the spectrum

So I have a kid who might be on the autism spectrum.  If it’s true, it would be at the very high end of the spectrum.  Here are some of the things that have gotten me wondering:

  • The child’s communication skills are just a little bit off.  The voice is mostly one note with less variation, expression, and intonation than other children.
  • For most of the year, the child has raised his/her hand at morning meeting to make comments about things that he/she was interested in, rather than on the topic at hand
  • For a few months earlier in the year, the child was told “you’re not my friend” by another child, and couldn’t get over it.  The child kept pestering the other child, asking “are you my friend now?” and following the other child around the room, so that the other child was actively avoiding him/her.  The child kept talking about it with me, the mother, and out loud to him/herself, over and over, almost to the point of perseverating.  Not sad, but anxious and bewildered.
  • The child finally made a friend, and it was with one of the most immature and poorly behaved girls in the class.  The two of them play together often, and do talk to each other,  but often it’s like they’re still doing parallel play.
  • The child then made another friend, with a boy who has some special needs and some behavior that is spectrum-y also.
  • The child is not behind academically — arrived in my class able to count to 100 and able to name all of the letters of the alphabet already.

I asked for advice, including from the autism teacher at my school, and learned that yes, I should talk to this child’s parent.  Gulp.

I am now taking notes and observing, and trying to figure out what I will say when I call the mother to request a meeting.  Any advice about how I should handle it?

7 thoughts on “the spectrum

  1. Kiri,
    I respond as both the mother of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome (a form of autism) and as a fellow Pre-K teacher with autistic children in my general education Pre-K class. First, you want to encourage them to seek qualified medical professionals for proper diagnosis. You need to gauge how receptive they may be to this information. I was open to getting my child all the help I could muster, but I’ve also seen a lot of parents who do not want to admit that there may be a problem. (I have one student that is very gifted but also displays MANY, MANY classic autistic traits. Since the behaviors do not impact his academic learning, the parents do not wish to address any issues. Both are medical professionals~go figure.)

    Let them know that the gains from early intervention are optimized at this age and there is a lot of help available. My daughter really improved due to early interventions and special education support. Most people don’t realize now, years later, that she has it unless an issue arises.

    Good luck and feel free to email if you have any questions or just need to talk about it. 🙂

  2. I always start these difficult conversations by asking the parents what they have noticed at home. This sometimes opens the door for them to tell you that, yes indeed, they have doubts or concerns about their child too. Sometimes they are relieved to get it out in the open. After I ask them what they have noticed I tell them what I have noticed and why it’s of importance. By this point I can tell if they’re following me or not and I can tell where to go from there. Do I have to spell it out for them or are they already there? I pay attention to their body language and let it help me decide which approach to take.

  3. I ditto what Vanessa and Ayn have said – very good advice. I’ve often found that the parents do indeed have doubts and concerns about their child’s development and are relieved to find out that there are professionals – including you! – that will help to provide the very best support possible for their child.

    • The autism teacher I talked to gave me some good guidance about how to broach the subject, and she also said, “if they don’t want to hear it, at least you’ve planted a seed, and when the kindergarten teacher says the same thing, they may start listening.”

  4. This is totally unrelated to this post, but may I say, Kiri, how glad I am that you’re back? Your musings, thoughts, frustrations mirror mine as a teacher of at-risk preschoolers almost exactly. Happy for your return!

  5. I have a couple of students that may fall w/in the spectrum. Conferences were difficult, but I was honest and told the parents my concerns (not labeling it, just stating facts), and asked what they were seeing at home. I also tell the parents that professionals (i.e. doctors/pediatricians) are the best people to take their concerns too. It takes a gentle hand and gentle words to give the parents the push in the right direction. Someone above pointed out that you have planted the seed, and if they do nothing now, it might prompt them to do something in the future. I whole-heartedly agree!

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