By Rachel Brauner
Welcome, parents and caregivers of children with special needs, to the back-to-school season! As your child prepares to embark on a new academic year, this time can bring on a unique set of challenges and considerations. However, with proper planning, open communication, and a supportive approach, you can help pave the way for your children to experience a successful and enriching educational journey:
- Start Early: Begin the preparation process well in advance to give yourself enough time to gather information, make necessary arrangements, and address any concerns or challenges. In early July we recommend that that you begin with the school website, make note of the department and contact information of the relevant staff, and give yourself and your child the “virtual tour” if possible.
- Establish Communication: Establish open and regular communication with the school staff, including teachers, administrators, and support personnel. Share important information about your child’s needs, strengths, and challenges. Work together to develop an individualized plan for your child.
- Visit the School: Arrange a visit to the school before the academic year starts. Familiarize your child with the environment, classrooms, cafeteria, and other areas of the school. This can help reduce anxiety and build familiarity. Commuting to the campus also helps determine drive and arrival times thus preventing tardiness when the school year begins.
- Meet with Teachers: Schedule a meeting with your child’s teachers to discuss their needs and create a collaborative plan. Share insights about your child’s learning style, accommodations, and any specific strategies that have been effective in the past.
- Develop a Routine: Establish a consistent daily routine that includes structured activities, study time, leisure, and rest. Visual schedules or calendars can be valuable tools for children who benefit from visual cues. Rehearse school rules with your child – practice wearing an ID across the neck and appropriate clothing, ask for, purchase, and peruse appropriate supplies including books and technology.
- Prepare for Transitions: If your child is transitioning to a new school or classroom, help them prepare by using visual aids, social stories, or virtual tours to familiarize them with the new setting and routine.
- Address Anxiety: Understand and address your child’s anxieties about going back to school. Talk to them about any concerns they may have and provide reassurance and support. Implement relaxation techniques or coping strategies that can help them manage anxiety. By acknowledging and addressing their fears, you can create a more positive and empowering experience for your child.
- Advocate for Support: Ensure that your child receives the necessary support services and accommodations at school. Work closely with the school’s special education department to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan, if applicable.
- Encourage Independence: Foster independence in your child by teaching them self-help skills such as organizing their backpack, using a daily planner, or managing their belongings. These skills promote confidence and autonomy, setting the stage for their long-term success.
- Build Relationships: Encourage your child to develop relationships with peers by participating in extracurricular activities, clubs, or support groups. Developing these relationships enhances their overall school experience and contributes to their social and emotional growth.
- Prepare for Changes: Be prepared for potential changes throughout the school year. Regularly communicate with the school to stay updated on your child’s progress, challenges, and any adjustments needed.
- Take Care of Yourself: Remember to prioritize self-care as a parent or caregiver. Caring for a child with special needs can be demanding, so be sure to seek support, rest, and maintain your well-being. Check out resources from Parent to Parent and the Center for Parent Information and Resources.
With these strategies in mind, we hope to empower you, parents and caregivers, to prepare your child with special needs for a successful and fulfilling return to school. Remember, every child is unique, and tailoring these strategies to your child’s specific needs will help create a positive and inclusive educational experience. We wish you and your child a wonderful and rewarding school year ahead!