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Helping Your Child With Special Needs Go Back to School

My 5th grader and I sat on our front porch one day last week enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. I wondered out loud if we should do some early school shopping before our late summer vacation that ends just a day before I return to work for the new school year. That led to a conversation about her new teacher and how she felt about getting back to her school routine.

“Mom,” she said, hopping on her bike, “I do not want to talk about school.” And with a flick of her head, her long ponytail swinging, she rolled off down the block to find her friends.


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Transitioning from slow and easy summer to the structure of school is tough on any kid, but it can be especially difficult on children with certain types of special needs who are struggling with sudden changes in their environment. Here are some tips to help make that transition go a little more smoothly for everyone involved. These aren’t just tips for kids with a special education eligibility; they’re for all parents who want their kids to ease into the new school year.

Schedule a classroom visit now. Many schools now hold an open house before the school year starts. Kids get a chance to see their classroom, haul in all their new school supplies and catch up with old friends. Parents meet the teacher and get some important information on classroom routines and curriculum. If your school is not doing this, contact your child’s teacher now to set up a private visit. If your child’s school offers home visits, take advantage of this important service.

Help your child picture it. While you’re there, snap a picture of your child’s teacher and his classroom and other important areas of the school. Some children process information better visually, and you can use the picture in the coming weeks to talk about school and help your child prepare emotionally. Don’t forget to talk about any new staff or day care providers, as well. Likewise, create a visual countdown to the first day of school and make it fun to create positive anticipation.

Expect things to not go smoothly at first and look forward to October.

Start easing into your school morning routine today. I can’t even talk to my 3rd grader the first week of school without her bursting into tears, because she has such a terrible time adjusting to those ungodly early morning wake ups. Start inching your child’s bedtime back 15 minutes every few days until she is sleeping and waking up at her normal school year time. This is a good time to start practicing your school morning routine as well.

Put off shopping for new school clothes. New clothes are stiff, itchy and unfamiliar. If your child has sensory issues that include certain types of clothing, stick with what’s comfortably worn and familiar for now. (Those fall clothes are typically too warm for late summer weather anyway, and you’ll save a few bucks waiting for them to go on sale.) But if your child must wear a different type of clothing—uniforms, for example—it’s best to add those to the list of things you’ll ease your child into this month.

Get your ducks in a row. Chances are your child’s IEP is already up to date, but be ready to provide your child’s new teacher with any updated medical or psychological reports.

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Prepare yourself for a bumpy few weeks. The first one to three weeks of school are tough on kids. It’s like starting a new job every year—new room, new “boss,” new peers. Expect things to not go smoothly at first and look forward to October, when everyone is settled and has forgotten about those long, lazy summer days.

How do you help your child with special needs prepare for back-to-school season?

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