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Each new school year brings a change to routine, along with new people and unfamiliar places. This can amount to a lot of anxiety and stress for both parents and their special needs children. With this in mind – we’ve curated a list of back-to-school tips for parents of children with special needs.
Many of these back-to-school tips come straight from speech-language pathologists, special education teachers, and occupational therapists!
Before School Starts
- School Tour – Special Needs Alliance recommends taking your child on a tour of the school and meeting his or her teachers before school starts. Visit any of the rooms your child may use, including the library, gym, cafeteria, special needs classrooms and nurse’s office. If your child must use to use a locker, ask him or her to practice using one. Taking time to meet with the teachers, special education staff, speech-language pathologists or occupational therapists will help your child get to know some of the faces they will be encountering on a routine basis. Most of them will be in their classrooms during the week before school begins.
- Pictures, pictures – Take pictures of the school and classroom so – by showing photos, you can help acquaint your son or daughter to the surroundings during safe, quiet times can also help them get to know their surroundings according to Autism Speaks (Twitter: @autismspeaks). Another great tip from Care.com (Twitter: @caredotcom) recommends taking photos of each person your child will interact with so that they have a photo album to ease anxiety about being around strangers.
- Bus Routine – Accompany your child to the bus stop if she or she will be riding the bus to and/or from school. You can also help your child settle into the expected morning routine so that he or she is ready for the bus. It is also important that you supervise the first few days of bus pickup and drop-off to make sure things run smoothly.
- Review your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) – Each year, before the school year begins, it is important to review your child’s IEP to ensure it reflects his or her needs and IEP goals are still relevant. According to PopSugar (Twitter: @POPSUGARMoms), this is also a great time to touch base with the school IEP coordinator and your child’s special education coordinator.
- School Supplies – Be sure to check with your child’s special education teacher and/or school-based speech-language pathologist or school-based occupational therapist to find out if additional school supplies are necessary. Another thing to consider when thinking about back-to-school shopping is to hold off shopping for new clothes. Mom.com (Twitter: @momdotme) suggests that new clothes for some children with special needs may cause unnecessary discomfort if they are itchy, stiff, or just unfamiliar. You can begin having your child wear new clothes before the first day of school or merely wait until an adjustment period has passed.
- Reorganize Appointments – As your child starts the new routine of school, some of their occupational therapy or speech therapy appointments may need to change. One of PopSugar‘s back-to-school tips is talking to your child’s service providers to create a new schedule a few weeks before school starts so that it is an easier transition.
- Utilize Social Behavior Lessons – If your child has worked with a speech therapist or occupational therapist during the summer, he or she may be able to recommend some activities that you can help your child with to learn appropriate skills for the first couple of weeks of school. This can be a stressful time while your child meets new children and establishes new relationships. One of the tried-and-tested back-to-school tips from Autism Speaks is to use and practice the “Social Hook.”
- Don’t Panic! – The writers at Parenting Toolkit (Twitter: @educationnation) remind parents that children sense anxiety within the parents. If you want to help your child remain calm about the school year, then it is important for you to remain calm as well. You will then be equipped to help your son or daughter if there is tension.
The First Few Days
- Establish Communication – Your child will likely be working with more than one adult. In fact, there are often special education teachers, general education teachers, gym teachers, speech-language pathologists, librarians, cafeteria workers, and many more. While you don’t need to have contact with all of them, identify and connect with persons you will need to reach regularly. A tip offered at Friendship Circle (Twitter: @fcmichigan) suggests learning each person’s preferred method of communication.
- Stay Involved – Melissa Ferry, a special education teacher who writes for Friendship Circle, recommends contacting your child’s teachers and therapists at least monthly. Ferry also recommends checking your child’s backpack daily.
- Lunch Time – Special needs children can sometimes be fussy eaters. Here are some Easy Lunch Ideas for Kids on the Spectrum.
- Homework – Have a plan of attack, says ADDitude Magazine (Twitter: @ADDitudeMag). Knowing what, where and when your child will complete homework helps create consistency and stay organized to alleviate any potential for homework wars. It is also important to discuss “homework” with your child’s occupational therapist or speech-language pathologist because extra assignments might not be documented.
What back-to-school tips have you found beneficial for parents of special needs children? Please tell us in the comments section below!