On the same team

Dr Paul Taylor and parent Charmaine Brown describe school partnerships with parents of students with ASD.

Dr Paul Taylor and parent Charmaine Brown describe the initially defensive responses of schools to suggestions from parents of students with ASD. But when teachers understand the nature of autism and are willing to listen to the students and their parents, a much more effective partnership can result.


Dr Paul G Taylor

The majority of schools start out having an exclusive attitude towards parents, for the reason I cited, which is there is an implicit contract where total responsibility is transferred to the school. And the school likes to think it’s exclusive because they can mange it themselves. They’ve got the skills, the background, the knowledge, the resources, and they’re very happy to talk to mums, and fathers – but it’s usually a mother – until difficult questions start to be asked, and we ask for rules to be changed, broken, differences, different approaches, maybe more resources … And then teachers can become somewhat defensive, because they’re busy. And if the teacher doesn’t understand what the issue is, then it’s quite natural to become defensive.

Charmaine Brown

To turn up to school and know you’re going to have to battle, and you think, “Crikey, can I, do I want to, do I want to pluck myself up and know that each day I’m going to battle?”  And that’s not me. I think I’ve got enough going on. I may as well be going somewhere that wants me ... and wants my special little man. Cos he is a delight, and I think, you know, that once he gets there, and once he charms his way into their lives, they love him. 

Dr Paul G Taylor 

You need to understand what the core features of autism are, and they’re quite simple. They’re differences in communication and social interaction. And pretty soon it’s just going to be called social interaction, because communication is part of that. So it’s differences in social interaction and, as I point out, social interaction is a huge component of human behaviour. And when you have differences in that – and such a huge part of human behavior – then it can generate a big problem. Once you understand that this is a hard-wired difference – which is why I use the analogy between an Apple computer and a Windows-based computer – people get that, because they understand that you can’t run Windows programs on Apple computers. So suddenly they realize they’ve been trying to run Windows programs on Apple computers, and now they understand why nothing ever got better.

With the information provided to teachers, suddenly they can see parents in a new light. And once that happens, you can start a totally different relationship. And it’ll probably start around an IEP process. And if there’s an IEP process, and the mum is invited and the mum is listened to, and the mum has some influence on what the outcomes are, and especially if the child is invited to make some comments – and you can nearly always do that, what works – suddenly you’ve got a different chemistry going on. And you become friends and allies, you’re on the same team.

Charmaine Brown

For parents, you need to go and check out the school that your child is going to go to. And often for some parents, it’s just having, coming across the right school that is prepared to accept your child, and take them in. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they have the most autism-trained specialist in their school – they may have never have had another child like yours – but if they’re willing to embrace your child, and, and listen to what you have to say and how to help your child, then for many that’s probably all that’s needed.

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