Navigating Back to School
A guide for parents of children with special needs
For parents and children alike, beginning school or returning after the summer absence can incite both excitement and challenges. This time can be particularly difficult for parents of children with special needs, as more effort is required to ensure that the transition into the school year goes as smoothly as possible. However, with thoughtful planning, open communication and a strong support network among parents, school staff and other service coordinators from private therapies can make an enormous impact on a child’s academic, social and emotional success.
Be sure to openly communicate your child’s strengths, challenges, preferences and triggers to all of your children’s teachers and providers. Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) are individualized for a reason. You have a say in making sure that the goals, accommodations and modifications that are suggested are catered to their specific, individual needs, so make sure to advocate for them at meetings and request any changes you would like to be made.
Ease into the School Year
Change, particularly for children with special needs, is often very challenging. Prepare them ahead of time by incorporating books about school into reading time, creating a social story that includes pictures of their actual school, visiting the school grounds and meeting teachers and/or providers ahead of time, if possible.
Address Sensory Needs
All children benefit from movement for meaningful learning. For children with sensory processing challenges, movement is a necessity. Work with your child’s team to ensure that there are movement breaks, sensory-friendly spaces, fidgets and/or quiet areas incorporated into the IEP or 504 Plan.
Consistent daily schedules can be a great help to your child, and they are not just beneficial in school. Use visual schedules, calendars or charts to visually display in your home to provide a sense of structure, which can be reassuring to those who struggle with unpredictability and change. Be sure to incorporate rest and play times along with school work and therapy!
Be Sure to Socialize
Socialization does not come naturally to many children with special needs. While it may seem easier to simply shy away from events that may cause anxiety or discomfort, your child will not have an opportunity to learn how to interact with others if they are not given the chance to do so. Even if it’s stepping out of your comfort zone, make an effort to meet other parents and suggest a play date with your little ones, or go even bigger by facilitating a community event that will help similar groups engage in a positive manner.
Often, a lovely outcome of trying to establish friendships between your child and other peers is creating a bond with those peers’ parents. Having a network of people whom you can openly share your experiences, challenges and successes can not only provide you with insights you may have not thought of on your own, but it can improve your mental and emotional well-being. Never underestimate the power of personal connection!