Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism, Education and Special Needs, Parenting Special Needs

Blog #213~Back to School Tips for Special Needs Parents

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:
*Holiday Parties
*Art Awareness Presenter
*Chaperone Field Trips
*Field Days
*Picture Day
*Work book fairs
*Library aid
*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!
~Teresa 🙂

back to school bus

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Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Education and Special Needs

Blog #129~ Communication Strategies and Autism

Blog #129~ Communication Strategies and Autism

Last week I attended a presentation given by Brian R. King (  This was part of the Autism Expert Series at The College of DuPage.  The topic was “Speaking of Autism: Communication Strategies for Connection and Collaboration with Those on the Autism Spectrum”. Brian has firsthand experience in this area. He is a best selling author, speaker, trainer and life coach.  As a cancer survivor, adult with A.D.D., the father of three sons on the autism spectrum as well as someone who lives on the autism spectrum himself, he has learned something very critical:  “That success in life has nothing to do with circumstances, but everything to do with strategies”. ~Brian R. King

autism puzzle superman

In his presentation, Brian covered 6 main areas of needs and provided strategies specific to those on the autism spectrum:

  • Certainty:  What things can be put in place that that are predictable and consistent?  Meltdowns can happen when a need for certainty is not met.  So it is important to put a loop hole in daily plans.  Make sure you have “Plan A” and “Plan B” in place and explain both beforehand.  Plan A is golfing, but if it rains then go to Plan B a pre-set indoor activity.  If they can trust that there is a Plan B, there will be less anxiety and a willingness to be flexible. 
  • Variety:  As important as certainty is, there is a need to keep variety in the mix.  Life can’t always be about going to McDonalds for lunch. You’ve got to step off the curb.  Look up other restaurants on the web that have similar menu items with your child.  Together, come up with a plan to try a new spot. Be prepared to have an escape plan, if the trip doesn’t go as planned so the child can decompress.
  • Significance:  People on the autism spectrum need to know they matter.  What might appear to be attention seeking behavior (talking out of turn, not raising their hand to answer a question) may be an attempt to be noticed, validated and to be a part of the group. Another example is this; a child may not process the question as quickly as their peers.  They might just make up an answer or a lie when put on the spot.  One teacher tip would be to ask the question and say, “Johnny I’m going to come back to you in a couple of minutes”.  This allows the child to process the question and not just blurt out any answer.  Visuals can also help to process information.  Provide a tool to write down the assignment.

visual work board

  • Love and Connection:  Working with those on the autism spectrum requires patience and letting the child know that you hear them, understand them and have their back.  It is essential to pause, and avoid lecture or shame.  But rather teach that you want them learn from mistakes.  Be their cushion of safety so they feel cared for and loved.


  • Growth:  We all have a desire to make progress and see results of improvement.  What need is the child going toward?  Often there is a tendency to gravitate to certainty.  Look for ways to have the child excel in those places of certainty.  In contrast, keep in mind the child will tend to avoid areas where there are too many opportunities to fail. These are the places that will require more support.
  • Contribution:  When you have something of value to give, you feel more significant.  Look for those strengths and allow the child on the autism spectrum to shine.

My son Nick working the vacuum at a community job……

Nick vacumming_Tabor Hills (3)

  Assessing these 6 areas of needs and putting strategies in place will set your child up for success. It will also help those on the autism spectrum feel secure, valued, and connected and a part of the group/community.   I am always looking for ways to help my son.  Nick is 21 years old and has Down syndrome and autism.  After attending this presentation I’ve identified some areas I need strengthen within these strategies.  This includes getting a “Plan B” more consistently, continue to stretch his boundaries, listen to him when he tries to get attention inappropriately, and allow him to shine in what he does the best. 

Thank you Brian R. King, for shining a light on how to better communicate with those on the autism spectrum and provide strategies to support them. That’s what is in my noggin this week.