There are a number of things parents of kids with special needs can do to make sure everything is in place for their kid to go back to school, but your child with special needs may need some extra help with the transition, too. Here are some ways to make going back to school a little easier for your child.
1. Let your child have her little quirks.
Keep in mind the little things that your child needs or does that might annoy you or make you worry about her ability to make friends may not be as big as you think they are. In fact, trying to extinguish those little quirks may cause more anxiety as school begins.
If your child has fine motor issues and has trouble tying her shoes, let her wear Velcro shoes to middle school. It’s not worth starting off the year with her feeling defeated as she struggles to learn to tie. In our house, for instance, we’ve given up on trying to get our son with autism to wear anything with tags, snaps, or zippers. The way he fidgets when he feels uncomfortable is much more likely to cause peer issues than wearing elastic-waist cargo pants!
2. Set up a school tour before all the kids pour in.
Giving your child the freedom to explore an almost empty school can help him feel more confident about knowing the way from the front door to his classroom door. He can also learn the routes to the special education and therapy rooms, so he can get there the first day without feeling singled out in front of his classmates. While you’re there, take pictures, too.
Keep reading for three more great tips!
3. Create a Social Story™ about the school day.
Social stories are a concept trademarked by educational consultant Carol Gray and are narrations about common skills and routines that can be told with and to your child to help her learn and understand those routines.
Depending on your child’s skill level, you can make a social story — complete with pictures — that walks her through the whole school day or a number of shorter stories to walk through the steps of the day. For instance, you may create a story for the getting on the bus routine, one for the school day routine, and one for the after-school routine.
4. Don’t minimize anxiety, but don’t feed into it either.
When you have a child with special needs, starting a new school year can be anxiety provoking for parents as well as children. However, it’s important to strike the right balance between letting your child know you’re available to listen to her anxiety about going to school and not letting your own anxiety combine with hers to create more.
The National Association of School Psychologists suggests that parents should remind children of their coping skills, try not to overreact to tough beginnings, and try to remain calm and positive about your child’s school experience.
5. Talk to your child about the structure of his day.
If your child needs extra learning support outside of the classroom, his day won’t be structured the same as the classroom schedule. Attend an open house or call the school to get the specifics of his day and then talk to him about it, so he knows not only what his day will look like, but also how it varies from that of some of his classmates.