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 school tour 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 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, Pictures – Take pictures of the school and classroom because by showing photos, you can help acquaint your son or daughter with the surroundings during safe and quiet times. This tip can also help children get to know their surroundings better, 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 he or she will have a photo album to ease anxiety from being around strangers.
- Bus Routine – Accompany your child to the bus stop if he or she will ride 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’s important to review your child’s IEP to ensure that it reflects his or her needs and that IEP goals are still relevant. According to PopSugar (Twitter: @POPSUGARMoms), this is also a great time to touch base with the school’s IEP coordinator and your child’s special education coordinator.
- Practice Rehearsal – If your child spent the summer months at home, he or she may find it anxiety-inducing to be apart from parents. To help your child cope with separation anxiety, try an idea that Parents.com (Twitter: @ParentsMagazine) suggests: rehearsal. Before the first day of school, visit the school building with your child, and do a “mock drop-off” or have your child get out of the car, walk to the school building’s entrance, and then return to the car. Once you’re together again, console your child, and give him or her a pat on the back for being so courageous.
- Reorganize Appointments – As children start 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’s an easier transition.
- Utilize Social Behavior Lessons – If your child has worked with a speech therapist or occupational therapist during the summer, the therapist might be able to recommend some activities that can help your child learn appropriate skills for the first few weeks of school. After all, this can be a stressful time while your child meets new children and establishes new relationships.
- Meditate – The writers at WeAreTeachers (Twitter: @WeAreTeachers) suggest practicing daily meditation to center and focus yourself when feeling overwhelmed by the many tasks of the day. Take a moment to pause and simply observe all of your five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. By stopping to raise awareness of your senses daily, you can “pull yourself out of the wandering mind,” which alleviates stress while boosting memory and resilience.
The First Few Days
- Establish Communication – Your child will likely be working with more than one adult. In fact, students often work with special education teachers, general education teachers, gym teachers, speech-language pathologists, librarians, cafeteria workers, and many others. While you don’t need to get in contact with all of them, identify and connect with staff members that 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 him or her 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!
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