Working with Teachers
Some teachers are a dream to work with. They're eager to collaborate with parents and learn what they can about each of their students. You can give them material and know it will be read, processed, and utilized. A free and open exchange between parent and teacher in situations such as this is an exciting process, and it's one that can help you, too, learn how best to help your child.
Some teachers, alas, are nightmares. Maybe they're set in their ways after years of teaching and aren't about to buy into any newfangled theories. Maybe they're overwhelmed with the demands of teaching children with multiple disabilities. Maybe they're new to teaching and insecure and feel the only way to get respect is to act like they know everything. Since sensory integration disorder isn't a universally accepted diagnosis, such teachers may refuse to consider it as a reason for your child's struggles. They may have very firm impressions about your child's laziness — and your gullibility.
Most teachers, in truth, are somewhere in between. They may want to cooperate with you, but they're overworked, overstressed, and undersupported. Giving your child the accommodations she needs may take time, study, and administrative support that the teacher just doesn't have. It's easier to do things the way they've always been done, and few of us make a big effort of finding the hardest way to do things in our own jobs.
Making the Job Easier
Your job, then, in dealing with in-between teachers, is to convince them that doing things your way will in fact make their jobs easier, not harder. Certainly it's no easy feat to deal with an uncomfortable, fidgety, inattentive, easily upset, overreacting or underreacting child every day. Techniques that will allow your child to learn and participate in appropriate ways will most likely help other children in the classroom, too.
Try hard, then, to present your child's accommodations to the teacher as strategies you are offering to make working with your child less difficult, not things you're demanding. You may, ultimately, have to demand them. But for starters, if what you're requesting is that the teacher be more understanding of your child, it doesn't hurt to be more understanding of the teacher.
Answers to Questions Teachers Ask About Sensory Integration, by Carol Stock Kranowitz, Stacy Szklut, and others, is a good resource for helping education professionals understand your child's special needs. It's available in book and audio form from Sensory Resources.
Be sure to offer the same information you give the classroom teacher to all the other professionals your child works with at school. You might expect the teacher to do this, and you might be right in expecting that this will happen, but don't take it for granted. You're always safer to offer the information yourself. Include copies for any classroom aides, the gym teacher, the music teacher, the principal, the school nurse, even the cafeteria workers if smells and flavors are a source of distress.
The best possible situation for your child is for everyone at the school to understand his needs. One staff person shouting at him in the hallway as he jumps or bumps or does whatever he needs to do to be comfortable can set your child up for a bad day. If you have any skill at public speaking, you might even offer to do a little workshop on sensory integration for the staff. Most likely, once they know more about sensory integration disorder, they'll be able to identify more children in the school who can benefit from the information.