Parent Teacher Conferences for the Neurodivergent Child

Parent Teacher Conferences for the Neurodivergent Child

Parent Teacher Conferences for the Neurodivergent Child

It’s that time of year again!  Parent Teacher Conferences are in full swing during the Fall and Spring. It is a time to check in with the teacher about how your child is doing and how best to support them.  Often parents and teachers alike can shy away from the harder conversations around non-academic needs. I have always found it best to talk openly and honestly about what I see as a teacher and bring the full support team to the table.  Sometimes it even means having the student meet with us, if developmentally appropriate. 

What should we focus our conference on?

Parent-teacher conferences are a great time to talk to your child’s teacher about how they are doing in school.  Depending on your child’s unique needs, you may need to ask for a longer conference time, or focus your time on specific areas you’d like to know more about, or need more support with. You can check with the teacher about what you’d like to focus on, and they will be able to determine the appropriate amount of time needed for your meeting.  

Many parents know how their children are doing academically through home-school connections, like homework, projects, and grades on tests. What you may want to know more about is how your child behaves when presented with a non-preferred task. For instance, if they do not like writing, how do they behave during writing time?

What are questions that I could ask the teacher?

Below is a list of sample questions that you may want to ask, depending on your child’s current needs and supports. They may highlight areas that additional supports may be needed, or reassure you that the current supports in place are working well. 

  1. What are you currently doing in the classroom to support my child’s unique learning needs?
  2. Are there additional supports available at the school? (this may include speech, OT, or even counseling for social-emotional learning)
  3. What do they do at recess?
  4. How do they behave during circle or carpet time?
  5. Do they get frustrated if they can’t finish a task or feel rushed?
  6. Are they able to sit still, or do they need movement breaks?
  7. How is their handwriting? Do they need to work on muscle strength in the hands, or in their core?
  8. Can they use hand signals for needed breaks so they don’t draw attention away from the learning?
  9. Are they eating at snack time?  Are they drinking water throughout the day?

Should I tell my child’s teacher of a recent diagnosis?

Yes! Teachers are well-trained in working with learning styles of all kinds.  It is what we do! There is an idea out there that your child will be labeled and treated differently once a diagnosis is revealed.  Here’s the thing….all children think and learn differently. Understanding that your child has a diagnosis gives the teacher much-appreciated information about how to support your child’s unique learning style best.  I had a student years ago who had some very puzzling behaviors and had difficulty figuring out how to reach that child in my classroom.  I tried so many different strategies, however there wasn’t consistency in their responses.  The parents were also seeking additional information on their child from the pediatrician as we were all working as a team. Once a neurodivergent diagnosis was established, so many things clicked into place and made sense. I was better able to identify masking behavior and support them with needed breaks and changing my language so that they could better participate and access the learning. Your child’s teacher will have information about what next steps can be taken at the school for additional supports. 

What supports do teachers give students with neurodivergent needs?

There are SO many supports that teachers can offer your child. Some children need preferential seating, either closer to the front for frequent check-ins or perhaps in a place that allows your child flexible seating or standing while they work.  Some children may have a hand signal with the teacher to use a calming corner, or exit the room for a drink of water or bathroom break, depending on their independence level.  Often, I can make adjustments to assignments to better fit the needs of my students. Knowing their learning profile is a huge help to me because I better understand how they learn. 

Many in-class therapies can be integrated into the classroom with little impact.  For instance, using a wobble stool or cushion can provide much-needed movement, as well as strengthen core muscle groups. Pencil grips and slanted writing boards, or specialized paper, can be ready support for students focusing on their handwriting skills.  Even a tool for strengthening hand muscles can double as a discreet learning fidget. Your child’s teacher may have them readily available in the classroom, or you may ask if your child can bring their supports to use at school. 

Do I have to wait for a conference to talk to the teacher?

Don’t wait to communicate! You can reach out to schedule a meeting or have a quick check-in with the teacher. …let the teacher know you’d like to talk with them about your student’s progress, or that you have some questions you’d like to ask. Just make sure to give them some notice and schedule a time that best works for everyone. Teachers are working with many students all day and may have other meetings scheduled or may need to help students when the bell rings.  We want to hear from you and partner with you to best support your child.

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