Working with families is an important part of any learner’s success. There are strategies that I have found to be most successful. My team and I are sure to communicate with families in their preferred method at least once a week. Some families prefer daily notes, weekly notes, weekly emails, or even bi-weekly meetings and trainings. It is important to provide families with the most beneficial trainings and communication while also continuing to have boundaries that are known to all. In this post, I will share some tips on maintaining rapport with our learner’s families while continuing to have a work/life balance and understanding of what families may have on their plates.
Open and consistent communication
Open and consistent communication about our expectations and a family’s expectations is important to start in the beginning. Being honest and approachable has helped my families feel calm and heard when working together. My team and I are sure to remind families that we as educators and clinicians have the ability to create and maintain structured learning environments with the help of support services,1:1s, and other paraprofessionals. We are also able to implement behavioral and sensory strategies that may be needed for a learner within the classroom environment. We ae providing training and skills that can be implemented in the home at a slower pace and are here to help make it realistic in their home according to their already established routines and family. One thing that it is important to me is that there is time and space for a child to have the separation of school versus home and have the comfortability and love within the home environment.
Use everyday routines
When starting out any collaboration, the team and I first find out what a typical weekday and weekend looks like for our learner as an individual and the family as a whole. This helps us gather ideas on where we can sneak in trainings and educational time within the home environment. The Autism Helper has easy to read and clear handouts (available here) that I use to focus family trainings on one at a time. This way, we have time to review the handouts, have a discussion, model what our expectation is, and review what is realistic for the family. The topics that are covered are:
- Why is my child being aggressive?
- How will my child’s school help them learn?
- What can I do at home to help my child learn?
- How can I help my child communicate?
- What is reinforcement and why is it important?
- What are sensory behaviors?
- Why does it seem like my child is not listening to me?
- How can I keep my child busy at home?
- How can I explain autism to my family, friends, and community?
- How can I prepare my child for taking him into the community?
- How can I help my child be more independent?
- What does a behavioral approach mean?
- Why does my child have different behavior at home and at school? – How can I teach my child about dangerous situations and to be safe?
- How can I help my other children understand autism?
Be A Mentor, Not a Boss
Before I became a mom myself, I remember it begin frustrating when I would give lists and lists of items for my families to implement in the home for my students and become frustrated when it was not done. I would do frequent home visits and the families may have lost the PECS book that I had created for them, or the visual schedule I made was shoved under the couch. After I became a mom, I quickly understood how hard it would be to do what I had told my families to do. From then on, I put myself in their shoes and reminded myself that I am here to mentor them to be most successful with their current family structure. I am not here to boss them around into changing everything for what I wanted them to do. My team and I involve everyone that the family wants to involve. If grandparents, aunts and uncles are invited to be a part of our trainings and want to learn with us, they are more than welcome. We remind everyone involved in the trainings that our learners can be included in chores and other routines that happen naturally within the home! Your child might need help with a step or multiple steps of a chore or functional routine, but including them is not only a teaching opportunity but also a pairing opportunity.
Some of our families are ready and eager to implement more structured lessons and activities within the home. The learner should be ready for this as well. As long as everyone is on board, the team and I are more than happy to create structured learning bins and send home materials for families. My team and I typically will break down IEP goals and make a document for families to follow at home. We also create data sheets that they can record what they have worked on, and we give them the option to record a video and send it to us instead. If it is difficult for families to implement exact goals, or if an intervention or strategy requires specialized training, we are sure to make the in home goals and lessons attainable for in the home. My team and I remind families that home settings are a great way to work on generalization and maintenance schedules for goals and skills!