Autism Toolbox a resource for Scottish Schools

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Communication Pathways

Given that communication is a core difficulty for children and young people with autism it is not surprising that communication breakdown is often an issue. It goes without saying that parents whose children cannot communicate to or with them are going to be more anxious and stressed about what may have happened within the school day. The usual communication systems e.g. letters in bags etc.may not be enough for any young people with autism and consequently alternative communication structures may need to be agreed. 

Good communication is a mainstay of positive relationships and effective partnerships. Without it there is an increased likelihood for misinterpretation, misrepresentation and misunderstanding. Communication with families should be empathetic, respectful, transparent, confidential and have a bias towards the positive, achieving and future actions. It is important parents know that their contribution is valued and used to support the young person.

© Isobel Mair School  Toolbox 2009

Communication is a two way process and the school should be made aware of significant home events that may impact on the child. In the same way parents need information regarding what is being taught, as they are best placed to check understanding and provide opportunities to generalise and consolidate learning.

Key to effective communication is clarifying the types of information to be communicated between school and home and vice versa as well as agreeing the frequency and methods . The type of information may vary considerably for different individuals but may include:

  • information taught within the school day,
  • any forthcoming events
  • changes to the usual routine both at home or school e.g staying at gran's, non-uniform day, changes to timetable, vistors in school
  • achievements in generalising skills across both environments to consolidate learning
  • levels of anxiety within the day
  • diet
  • interactions or friendships
  • time spent in mainstream classes
  • topics for the term and/or significant curriculum changes – different aspects of Home Economics, Science, PE, PSHRE
  • the difficulties a young person is experiencing

 Some parents may require a higher level of contact or involvement than others.

Think about ...
  • A wide range of communication options is open to parent - websites, handbooks, school / class newsletters, parent teacher meetings, parent prompts etc
  • Opportunities for regular planned face to face meetings to discuss strategies and progress
  • Informal chats - which can be planned at times, rather than ad hoc when things are going badly.
  • Home/school diaries - be circumspect in what you write as you have no control over who reads the comments or their immediate reaction. The diary should not be a list of negative behaviours.
  • Some young people are happy for information relating to themselves to be recorded in a school diary where others may struggle in seeing what they consider to be "negative" comments. Therefore methods of ongoing communication should be negotiated with parents.
  • Regular telephone contact to share information and good news is quick and useful- depending on previous experiences some parents may associate a telephone call with 'bad news' e.g. being called to the school because of disruptive behaviour.
  • Utilising technology such as email, digital photographs, video diaries, blogs as an alternative to diary or phonecalls.
  • Checklists for schoolbags – (which include ‘letter in bag’ column)
  • Where communication becomes strained or negative it may be worth reviewing and increasing communication structures until communication improves.
  • Discuss with parents what and how information is shared (consider info on how difficult situations were handled, process for outside planned meetings)
  • Providing information that can help parents  - format for IEP/ CSP/ ISP meeting, staff working with child, transitions planning arrangements
  • When parents feel informed they and their children are likely to be more prepared and less stressed.

 Toolbox 2009

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