Report Cards

YIKES! Report cards and progress reports are coming home this week, causing stress at home for many families of school-aged kids with autism. This may be the first time that parents get an official report that their youngster is struggling with some behavior issues at school. Some parents react by fussing at the youngster. Others blame the teacher and schools. What is the most constructive way to deal with less-than-perfect report cards?

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Respond calmly. Traditional report cards are not always effective ways to measure and report progress for many youngsters with autism. Rather than fussing at the kid or the teacher, just say something neutral like, “Looks like we have some areas that could use improvement.” Then calmly request a conference with the teacher so you can discuss areas of concern and work together to help the youngster move forward.

Take time to pinpoint the problem. A teacher reported that a friend’s son “never” followed directions. The teacher and parent worked together and observed that the active youngster actually followed directions all day long except when heading for lunch, when coming back from recess, or when doing math papers. Once they pinpointed the catalysts, the teacher was able to develop strategies to help him learn to follow directions during these three challenging times of day.

Another parent worked with her daughter’s high school teachers to find that the teen followed all directions given directly to her, but not those addressed to the group. They worked together to determine if the youngster was purposefully choosing to be incompliant, if she was not paying attention, or if she simply did not care about consequences.

It took some serious detective work, but another parent-teacher team discovered recently that a young student diagnosed with autism doesn’t follow the direction the first time it is given – at home AND at school – because he knows that he has some leeway. He has learned to wait until the teacher finally says, “Johnny, I have told you FOUR times to put your book back in the shelf. I really mean it this time.” Under the circumstances, it makes sense to simply keep reading the book until his teacher – or his parents – “really mean it.”

Report cards can cause stress and friction at home and at school, or they can be viewed as a tool for communicating concerns between parents and teachers, allowing the team to help pinpoint challenging issues and develop strategies to address them.

We welcome your experiences and ideas about report cards. Just click on the comments button or send an e-mail to

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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