The kids are spending the day at school and you're left wondering what kind of day they're having. Do you wonder if she has friends at school? Are there things he struggles with during the school day? You can't watch her via webcam or sit in the back of her classroom, but you can ask her teacher for a daily communication log. What information should you request?
Learn the teacher's preferred communication method
If you want your teacher to communicate effectively, ask what's best for him. Some teachers like traditional composition books, while others might prefer to send an e-mail or call on the phone. Sometimes the choice might come down to the teacher's schedule. If she feels rushed to write in the book before the bell rings, then maybe sending an e-mail after the children have left on the bus works better.
Avoid judgmental terms like "good" or "bad"
Instead, ask for a description of specific behaviors. You also want to know what led to a meltdown or incident, and what was done to resolve the situation. This is important so that you can identify triggers for your child.
Set priorities for what you really want to know about
Keep in mind that your child's teacher only has so much time and a class full of other students, so understand that she will limit her writings to what's pertinent for that day. If you need to prioritize, what aspects of your child's day do you want your teacher to focus on? Social? Academic? Behavioral?
Friends and play time are just as important
Did your child play alone today at school or engage other kids in play? If so, who? Look to see if certain names become repeats in your communication log and investigate how those friendships are being fostered. Continue to build those relationships after school by setting up play dates.
Look at your child's school work habits
Did he complete all of his class activities? If no, why not? "She's slow when she does her class work" isn't a sufficient answer to help target the underlying problem. Is she distracted? Does she understand the work? Does she need assistance with time management?
School doesn't really end at 3 p.m.
Does your teacher want you to reinforce anything at home? For instance, if your child engaged in rather unfavorable incidents, you want to know so you don't unknowingly "reward" him later. You don't want to give your child the impression that he can do whatever he wants at school without repercussions at home. On the flip side, you also want to encourage all of the positive things your child is doing at school. Consistency, consistency, consistency is key.
Communication logs aren't just for elementary students
Secondary school students have planners in which teachers can sign or include short comments. Your concern for how your child manages his day in middle school is no different from the concern you had when he was in primary grades. If anything, you may develop more concerns as your child enters middle and high school.
If daily logs are too stressful for your child, consider weekly logs. You may need to individualize the frequency.
What is your child saying without telling you?
Ask your child's teacher to note any concerns your child is expressing, such as signs of anxiety or repeating things over and over.
Communication should include the great things your child does too-not just negative behaviors. Your child does some amazing things at school that you don't get to see, so make sure you ask your teacher to share those moments as well.
Shelly McLaughlin works at Pathfinders for Autism.