Transitions can be hard for kids with special needs, making the back-to-school schedule particularly challenging for them and their families. Here are some tips for making that transition, and first few months of the fall, easier for everyone.
Map out a Schedule and Reduce Anxiety
While no kid wants to start talking about going back to school when he or she is still enjoying their summer vacation, it’s important to reduce anxiety by starting to talk about what the back-to-school schedule is going to look like. While this could mean creating a visual schedule or developing a calendar, it’s important to talk with your child about what the back-to-school schedule is going to look like, including wake up time, what happens during the day, after school, right up until bedtime. Developing a schedule can hopefully alleviate some of your child's stress about what to expect during the transition and can also open up a dialogue for what questions and concerns your child has. Have your child write down all of the questions and concerns that come to his or her mind as the schedule is discussed. You can then go through each question and concern one by one, discussing strategies and providing clarification.
Plan Ahead and Minimize Meltdowns
Be sure to give yourself plenty of time for back to school shopping. If at all possible buy supplies online, avoiding the over-stimulation that can occur in big crowds. It’s not always so easy buying clothing online for kids with sensory challenges. Give yourself ample time to go shopping and consider going to stores early in the morning before the stores get crowded. You may want to plan for several, shorter shopping excursions to avoid any meltdowns. If a particular shirt /pants/ skirt /socks /underwear seem to work for your child, buy several of the item and potentially even a few sizes bigger for the future.
Touch Base with the Team
It can be refreshing to file away the documents from the spring IEP meeting. Now is the time to revisit those documents. Share the goals with your child if appropriate. Contact the teachers and support staff and find out if your child can visit the classroom, and the teaching team before school starts. Knowing their away around the classroom and seeing a familiar face will make your student feel more comfortable and the early contact creates an expectation for open and regular dialogue to continue throughout the school year.
Breathe and Have Faith
The first few days of school can be like sitting on pins and needles as we await news from the teacher or our child. We may or may not hear much from either! Have faith that no news is good news. Can't help yourself? Think of creative ways to gain information about your child's transition beyond asking, "How was your day?": engage in imaginary play with your child on the weekend, sit down to play a video or board game or check in with them at bed time as these are all opportunities during the day when a child may share information when not directly solicited.
Finally, Make Time for Down Time
Your child is doing his or her best to acclimate to all of the changes that the new school year brings and the days are full of sights, sounds, and a great deal of activity and bustle. It's normal for them to be tired at the end of the day and meltdown. Give your child the space they need to decompress, enjoy a favorite snack, or even take a nap after school. Reward on days when your child puts their best foot forward from start to finish yet be forgiving when they slip up. And, don't forget to reward and be forgiving of yourself, too!
I am a proud member of Southern Tier Connect's Parent Advisory Council and I personally thank all of the parents locally, and on the web, who have given me excellent advice on back-to-school and many other matters related to having a kiddo with special needs! This post was written to share with STC families but I ask you to share with others who would enjoy reading.