Collaborative Communication Helps Students with Special Needs Succeed in School

Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused

By Erica Kearney, M.A., LABA, BCBA

At the beginning of a new school year, it is critically important for parents and teachers and other service providers to establish a coordinated, collaborative communication plan to ensure that the children in their care make progress across all settings and have the best year possible.

As a parent and as the Executive Director of the recently expanded May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in West Springfield, I understand and value the importance of effective communication when it comes to meeting the needs of students with autism and other special needs.

Any time a team of individuals works with a child, it is crucial to establish and agree upon the methods of communication that team will use. Parents want and need to be informed of what goes on with their child on a day-to-day basis. Teachers and service providers also need to know what is happening in the life of that child when he or she is not in their care.

Coordinate schedules
Developing effective approaches to communication can be challenging depending on how many people are part of a child’s treatment team. The team may include therapists and representatives from different agencies in addition to parents and teachers. The size of the team can make it difficult to coordinate individual schedules and enable all parties to be present at all team meetings.

If communication is not well-coordinated, important aspects of a child’s care, learning style, and specific challenges may be missed and providers may unknowingly have conflicting approaches. This can cause unnecessary stress for families and their children.

Collaborate and compromise
Coordination of such a large team requires collaboration and compromise on all ends. If team members have difficulty coordinating communication, they may need to take some things into consideration: Is the level of communication that is necessary too high? Is it difficult to get all members of team together because of the number of people involved? What compromises may be necessary to ensure the team can be effective?

Set realistic expectations
As a clinician, I often find myself asking if the expectations are realistic. Does the level of communication necessary to keep all parties involved affect the amount of time service providers can work with the child and maintain the efficiency of programming? It is important for families to remember that their child’s teachers and other service providers have other students and clients with the same level of needs as their child. Team members must take that into consideration when setting expectations for the number of group meetings and how long these meetings may last.

When working with large teams, I have found that not all members use the same treatment approach. Sometimes they are not familiar with the methods being used by other team members. Make sure that the key people involved are always informed of any necessary changes in the child’s treatment plan. That is an important step in developing effective communication systems.

Use different methods
It is essential that a method of communication is developed that enables all members of the team to be well informed about what all providers are doing for the child. Methods may include home/school communication sheets, emails, scheduled phone calls, home visits, using example videos to demonstrate techniques, and periodic team meetings.

Coordinating communication is not always easy, but it is possible. And if a child has an effective communication team of parents, teachers, and other service providers working together, he or she will be able to learn and grow and make as much progress as possible.

Erica Kearney M.A., LABA, BCBA, is Executive Director at the May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in Chicopee, Mass. She can be contacted at

About May Institute
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis and evidence-based interventions, serving autistic individuals and individuals with other developmental disabilities, brain injury, neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded nearly 70 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. May Institute operates five schools for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, including one in Chicopee, Mass. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit