Communication Goes “Both” Ways

When Johnny first started going to Junior Kindergarten I wrote about the “communication gap” that happens between the classroom experience and home here:  https://sunflowercyn.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/what-id-like-to-hear-the-most/  What do you do when you have a child who is essentially non-verbal but who communicates with gestures, some sign language,  and some word approximations and you want to know about their day?  How do you try to have meaningful interactions with your child to try and get some words or communication on some level happening if you have no idea what his day looked like.  If he can’t advocate for himself yet how do you relate things about him to the classroom so that they have a better understanding of him so that he has more learning opportunities?

When Johnny was 3, we were very lucky that Johnny’s teachers at his Nursery school took a special interest in him and they would give him extra attention when they could and they would spend a few quick minutes with me when I picked him up to let me know how his morning went or if they had any questions for me.  We built a wonderful rapport and to this day I still see them or hear from them as I relate how well he is doing.

After Johnny’s Autism diagosis we moved him to a specialized Pre-school where he could benefit from one on one attention all morning.  They used a small journal that went back and forth between home and school so that we could share information about Johnny and the teacher’s could write something about his day.  We eagerly would scramble to Johnny’s bag and madly open it up wanting to know how his time at Preschool went hoping that he had a good time.

Junior Kindergarten brought more challenges for Johnny as he was integrated into regular classroom under the supervision of a very experienced teacher who had not taught an Autistic child before.   She put together a school exercise book and we found that the EA (Education Assistant or his assigned helper) would write entries that usually consisted of “he had a great day.”  We started noticing a pattern that the teacher only wrote in the book when Johnny had been non-compliant or disruptive and then we would have to write back that he was having sensory issues and his behaviour is suggestive that he needs help but he can’t tell you that because he can’t talk yet.  Paragraph after paragraph would be written, page after page of back and forth when we began to realize that they were still trying to understand why he did some of the thing he did.

How could we get a proper idea of what was happening and why if we were not getting a clear picture of his morning at school?  We needed a way to gather more informed information from the classroom teacher,  let them know exactly what information we needed, make it easier for them to gather this for us, and in a format that other professionals that were teaching Johnny could use as well.  We advocated with the school team and this is what they provided for Johnny’s junior kindergarten communication book:

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It was a good start to build a rapport between the classroom and home as well as later on when we were developing the IEP for Johnny’s Senior Kindergarten year we actually had data written by the teacher, ECE and EA about what Johnny CAN do and for how long.  As for any disruptive non-compliant behaviour, we were able to track it and pinpoint when they were not communicating transitions or changes properly to him and then we were able to push for more activity schedules and charts to be used in the classroom so that he always knows what is happening and is told about any changes so he has time to adjust and is not just shunted along which frustrates him.

A fantastic example of a really good communication sheet is from Johnny’s social/communication class that he attends two afternoon a week.  It was their summer camp daily log sheet and this sheet that inspired us to advocate for a better communication sheet to go back and forth for Johnny’s Senior Kindergarten year.

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From September  2012 to January of 2013 we had no daily communication book for Senior Kindergarten and we had to rely on sending little notes back and forth in Johnny’s bag if we had any questions or concerns.  When we had an IEP meeting in the late fall the classroom teacher felt that because she didn’t teach Johnny all of the morning she could not be responsible for filling it out.  It seemed that the SK class moved to other classrooms and other teachers for certain subjects.  The simple solution seemed to be that the Education Assistant should just fill it out daily since she is the constant with Johnny but we didn’t see these sheets below being used until January 22 2013.

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We think the school team and the Autism Support Services did a a great job creating this sheet and its been very successful now that its being used. We get to learn about Johnny’s successes and if he did something that was incredibly knew like “pretend he was a Dad” or “walk into another kindergarten class to say hi to that teacher” because she always made a point of singling him out for a big hello all of last year even though he wasn’t her student. We learned that he is now putting together and writing 4 words into sentences via word study and that he has sung his songs today in music unprompted. We also learned last week he has the same little girl as his good friend from last year who holds his hand all the time and the names of two other girls who always make sure he is alright.

If we didn’t have these sheets we would not know any of these things. Imagine that. Imagine the not knowing. As my little girl approaches three and her speech snowballs as she tells me what she did during swimming lessons with her Daddy, I realize what so many others take for granted…knowing the little pieces of their child’s day that is important to their child.

The communication sheets give us prompts of what to ask Johnny about so that we can have meaningful interactions as we explore and push the limits of his new found ability to speak. If they knew how powerful these these communication sheets were they would have them ready to go when the school year begins and we wouldn’t have to fight so hard for them. We are going to be heading into meetings about Grade 1 in May and this will be at the top of our list.

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