By Leslie Lindsay
If you are like me, then you have just spent a good chunk of your evening wondering about your child’s new school year. Who is her teacher? What time is the bus coming? Do I have all of the necessary school supplies? What about shoes? That first-day-of-school outfit? (It’s a big day for all that in my neck of the woods here in Chicagoland).
But have you thought about how you might broach the subject of childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) with your classroom teacher?
Like many, your child’s teacher may not know what CAS is–or how to help. It’s up to you to inform them. Short of giving them a copy of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012)–okay, shameless plus–you can do a few other things to prepare yourself and your child for a successful year in the classroom.
Do you wonder what you should tell your child’s teacher about apraxia? Not all teachers will have specific knowledge on all special needs. Kate’s preschool teacher (you can adapt your needs to any grade) admitted that she didn’t know much about apraxia, but she was very willing to learn. She knew it had something to do with verbal skills, but that was about it.
It helped a little to give Kate’s teacher the scientific explanation: “It’s a motor-neurological communication disorder in which she knows what she wants to say, but just can’t quite get it out.” What really helped was when I said, “It’s like being totally exhausted and not able to carry on a conversation.” She got it then. I further explained that Kate had to work really hard to have even a simple conversation.
Other explanations from parents you may consider adapting:
- “You know that feeling of being tongue-tied, or having a thought on the tip of your tongue? Well, that’s how Adam feels most of the time.”
- “Ask someone how their day was, and then tell them they can’t use their words to tell you.
What’s a Parent to Do? Meet with the teacher as early in the year as possible and share with her specific information about CAS and how it affects your child. There is a fabulous “Dear Teacher” letter on the Apraxia-Kids website written by Sharon Gretz, MEd, the founder of CASANA (Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association North America). I urge parents to print it and give it to your child’s teacher. You can find the letter at www.apraxia-KIDS.org. Once on the page, head to the search field, type “teacher letter.” You’ll get several hits, but the one you want is a letter that is downloadable in PDF format. The neat thing about this letter is it gives suggestions on how teachers can help your child at school.
While you’re on the Apraxia-Kids site, look at the brochures about apraxia written with a lay-person in mind. Like the “teacher letters,” these brochures are downloadable and printable. Consider including one with the letter you give your child’s teacher. Make it into a little “welcome to my child packet.” Including a brief write-up on things about your child is very helpful, too. It doesn’t have to be long or fancy, just a few bullet points like this:
- Fun, outgoing child
- Likes art and being creative
- Excels at gross motor activities
- Slow to warm up, may need to be drawn into social situations with specific questions or play
- Loves books
Of course, your descriptions may be different than mine! Now if every parent would do something like this for their child’s teachers (whether or not they have CAS), it would take a lot of guesswork out of teacher’s lives.
Here are some more tips on putting together an information packet for the teacher:
- Give her a book (like this one) or DVD on Childhood Apraxia of Speech (“Hope Speaks” is available on the Apraxia-Kids website: www.apraxia-kids.org).
- Provide a list of easy ideas that may help with speech in the classroom (refer to Chapter 9).
- Remind the teacher that while your child sometimes has a hard time communicating, or takes longer than usual to respond to a question, apraxia does not affect her intelligence. She does not have to simplify things for your child if she only has CAS. (Of course, if she has Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, or another disability in addition to CAS, you will want to advise her about any learning difficulties related to the other condition.)
- Offer to create a communication notebook or worksheet that can be shared between parent and teacher. We made worksheets on the computer. I printed out five of them Sunday night and placed them in Kate’s backpack for Monday morning. Each day her teacher filled them out and sent them home with Kate. This daily report gave me some talking points for Kate about her day.
- Be open and available. In The Complete Guide to Special Education, authors Dr. Linda Wilmshurst and Dr. Alan Brue recommend that you keep your ears and mind open to new ideas from your child’s teacher or other school professional. They typically have lots of experience and ideas in working with kids that just might help yours. If you disagree with a suggestion, ask more about it. It’s part of their job to explain it.
- Consider communicating some tidbits from the home front. For example, things like “Papa and Nana visited this past weekend,” or “Kate really enjoys the unit on frogs—ask her what we saw last night when we visited the neighborhood pond.” This gives your child’s teacher something to ask her about and encourages verbalization on things that are meaningful to your child’s home life.
***LET US KNOW WHAT HAS BEEN HELPFUL FOR YOU IN THE PAST? HOW HAVE YOU CONNECTED WITH YOUR CHILD’S TEACHER ABOUT CAS?***