home daily, addressing our major concerns – his toileting, his eating, how things were going in class, etc. Currently in first grade, it’s also something of a checklist, which evaluates how much support he needs throughout the day and what happened at school, but with more free-entry to describe his day.
But a log book is not the be-all-and-end-all for finding out what a child is doing at school. There are a lot of days where the log is all but useless. In the case of the Monster, his one-on-one (a “temporary adult support” in local parlance) is filling it out daily from what we can tell – she’s with him all day, so she knows all he’s doing – but she seems to constantly check ‘required moderate support’ for all things. It doesn’t give us a great picture of what he’s doing or not, especially when his report cards are coming home with failing grades. It’s a good start for discussions when we have a concern – it lets us email the teacher and ask more direct questions.
And it’s also not a substitute for getting to know your child’s teachers and providers. My wife is the classroom parent for the Monster’s first grade class, and she’s in email contact with the providers at least every so often to get clarification about things going on at the school. Our school is very good about publishing a list of the teacher’s official email addresses on their site, and we typically get reasonably quick responses from most of the education staff. (I can’t say the same for the IEP chair, but I find that emailing the vice-principal or principal usually fixes that…)
We need to remember, as parents, that it’s still on us to make sure that we know what’s going on at the school. Whether from your own child, or from the teachers themselves, someone knows the answers…