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Back to school can be fun and exciting, but for some kids with special needs, the transition can be very hard. For our family, we start planning for the back to school transition at least a month in advance. This helps make going back to school much easier and calmer for the whole family.
The Episcopal Center for Children (ECC), a nonprofit organization serving children with special needs in Washington, DC, sent me a list of tips to help with that back to school transition. Here are their tips, along with my personal tips and how our family handles that back to school transition!
7 Back to School Transition Tips:
1. Organize your paperwork and review the schedule.
“Review your child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP). Do you have any new medical or psychological reports that the school should know about? Talk with the school to make sure their plans for your child match the intentions in the IEP. Ensure the school staff are up to speed on where your child is at now. Make sure you know where your child’s classroom is, any transportation plans, and what he or she will need to bring each day.” – eccofdc.org
I think this tip is probably number one on every special needs mom‘s list! One of the first things we did at my house, was get organized, make a binder just for school stuff, throw away any old papers, and hang up any important ones. It felt good to be organized, and I was able to show my son where everything was. There was a place for everything which will help him be more prepared.
2. Calm any stress or first day jitters your child may have.
“Whether it’s a new classroom or familiar surroundings, children may be nervous about starting back to school. Talk with your child about their feelings. Assure your child that going back to school will be a good thing.” – eccofdc.org
Before school started, we talked a lot about school and what first grade would be like, how he will have a new teacher, but will still see some of his friends from last year. Talking about this transition a lot helped him feel better and even excited about going back to school.
3. Delay getting new school clothes.
“You may think a new outfit will help calm first day jitters, but for some special needs children, new clothes may aggravate issues. For children with sensory issues, new clothes may feel itchy, stiff and uncomfortable. If your child needs it, let him or her wear clothes that are comfortable and familiar for the first few days of school.” – eccofdc.org
This is something my son has been working on his whole life. He has always had a hard time with clothing being itchy and uncomfortable, but this year when I bought him new socks for school, he did so well. He told me that his socks were itchy, but he was still going to wear them to school. I was so proud!
4. Help your child “picture” going back to school.
“If your child is returning to a familiar school and you have photos showing him or her at school or with friends or a teacher, show the photos to your child. If you visit the school before school starts, take a picture of your child in his or her classroom, and show the photo to your child later at home. Some children visually process information and benefit from visual assurances. Create a visual countdown chart at home, so your child can help move the numbers as you count down to the start of the school year.” – eccofdc.org
We do this tip with a lot of different things. For my son, being able to visually see things and know what’s going to happen, helps a lot. Before Kindergarten was over, his teacher took the class to visit the first-grade classrooms so they could see what it would be like. They also talked a lot about what they would do in first grade and how good and different it would be. This helped Adam get excited about first grade and helped him to understand the transition.
We also have a visual calendar that we have so he can see what’s coming up each month. We put which day he would start school and this also helped him visualize that it was coming soon so he could be excited about it.
5. Begin introducing new routines before school starts.
“Morning and afternoon routines can help your child transition into and out of school each day. You may need to establish an earlier bedtime routine to make sure your child is up on time and ready to go. Start thinking about how you want to approach homework. Talk with your child about when and how homework will be completed.” – eccofdc.org
Several weeks before school started we worked on getting back into some of those school routines. We talked about him going to bed early again and taught him how to read a clock and when to know when it’s time for bed. His occupational therapist helped us put together a visual morning schedule for school mornings.
We put one in his room and one in the kitchen so he could see what was coming up next. I have to say this was one of the best things we ever did. He knows exactly what to do when he gets up each morning so I don’t have to follow him around telling him what to do over and over. If he gets done in enough time, then he gets to play with his iPad for a few minutes before the bus comes. This rewards him and gives him the motivation needed to get ready for school on time.
6. Talk to the school staff about any of your concerns.
“Open communication helps children with special needs. Speak with school staff if you have noticed something new about your child that may impact their education. Open communication with school staff will benefit your child. Because transitions are hard for many special needs children, clarify with school staff how transitions are handled. Who greets children as they get off the bus? How are transitions between classes or activities handled? Tell your child what to expect.” – eccofdc.org
We have always worked closely with Adam’s teachers to make sure they know of any difficulties he may have. This year we talked with the teacher to make sure she knew about his needs, and then the day before school started I sent her an email with a little bit about our family and what to expect with Adam this year. It really helps to work together with the teachers and the school.
7. Go to school events.
“If the school has an open house, parent-teacher night, or back to school program, attend. Talk with the staff about your child’s progress. If you are not able to go, make a point of calling the teacher at another time and getting caught up on the information.” – eccofdc.org
We go to the school’s open house this every year. This helps us get to know the teachers and be familiar with the classroom our kids will be in. This year, I was so thankful for the open house as both I and my son were nervous about school starting. It was like a breath of fresh air for us after seeing his classroom, meeting his awesome new teacher, and seeing friends from last year. Neither of us were nervous after that!
What about YOU? How do you help your kids transition back to school?