The summer is coming to a close and before we know it yellow school busses will be seen throughout neighborhoods meaning school is back in session. For parents, back-to-school time can be a sigh of relief. It can also lead to added stress as the transition may lead to children exhibiting an increase in difficult behaviors.
Going back to school can be an exciting time for kids, but children with special needs might need more preparation than going shopping for new supplies and clothes. Even if children have gone to school before, each school year brings a level of newness – new classroom, new teacher, new classmates – all of which can be a difficult adjustment for any child, but especially for a child with special needs.
For kids on the Autism spectrum, they appreciate routines and structure. The newness and change of the school year can interrupt their routines and schedules, causing them to react with difficult behaviors. Children with mobility disabilities and other developmental disabilities may have a difficult time with transitions as well. Below are some tips to help make the back-to-school transition a bit easier:
Create a countdown
For kids that like planning and routine, creating a countdown to the first day of school can be helpful. Mark the date of the first day of school with fun stickers or a colored marker of your child’s choosing to make it exciting and interesting to them. A few weeks before school begins, have your child start marking days off with an “X” and counting the number of days left until the first day.
Some families get craftier by creating paper link chains where strips of paper are looped together making a chain. Each link or loop represents how many “sleeps” until school starts. Each night before bedtime, a paper loop is removed from the chain to countdown how many sleeps are left. These tools can help your child visualize the timeline and feel prepared for the upcoming school year.
A few weeks before school starts – around the same time you start your calendar countdown – create morning and nighttime routines that will carry on throughout the school year. Your child can begin waking up, getting dressed, and eating breakfast like they will before heading off to school. Having them wake up at the time they will for school a few weeks in advance can make for an easier transition and hopefully less rough mornings when school actually starts.
This is the time when you can also begin the bedtime routine that will go on throughout the school year. Practicing eating dinner, taking a bath, reading a book, and brushing teeth before going to bed at a certain time will help your child become less resistant to this schedule once school begins. Less resistance can mean improved behavior from your kiddo, making mornings and evenings easier for everyone in the household.
Attend school events
Many school districts host a “meet the teacher” night where families are encouraged to come in and tour the school while meeting teachers and exploring the new classroom. Events and activities like these can foster a smoother transition when the first day of school actually rolls around. If your district or school doesn’t offer a community event like this, contact the school administration to see if you and your child can come in ahead of time on your own. Having already been in the school, visited with the teacher and seen the classroom familiarizes your child, making the first day a little less new and intimidating.
Review your IEP
Having your child’s Individualized Education Program ready and available is the first step in making sure your child will have a successful school year. Review it to ensure it includes everything necessary, everything that had been previously discussed, and anything that may have changed since the last school year. While your child’s teacher should already have the IEP available to them, it doesn’t hurt to be extra prepared and bring a hard copy with you on meet the teacher night so your child’s teacher has time to review it and note any special accommodations before the school year begins. It can also be helpful to have digital copies of the IEP in case it needs to be emailed out to other school employees.
Along with reviewing your child’s IEP, you can also contact the school to make sure your child’s aide will be present on the first day and has all the information he or she may need. If your child receives at-home educational instruction, make sure you or their tutor know what to focus on for this school year.
It’s also helpful to have a private meeting with your child’s teacher and aide to discuss all of the little details about your child and things that may not be readily apparent in the IEP. These conversations set your child and their teaching staff up for success through the year, which is the goal for everyone involved. Follow-up meetings throughout the year can also benefit you, your child, and their teacher. Having everyone prepared and on the same page will make for a smoother school year for both them and your child.
Prepare a guide
While important information about your child should be stored in their school records, it doesn’t hurt to make a one-page guide that can be handed out to school staff at meet the teacher night or on the first day of school. Think of this as an “at-a-glance” document that notes any food or medication allergies, medications needed, and any triggers or calming factors for your child. It would also be helpful to include any emergency contact information. Having this information all in one place and easily accessible can help your child’s teacher or aide to feel prepared should they have any questions about your child on the first few days of the school year.
Communication is key
Having open discussions with your child about school will be helpful in getting them familiar with the new year. Talking with them about what to expect, or answering any questions they may have can help your child feel more at ease with this transition.
Communicating about inclusion is also very important for all parents and children. School is often when children will be around peers that have physical or developmental disabilities. Before school starts, parents often chat with their kids about staying away from strangers, using their manners, being on their best behavior and homework policies. Back-to-school time is also great moment to teach kids about disabilities and how their classmates that may seem different are actually not so different, they just have a disability they need to adapt to. This talk about disability awareness and inclusion can also involve chatting about bullying and why it’s never okay to bully a classmate, regardless of if they have a disability or not. Encouraging your children to be open to having relationships with children with disabilities fosters early disability awareness, and hopefully lifelong friendships, too! W.A.G.S. 4 Kids like to promote “Inclusion Always, In All Ways” and there’s no better place to practice inclusivity than on the school playground or in the cafeteria.
W.A.G.S. 4 Kids wishes all of our families and children a safe, happy, educational and wonderful school year. If you have any back-to-school photos you would like to share or would like W.A.G.S. 4 Kids to speak to your school about inclusion or our Kids Who Can! Youth Empowerment Program, please email us at email@example.com. Happy learning!