Monday, September 26, 2011

Letter to Teachers

The following is a form letter that I tweak at the beginning of every school year to give to our kid's new teachers.  This one is Hunter's.  It may help anyone who is looking to do the same.  :)

Dear Teacher,
We have set up this form letter to give to every teacher to help them better understand our son, ______.  ______ has been diagnosed with PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified). PDD-NOS is a neurobiological disorder on the Autism Spectrum.  The co-existing conditions that _____ has are Tourette’s syndrome, ADHD, Anxiety, and Seizure Disorder.  He takes medications and supplements that help with these syndromes, but he still struggles on a day to day basis. Don’t let all of these conditions worry you, we’ve decided it’s better to let the teacher know in writing and it’s easier than verbally trying to explain it all.
While these issues may be complex, you probably won’t be able to tell anything is wrong, at least for awhile. 

_______ is a very curious child that pays attention to very small details and can get “lost” in the shuffle of daily activities.  It is impossible for us to define in detail AS (Autism Spectrum Disorders) in one letter, but we would like to give you all the support that we can.  Working together as a team with open and frequent communication is the key to helping _______ manage himself and find his place.

While there is no cure for AS, we should help _______ develop self help and coping techniques so that he can manage the over-stimulating and confusing world around him.  There is a range of severity of symptoms within the syndrome.  The very mildly affected child may appear odd or eccentric.  Here are some clinical features of AS:
-social interaction impairments
-speech and communication characteristics
-cognitive and academic characteristics
-sensory impairments
-restricted patterns of behavior, interests and activities

While research in this area of how children retain and process information is still being investigated, we know the following to be true of children who have AS:
-concrete and literal thinkers
-inability in discerning relevant from irrelevant information (i.e.: all info vs. highlights)
-inability to generalize information (i.e.: “if you know this, then you know that”)
-poor problem solving mechanics (i.e.:  using one strategy in all problems)

These characteristics can affect academic performance:
-Distraction/Inattention (i.e.: hum of lights, trying to focus on all details, noise)
-Tunnel vision (i.e.: adherence /monitoring class rules, personal interests
-Rote memory:  (VERY DANGEROUS, memorizing all the facts and then parroting the info in an “asked & answered format without bridging that info for use in other material or personal experience)
-Problem solving-  (+,plus, and addition =the same strategy)
-Motivation:  (strong lack of motivation, he sees no relevance to material and necessity to his scheme, personal experience, out come)
-General behaviors:  Preference to work alone, isolate oneself.
—Love praise, winning, being first and pleasing adults.
—Find losing, imperfection and criticism difficult to take. 
-Need to finish tasks they have started-Work well one to one rather than in a group.
Social Interaction:
–Poor use of nonverbal gestured and understanding of same—Insists on all classmates following rules
—More self-centered then selfish. 
–Prefer younger children or adults for conversation. 
–Blatantly honest to a fault, can be labeled “tattle-tale”
-No interest in competitive sports or team games , preferring solitary activities/sports.
-Communication/Speech: Monotone voice-Overly formal speech-Metaphors and similes need to be explained. 
--Appear to speak “at” you rather than with you.  –Pragmatic language difficulties. –Lack of eye contact. 
–Literal interpretation of directions “we will go tomorrow”—Vocalizations help to organize deluxe ideas of provide comfort. 
–Stress/anxiety will inhibit speech patterns and confuse ______.

Narrow interests/preoccupations:
--One of the hallmarks of AS is the preoccupation with certain topics.  These preoccupations usually in intellectual areas change over time or evolve, but do not lessen in intensity and may be pursued to the excursion of other activities.  It has been surmised that these special interests are scratch used t5o facilitate communication, indicate intelligence.  Provide order and consistency.
 -Children often impose rigid routine on themselves and those around them, from how they want things done, to what they will eat.  Routines will change from time to time.  This inflexibility shows itself and other ways to giving rise to difficulties with imaginative and creative thinking.  The child tends to like the same old thing done in the same old way over and over again.  There appears to be a developmental sequence in the nature of the interests, and the next phase is a fascination with the topic rather than an object.

Theory of Mind: 
--This final obstacle describes the way children with AS perceive other people’s thoughts.  They believe that their thoughts are the thoughts of everyone else. They do not appreciate that each person has their own independent thoughts.  This would explain why they easily frustrate when other people don’t know or understand just as they do, which justifies their “controlling” personality.
As we said, there is no easy way to describe this.  We have done our best to layout all the obstacle that we have come across.  The good news is from here on we will give you several strategies and tips for working with ______ in both behavioral and academic ways.  We have reviewed the material that addressed educational strategies to the best of our abilities, and taking into consideration the learning style that works best with ______ we can offer you the following suggestions:
Visual Cues:  Charts, Outlines, Graphics (Visual will always work better than auditory)

Structural Changes: 
As often as possible, give advanced warnings to the challenges taking place.  *Pair _____ with a classmate that has an easy going personality or who might be slightly younger.  Keep in mind that he has to earn social skills from role-playing and peer directed activities.
Assignment Notebooks are very useful.  _____ almost never relays information to me about his day and would never remember verbal instructions to be told later.  Additionally, he never remembers his belongings and then later would “melt-down” over forgetting something.  It would be best to keep a visual schedule for him before he leaves the classroom for the day.  *Timelines work very well for us.  Giving ______ a five minute warning to a change in the activity has been very useful in helping him transition.

Instructional Sequence: 
*A rationale is needed when teaching ______.  He very often sees no relevance in the learned material to his own life or to other class work down the road.  It is often necessary to explain WHY the material is necessary, how he can use it, and why it works with something that he has already learned.
-Verification of the material is helpful during the instruction to verify that ______ is on task and focused.  It also lets you confirm that _______ is coping with the external stimuli by filtering it out and staying on task.

*Notoriously known for not being motivated to complete tasks or to share in interests outside of their own interests are hallmark to the criteria of AS.  The only ways to combat these are to challenge _______ with relating the work to their personal interests (drawing, acting, geography, music) or letting ________ partake in an activity that he enjoys after the work is done.  Nothing like old fashioned bribery.

We’re sure this seems very overwhelming—especially if you are new to Autism Spectrum Disorders.  To allay your fears, _______ is a very mild mannered boy and won’t cause any trouble in class.  He is shy at first and then he becomes very entertaining the more he opens up to people.  School is very difficult for him and he does not enjoy it.
_______ is a very talented artist with works published online and sold. He plays the piano by ear and loves acting.  He displays his unique way of seeing the world around him through these means, and it helps define him. 

We appreciate your willingness to educate our son.  We hope you enjoy him as much as we do.  Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions or problems that arise. 

Your name here

PS:  _______ needs to be redirected when he starts pulling, rubbing, or twisting his hair.  He does this when he is concentrating or anxious.  We finally got his bald spot to grow back in this summer. 
Hope this letter helps someone.  Let me know what other ideas you may have found! Thanks! 

Do you write letter's to your children's new teachers each year?

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