Once the School Year Begins: Tips for Parents with Children of Special Needs
In the blink of an eye, the summer is over. No more swimming pools or day camps or family vacations. September means back to school, registration for dance class and soccer, and final check-ups.
As any parent knows, the first day of school is full of emotion – excitement, anxiety, happiness, and fear. Your son or daughter runs to the bus, waving at his or her new friends while showing off his new sneakers or her new sweater. As any parent of a special needs child knows, back to school also means new programs, new teachers, and new providers.
Helping your son or daughter transition back to school can be difficult and overwhelming. This article provides you with some helpful tips and reminders to make the transition from summer to school year a bit easier.
Familiarize the Staff with your Son or Daughter
You know your child better than anyone else. Communicate with the new classroom teacher within the first week of school. Advise him or her of your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Let the teacher know if there are any dietary restrictions that should be noted, or any physical challenges your son or daughter may face. Make sure each staff member is aware of any allergies your child has or any medications he or she may be taking. It is especially important to discuss these needs with the school nurse.
If your son or daughter has special needs, the most important resource you and your child’s teachers will have this year is the Individualized Education Program, or IEP. Review the IEP, and be sure to understand the related services mandated to your child, including the transportation, therapies, health and paraprofessional services. Provide a copy of the IEP to each staff member who will come into contact with your child each day. This includes the teacher, the aide, and the school nurse. Introduce yourself to the bus driver, and make sure he or she is aware of any special education transportation mandates provided for on your child’s IEP.
Meet the Teacher
Schedule a visit to meet with the teacher within the first few weeks of school. Bring your child with you, and let him or her sit with the teacher and talk about the upcoming school year. If your child was in the same school building in years past, explain what will be different in the upcoming school year. If your child is in a new school, take a walk to the bathroom, the lunchroom, and the nurse’s office. Help acclimate your child to the new building so that he or she feels comfortable in the new surroundings. If your son or daughter receives any related services, it is also a good idea to meet the service providers, and establish a line of communication with him or her.
Establish the Routine
Perhaps one of the more difficult transitions to the school year is the school schedule. Start putting your child to bed a little earlier each night so that he or she can wake up in time for school in the morning. Establish a morning routine and a homework routine. Explain to your child what his or her day will be like once school begins, and work with your child to establish a routine that makes him or her feel comfortable.
Once the School Year Begins
Now that the first day of school has come and gone, it is important to stay in touch with the teachers. Whether you keep a communication notebook in your child’s backpack, or communicate with the teacher via email, be sure to be in touch with the teacher on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Understand what your child is learning every day, and try to enforce those same lessons at home.
If your child has special needs, it is extremely important to make sure your child is receiving the services mandated on his or her IEP. Stay in touch with his or her related service providers, and confirm that your child is receiving the appropriate number of sessions of each of his or her therapies. Ask that the related service providers keep you updated on your child’s progress through the communication notebook so that you feel confident that all of the professionals working with your child are on the same page.
We wish you and your children a very successful school year!