Heading back to the classroom this fall is exciting, but it can also be a challenging time for families of children with special needs. The Episcopal Center for Children (ECC), a nonprofit organization serving children with special needs ages 5-14 in the Washington, DC area since 1895, offers tips to help:
Tip #1 – Organize your paperwork and review the schedule. Review your child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP). Do you have any new medical or psychological reports that the school should know about? Talk with the school to make sure their plans for your child match the intentions in the IEP. Ensure the school staff are up to speed on where your child is at now. Make sure you know where your child’s classroom is, any transportation plans, and what he or she will need to bring each day.
Tip #2 – Calm any stress or first day jitters your child may have. Whether it’s a new classroom or familiar surroundings, children may be nervous about starting back to school. Talk with your child about their feelings. Assure your child that going back to school will be a good thing.
Tip #3 – Delay getting new school clothes. You may think a new outfit will help calm first day jitters, but for some special needs children, new clothes may aggravate issues. For children with sensory issues, new clothes may feel itchy, stiff and uncomfortable. If your child needs it, let him or her wear clothes that are comfortable and familiar for the first few days of school.
Tip #4 – Help your child “picture” going back to school. If your child is returning to a familiar school and you have photos showing him or her at school or with friends or a teacher, show the photos to your child. If you visit the school before school starts, take a picture of your child in his or her classroom, and show the photo to your child later at home. Some children visually process information and benefit from visual assurances. Create a visual countdown chart at home, so your child can help move the numbers as you count down to the start of the school year.
Tip #5 – Begin introducing new routines before school starts. Morning and afternoon routines can help your child transition into and out of school each day. You may need to establish an earlier bedtime routine to make sure your child is up on time and ready to go. Start thinking about how you want to approach homework. Talk with your child about when and how homework will be completed.
Tip #6 – Talk to the school staff about any of your concerns. Open communication helps children with special needs. Speak with school staff if you have noticed something new about your child that may impact their education. Open communication with school staff will benefit your child. Because transitions are hard for many special needs children, clarify with school staff how transitions are handled. Who greets children as they get off the bus? How are transitions between classes or activities handled? Tell your child what to expect.
Tip #7 – Go to school events. If the school has an open house, parent-teacher night, or back to school program, attend. Talk with the staff about your child’s progress. If you are not able to go, make a point of calling the teacher at another time and getting caught up on the information.