Blog #213~Back to School Tips for Special Needs Parents
There are a few more areas to consider when sending a child with special needs back to school. Children with intellectual and developmental disabilities may not be able to understand change and transitions related to school. The student’s language skills may be limited and they might have difficulty expressing emotions. This can all lead to anxiety which can result in behavior problems. You can help your child by planning ahead, getting organized and putting visual supports in place for the new school year. Here are 5 tips to ensure a smooth start to the new school year for your child with special needs.
5 Back to School Tips for Special Needs Parents:
1. Look over your child’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) before school begins. The IEP outlines academic and functional goals, supports needed, accommodations and services. Reach out to your child’s case manager/IEP coordinator or Support Teacher, and ask specifically how these will be implemented, and how data will be tracked. If there is a Behavior Support Plan (BSP), review it, and make sure that all staff members working with your child have as well. Note anything that might need to be tweaked in both plans, and share with the school staff. Summer and holiday breaks can often lead to regression in behaviors that may need to be addressed.
2. Arrange a visit to the classroom before school begins. Provide a profile/resume sheet about your child for the staff, containing any information that will help them understand their likes, dislikes, behavior and communication concerns. Look for visual supports and a schedule posted in the classroom to enhance learning and understanding. You can request that a social story (pictures or video); be made of the settings that your child will be in at school, (classroom, lunch room, gym, sensory area, etc.). It also helps to include pictures of support staff and classroom peers (if possible), in the social story. If a child with autism can see it in picture and/or written form, they will better understand it. Visual supports, social stories and schedules all act as blueprints to help your child navigate their day. This will help them understand what is expected and occur, leading to reduced anxiety levels for your child. The support teacher/ case manager can make these for you to read with your child before school starts.
Social Story for Back to School:
3. During the classroom meet and greet, arrange a mode of communication with your child’s teacher. In the past I have used both email, texting and a communication notebook which goes back and forth. My son, Nick has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism. His verbal language skills are limited. The communication notebook gives the child a voice that describes what their day has been like at school, and how they are doing at home. This is especially helpful, if your child didn’t sleep well, and you can give the teacher a head’s up, to incorporate more breaks in the day if needed. In addition to a communication notebook, the teacher can create a custom daily report to share with parents. Depending on the skill level of your child, words or pictures can be used and looked at together at home after school each day:
Daily Report Charts:
4. Start Early! Get school supplies, clothes and shoes shopping done and haircut at least a week before the start of school. Having a child with special needs often means a lot of angst over haircuts. For Nick the stress of getting a haircut use to affect him for several days afterwards. Fortunately, now that my son is older the haircuts are much easier. Maturity and a good set of clippers have made haircuts successful. I’m super excited to share with you the new hair clippers that are a GAME CHANGER! The Remington Short Cut Pro Self-Haircut Kit is cordless, smooth, quiet and quick as it takes more hair in a single pass. It’s the most sensory friendly clippers we’ve ever used on our son. 5 Minutes and no tears!
The night before school starts, have your child help lay out the clothes, organize the school supplies and pick out lunch/snack choices. This will help to set the tone for a smooth start to the day and this helps especially at six o’clock in the morning. One thing that was NEVER EARLY; the school bus. Make sure you have carved out your schedule accordingly and have something for your child to do while you wait. On average, we’ve waited 30-45 minutes for the bus to get to our house the first few days of school.
5. Consider doing volunteer work at your child’s school. It is fun and you can see firsthand how your child is doing in the classroom.
Here are a few school volunteer ideas:
*Art Awareness Presenter
*Chaperone Field Trips
*Work book fairs
*Special Olympics Practices
*Assist Case Manager/ Support Teacher- Making copies, laminating, helping to create classroom supports.
Taking a few extra steps to get organized, familiarizing yourself with the IEP/ Behavior support plan, visiting the classroom, and providing visuals for your child will lead to a smooth start to the new school year. Getting involved as a classroom volunteer is rewarding and a great way to interact with student peers and school staff. Careful planning, organization and providing visual supports will make things easier for your child starting back to school. Do you have any back to school tips or tricks for your child with special needs? I’d love to hear them.
That’s what is in my noggin this week!
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