The look on the preschool teacher’s face told me it had been a bad day. I approached the door and the explanation began spilling out in apologetic words. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my son cowering under the small preschool table, as she explained that a new music teacher had unknowingly started her class with a loud tambourine.
All of the teachers at the school knew that my son needed to be warned of any sudden noises, but she was new and no one had remembered to tell her. I began the process of coaxing my son to come out of his hiding place, frustrated that he had endured an avoidable meltdown. As the teacher apologized again, I remembered that the situation was equally frustrating for her. There had to be an easier way to communicate our needs and create a cohesive plan that would follow my son from class to class.
Creating a Special Needs Portfolio
Briefing new teachers and caregivers about my son’s needs had always been a necessary evil. His fears and sensitivities, along with how to handle in meltdowns was vital information, but it was most often met with an overwhelmed look. Teachers always wanted to help, but the information was often brand new and a massive amount of knowledge to digest at one time. By creating a portfolio, I would have a sort of “Cliffs Notes” version of how best to incorporate my son and his special needs.
The All About Me Notebook
I chose to use a three ring binder for the portfolio, as I felt it would be easily expandable as his needs changed. I inserted dividers into the notebook and asked my son to color a picture for the front of the notebook. It was important that he feel like the portfolio was a positive part of his school experience. In the front of the notebook, my son and I created a standard “All About Me” page. On it, we included his picture, some of his favorite things, and pictures that he created.
This first divider was titled “About Autism”. In this section, I printed a one page digest about the diagnosis. I tried to keep the information as brief as possible, and include only the most important information. I didn’t want to overwhelm the teachers with too much information.
The next section was titled “What Makes Me Unique.” In this section, I typed out the quirks and sensitivities that were likely to be a problem for my son while at school. To help make the information usable, I grouped the sensitivities into similar sections. With this information teachers could easily learn about noise sensitivities, food aversions, and triggers.
The third section was titled “How You Can Help.” Here I gave practical tips for how to successfully avoid and navigate meltdowns. Anything that worked well at home, I shared with the teachers to create a consistency from home to school.
In order to maintain a positive attitude about the portfolio, I created a fourth section called “Things that Make me Proud.” Here I encouraged my son to add school work, drawings, photographs, and anything that he felt reflected positively on him. In laying out the ways that he struggled, I also wanted to show off the ways that he excelled while boosting his self esteem.
A final section of “Resources” was added. In this section, I included photocopies from pertinent articles to give more information about autism. If a teacher had an interest, I wanted to give the resources to dig in and learn more about how they could help my son and other kids like him.
Using the Special Needs Portfolio
Once I was satisfied with the results, I made several copies just in time for new school year. As parent/teacher conferences began, I presented each teacher with a notebook and explained the premise. I tried to keep my introduction brief and asked each teacher to contact me in the next week if there were any questions or concerns.
Within the week, calls and emails started rolling in, and while there were a few questions, most of the comments were of thanks from the teachers. Giving them tools to do their job confidently was a relief to all of us as we started the school year.