Autism parents: How do I make my child’s teacher understand?



I was a teacher for over twelve years before my son was diagnosed with autism. Before he was born, I had taught countless pupils on the autistic spectrum, but it was not until my son’s diagnosis that I was able to fully appreciate the gaps in my knowledge.

My new found understanding as a teacher is completely tied up with the fact that I know my son so well. I know what distresses him and the best ways to help him thrive.  It is an understanding I could only have ever achieved by watching him, loving him, day after day, as his autistic tendencies became clearer.

I am by no means an expert – on supporting and adapting to autistic pupils’ needs as a teacher, or on autism itself – my range of knowledge is based purely on my experience. Never the less, I think I have learned some things that may be useful for parents, simply because I have experience from both sides: parent and teacher and before and after an autism diagnosis.

Below are some key areas where I think this knowledge and understanding can be developed between parents and teachers.


A lot of the information communicated to me as a teacher was factual and very general. Your child’s classroom teacher needs to know your child and no two children on the spectrum are the same.

  • Create a list of key difficulties/triggers that may cause your child distress. Try to keep the information as simple and straightforward as possible and give a list of suggested strategies that may help –



Sam can become very distressed by:


Flickering Lights

Sudden, loud noises

Deep noises

Lots of people talking at once


When distressed he will:

Become angry


Bite his hands

Tug at his ears


To help him calm:

Take him to a quiet room

Allow time out and use of weighted blanket

Reassurance from a SINGLE person


  • If your child has a particular passion for a particular topic, it could be communicated to the teacher in order to give them a ‘way in’ when dealing with situations or topics that your child finds more difficult
  • If your child has more than one teacher, it is important that they communicate between each other, as well as with you. Regular meetings or others way of communicating, such as charts, diaries and phone calls, will be key.


Another key area that may help you really get to grips with how your child might react in school is through observation. If possible spend a day, or even a few hours, observing the routines and different activities your child will take part in, in order to identify potential difficulties that may arise. As mentioned before, no one knows your child like you do and you are in the best position to work out which areas of the school day could become challenging for them.

I recently observed a nursery day for my son, before he moves to preschool room. It was a useful and interesting experience – from both sides, I think – as I was able to identify issues that many staff who were experienced in dealing with SEN wouldn’t have necessarily considered problems for my son.

For example, I noted that in the preschool they keep the classroom door open at all times, as children need to use the toilet independently, unlike the previous classrooms. This is something that might cause my son distress and I was able to warn them and give them suggestions for ways to calm him if this happened.

Another thing I noted was that they give ‘five minute warnings’ before new activities start. They expected that this kind of routine would be exactly the kind of thing that they should be doing to support E – and in many ways routine does help him a great deal. However, the reality with this example was that that warnings are something he is likely to find very difficult. He doesn’t really understand time signals like ‘five minutes’ and may expect the activity to begin at once, and, again become distressed but unable to fully communicate the reason for that distress to the staff. We were able to discuss possible solutions – such as giving my son a visual idea of the time with a five minute egg timer – and pre-empt a possible difficulty. All children react slightly differently; even the most experienced and qualified SEN staff are working with generalities until they know your child well. You can give them some specifics.

Consistency and Flexibility

Consistency can be a great tool for the parents of autistic children – but it can also become a barrier. Children on the spectrum respond extremely well to routines, visual timetable and even key phrases. However, if those routines are deviated from, it can cause a great deal of anxiety for the young person.

Schools are places of rigid routine and consistency. Teachers will feel very uncomfortable about deviating from those rules and treating any child ‘differently’. Autistic children can have very rigid thought processes and ideas about the way things should be.  If those two very set views come into conflict with one another, then it can cause a real breakdown in the relationship between staff, pupils and parents.

I remember how sceptical I was about some things. For example, when a parent requested that a pupil should be allowed to take their jumper off, even though this was against the general school rule. How painful could wearing a jumper be, I thought. That was my attitude before having my son. I was not a callous person. It is just that the gap in my understanding of the needs of a pupil with autism was very wide.

It is only seeing my son wailing when an item of clothing is giving him sensory issues, and loving him so much that I would do anything to relieve his distress that made me realise – well actually a jumper can be pretty painful. Your child’s teacher needs as much guidance and information on this as possible to help develop that understanding.

Dealing with such as situation as a teacher will still be very difficult. If you let one pupil take a jumper off, four others could demand the same. As a teacher I may not feel it is wise to relate your child’s reason for special dispensation – and individual parents may not want the reason announced either. Teachers will be constantly needing to balance the needs of your child with the way the rest of a class might react.

Therefore there has to be some flexibility in some of the school’s routines, and there may have to be some adaptation of some of the routines and expectations at home. You will have to appreciate each other’s limitations – no teacher or parent can fulfil everyone’s needs all of time.

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To sum up, as an autism parent, you have been on a long, hard journey, learning how you can support your child. You have discovered the hard way, through trial, error and desperation, how best to manage and guide them. You are still learning. Sometimes you still get it wrong, but you keep trying. All parents go on this journey but for the autism parent there are a few more twists and turns – the journey is that bit more fraught and uncertain.

Your child’s teacher has not been on this journey, has not seen your child at their best and at their worst- and that’s why you’ve got to fight, desperately, passionately, to convey who your child is, to communicate the essence of them to their teacher.

It boils down to that one idea. The greater the teacher’s understanding of your child’s individual needs, the more they can support and help them. That understanding will be developed by a constant flow of information between school and home and by all of us – parents, teachers, students – sharing that journey together.

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  1. 1
    Lynne (Raising my autistic Son)

    I think communicating with teachers about what your child will find difficult and what will help them engage is really important. I like the way you have given an example of a written checklist. Throughout primary school I always asked for a meeting with the teacher who would be teaching my son, before he had moved into their class and another one a couple of weeks into the term. I always tried to focus on what small changes would make things work better for everyone, rather than focus on how potentially challenging my son might be. You need a meeting rather than a quick word at school pick up. No one can listen properly at that stage of the day! This approach worked well for primary school. We did have a couple of bad years where the teachers just didn’t get autism but the vast majority of the staff were great and seemed appreciative of the guidance we were able to provide.

  2. 2

    You are so right. No one knows any child as well as their parents and when it comes to an autistic child this is multiplied as many of them can communicate their preferences and needs. Anthony has consistency in his TAs at school, they see him for most of the day, for most of the week and have been for several years. But they still need help and advice from me, therapists and they lean on our experienced SENCO a lot. David has a class of as many teachers as pupils and I learn from them. We are constantly switching information as they have a lot of ABA experience and I have a lot of David experience. It takes a team to teach him… And it’s slowly working. Thanks so much for your continued insights. #KCACOLS

  3. 3
    Jessica Foley

    Wow. I don’t have much experience with the autism spectrum but this post seems so helpful! It gave me a deeper understanding for what parents and teachers must go through in a day when faced with these life struggles. I think this post is very well written and has a lot of easy-to-understand and follow suggestions. Good job!

  4. 5

    My story is the other way around at the moment. My son has just been diagnosed ADHD this year, he is 6, and I don’t think it would have happened if he hadn’t had the amazing teacher he has had this year, where others might have dismissed him as naughty. She has been brilliant at giving him extra support and , at the moment, I actually feel she understands him more than I do. Either way, the importance of a good teacher cannot be understated.

  5. 6
    This Mum's Life

    You are right when you hit on the point that most teachers will be guided by generalisations, and this post really brings home the importance of tailored, individual care from teachers in the classroom. It’s amazing to me that if teachers can understand and take on board the subtle differences that will help your son, it will improve his experience and quality of life no end. I’m sure his future teachers will be so glad of your guidance, and it also has taken a huge amount of self awareness to admit the questions you once had about the subtle changes you had to make as a teacher, when you didn’t have first hand experience of the issues. I’m sure other parents of autistic children will find this another very useful post.

  6. 7
    Planet Autism

    “Your child’s teacher has not been on this journey, has not seen your child at their best and at their worst- and that’s why you’ve got to fight, desperately, passionately, to convey who your child is, to communicate the essence of them to their teacher.”

    The trouble is, most teachers are not interested. At best they will say yes to shut you up and then promptly ignore your information and at worst they will lie, make excuses and do the opposite of what your child needs even though it’s been explained. TAs are even worse. They are used to fill in for teachers and are utterly clueless and seem very low intelligence from those I have encountered.

    • 8
      Someone's Mum

      Sounds like you’ve come across some bad ones. You did note that I am one, right? There are certainly teachers like you describe but, having worked with hundreds, over the course of a twelve year career, I can honestly say most of them DO care. It’s just a very hard thing to put across, and then to manage, when they have so many things to address and balance. But there are good ones who will go the extra mile. I hope you have better experiences of teachers in the future. Thanks for commenting.

    • 9
      Lynne (Raising my Autistic son)

      In our experience the vast majority of TA’s have been great and have worked hard to make school better for our son. I always asked for a meeting and explained what I wanted to meet about with school staff. Arranging a meeting rather than trying to have a quick word at the end of the day in the playground meant that staff were in a better position to listen. I knew exactly what I wanted to communicate and I knew what I wanted from those meetings. I felt listened to, but I did have to initiate most meetings. Maybe I hit lucky with the school my son went to? I am sorry this has not been your experience.

  7. 10
    Sarah - Arthurwears

    As a teacher (reception) who has had at least one child on the autism spectrum (usually more) for each year I have taught, I think you have made some really important points. Communication between home and school really is the key – and in my opinion, it doesn’t matter whether your child has special needs/additional needs or not – every single child is different and having prior knowledge of interests, anxieties etc can make a huge difference in their early school experiences.
    I was given little to no information on autism during my teacher training – it is something I chose to research personally in my own time so that I could meet the needs of my pupils better. I used a lot of techniques with one particular child which really helped such as a large sand timer as a pre warning to certain changes or transitions such as carpet time, tidy up time or dinner time etc, I had a special ‘number tile’ on the edge (easier to ‘escape’) of the carpet as a seat/place for a certain child and a particular cuddly toy as a comforter. I bought ear defenders for assemblies when the clapping would be loud, I had a huge blanket to hand always which would cover a table and make a ‘den’ If things got too much, a box of ben10 toys (special interest) for reward time (to use alongside a ‘friend’ to help with building relationships), plus of course a visual time table and lots of visual reminders along with a set routine. All of these ‘things’ that I purchased and acquired along the way we’re put in a box and given to his next teacher along with a set of instructions. I would have loved to have been given that box of things at the start of the year! Some written info would have been really helpful too! In my situation, the parents didn’t have many techniques at home and I used parent evenings as valuable time to pass on information and find out more. Communication has to go both ways, especially because children behave differently in different settings.

    I would have really appreciated all of the info you have on your child in terms of how to help him etc – and written down too ( we all know how hard it can be to keep a mental note of info when you have so many in a class to think about!)

    Definitely the more info you can give the better 🙂

  8. 11

    This is a fantastic post. Neither of my children are autistic, and I’m not a teacher, but I still took a lot away from this. There needs to be so much communication between parents, teachers, care givers and even other parents so that we can all understand what children with autism are trying to cope with. Thank you for writing this. x #KCACOLS

  9. 13
    mainy - myrealfairy

    You write brilliantly and are a great source of knowledge for people to have a better understanding of some of the things to consider when supporting someone with autism. I always learn something when I read one of your posts and I have been working in the field of supporting people for many years. You have an amazing way of communicating:)



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