10 tips for helping your special needs child with back-to-school prep.
Back-to-school time is a big adjustment period for every family, but it can be an incredibly challenging time for a child living with special needs. Here are 10 tips to help your special needs child prepare to return to school.
Review their needs with the school
Before the school year starts, you’ll want to check in with your child’s care team to ensure that they have an updated IEP or 504 plan. You’ll also want to ensure their team is aware of any changes that have affected your child over the summer break and double-check the quality of accommodations your child will receive during the school day.
It’s good for everyone to have a refresher on their child’s needs to help them have the best experience possible from the start of the year.
Build relationships with their teachers
To help your child feel more comfortable on their first day back, you’ll want to take advantage of any opportunity for you and your child to meet their teachers and build a friendly relationship with them.
Kids who struggle in new situations can feel more comfortable if there is an element of familiarity, and if your child has built trust with their teachers and see you trust them, it can make spending time in their care more manageable.
Visit the school
Along with helping them get to know their teachers, you’ll want to help your child get to know their school building. Whether or not your child is new to the school, they may be going to new classrooms, have a new locker or cubby, or need to access parts of the school they haven’t seen before. Even if their teachers and classrooms are the same, it’s still been a significant period since they’ve been there. A familiarity is an excellent tool for all children heading into a new school, especially if your child takes a bit longer to adjust to new situations.
Taking advantage of their school’s open house or contacting the school to see if you can walk through before the first day can familiarize your child with their environment.
Begin the morning routine early
Children with special needs, especially those with significant anxiety, will benefit from adjusting to a morning routine before combining that routine with the school day. If your child’s morning routine changes from their summer routine, experts recommend beginning the new routine one to two weeks before the school year starts.
This adjustment helps to create important familiarity with the new school year’s changes. Have your child get up, get dressed, pack their backpack, and leave the house as they would on a school morning to help them get used to the new routine.
Get them used to transportation changes
Every parent should review their child’s transportation schedule before the school year starts. Make sure they know where they will be picked up, who will pick them up, and what kind of vehicle they will be riding in.
Knowing the transportation plan in advance helps your child feel more comfortable with going to and from school and can help them recognize an unsafe situation. If your child struggles to adjust to new situations, it can help them by doing test runs to and from the school in the car and with the person transporting them. For children riding the bus to school, see if there are opportunities for your child to boarding a school bus before the school year begins. You can also team up with another parent to make your kids bus buddies. Having someone they know to sit and interact with on the ride can make it easier for your child.
Before your child boards the bus, speak to the driver and introduce your child. Knowing that you trust the driver can help your child feel confident going to the driver if there’s a problem.
Familiarize them with lunchtime
If your child uses a lunch box during the school year, practice using it before it starts. Pack the lunches similarly to how you will during the school year. If you have a picky eater, it’s helpful to try out potential new snacks and meals ahead of time to know if they will eat them.
If your child is eating school-provided lunches, see if you can get a menu early and start introducing any new foods to your child ahead of time.
Talking about their feelings
While adjusting to these new routines and experiences, it’s essential to check in with your child’s emotions. If your child can discuss their feelings, talk with them about what they are the least or most nervous and excited about. Knowing how your child feels when preparing and engaging in the experiences can give you insight into what is working out and what they may need extra help adjusting to. It is also an excellent way to gain insight into things you may not have thought about.
Even if your child cannot communicate, gauge their overall attitude and comfort level when doing activities and if that comfort improves with repetition.
Involve them in picking out supplies
A new school year likely means picking out some fresh school supplies. Some children can have difficulty parting with old backpacks, lunch boxes, pencils, and notebooks.
One way to help your child get excited about new materials is to involve them in picking them out. Giving them choices and seeing what styles or colors they react positively to can help you generate excitement around the new items.
Review your child’s curriculum
If you have a child with a learning disability, it can be helpful as a parent to review their curriculum ahead of time.
Most schools will have their curriculum online or available to pick up for you to keep and review. Knowing what your child will be learning can help you or their homework partner to familiarize themselves with the materials. This way, you are better equipped to assist your child in education.
Help them express their needs
You are your child’s number-one advocate, but you can’t go through the school day with them.
Having a solid team looking after your child is essential, but it’s also vital to be their advocate to help your child learn. If your child can, help them understand their needs and vocalize them to those who may not be aware of or meeting them.
Knowing that they are allowed to express their needs to others can help them feel more confident in the classroom and ensure their needs are met during the school day.
Preparing your child for the new school year
Returning to school can be a significant change for your child and can feel even bigger if your child lives with special needs. Adjusting to a new routine can be nerve-wracking, but proper preparation can help your child have a positive experience entering the new year.