For kids with special needs, the school start can be very overwhelming. Our Special Needs expert has some tips for parents to make the transition easier.
One of my most favorite TV commercials is an old ad of a family shopping in an office supply store. As the parents dance their way down the aisles, the children sulk behind them. In the background, the holiday song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” plays effervescently over the speakers. Can you guess the theme of this ad? Yep, it’s “Back to school”.
However, for many parents of Special Needs kids, back to school can be anything but wonderful. There are meetings and paperwork, and changes in routine. There are lots of new faces…and more paperwork…and more meetings. You get the picture, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Like many things in life, an ounce of careful planning can be worth its weight in gold.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
Remember change can be upsetting.
Many kids, especially “Spectrum kids”, have a tough time with change, and the beginning of a new school year is fraught with it. There are new teachers, new classmates, new routines, new classes – even a new lunch menu. The vast number of things changing can be overwhelming, so start preparing your child now for the reality of these changes.
Although you cannot account for every new situation your child may encounter in the new school year, you can help him prepare for some of them. For example, check the school’s menu online so you can plan which days he’ll be packing lunch. Before the year begins, write notes to place in his lunchbox, and consider including a simple knock-knock joke. Walk with your child to and from the bus stop to acclimate her to it. Start setting the alarm a week before classes begin to get him on the morning schedule.
Meet all of the players involved in your child’s school day..
Now is the time to contact your child’s teacher(s) and others who will be working with her throughout the year to make sure that proper introductions are made and that they know what makes your child tick. Focus on how the special need (autism, ASD, ADHD, etc.) reflects itself in your child – and, in the school setting. Be sure to ask the teacher how she prefers to communicate with you during the school year (email, text, phone, etc.). If possible, see if you can bring your child to the school to briefly walk her through her schedule and meet her new teacher. However, if you’re just “popping in”, remember to be sensitive to the teacher’s time – as in, if she is in the midst of setting up her classroom, it might not be the appropriate time to have a lengthy discussion – instead, schedule a specific date and time to meet with her, so you’ll have all the time to need to address your concerns.
It’s also important to remember to contact all of the players that contribute to your child’s successful school year. In addition to meeting with his teacher, make sure that you also meet with the school psychologist, an autism consultant (if applicable), and/or any speech, physical and/or occupational therapists that may be working with your child. Discuss your child’s strengths and weaknesses, and make them aware of any potential triggers or specific situations that your child may have a hard time dealing with. For example, if your child has SPD, fire alarms and school assemblies may be difficult for him. With an open line of communication, you can help ensure that your child will have a positive experience.
Listen, Listen, and listen some more, then speak..
For the first few weeks of school, remember that a new year is an adjustment for the entire family. Make a conscious effort to be a bit more patient and understanding as everyone settles in. During the first few weeks of school, your child may need to retreat to a quiet area in the house for a bit, or she may just want to talk about her day.
While the adjustment period is taking place, you can do a few things to ease their minds. Try to limit surprises – friends of mine like to keep a whiteboard calendar on the wall with everyone’s schedules mapped out on it. Plan tried-and-true meals for the first week or two, so everyone likes what’s on the menu for dinner. Make a point of selecting one night of the week each week for “family night”, so your children will have something to look forward to, and include them in on the planning! (Think a game or two, a quick flick and snacks, etc.) Most importantly, stick to a bedtime routine. A good night’s rest is good for everyone!
A new year doesn’t have to be daunting. It may not become the most wonderful time of the year, but with some planning, it can be a smoother transition. Do you have anything to add to these tips? Please share them in the comments section below.
Thanks for Reading!