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Back to School Basics for Special Needs Kids

Summer break is ending and school is just around the corner. It can be both exciting and stressful, especially for children with special needs. It means the start of a new IEP, new goals, new communication with new teachers and other school professionals and establishing new routines. No one knows your child better than you do, so follow your instincts, advocate, don’t hesitate to speak up, and plan ahead. Here are 5 tips to make the new school year smooth:

1. Communicate often and early about what changes are to come and when it will occur.

  • Talk it out. Speak to your child frequently about what to expect in the upcoming year.

  • Ease them into the new morning routine at least one week prior to school by waking the child up a little earlier each morning if needed, and do a few “run throughs”. Make sure bedtime moves earlier, if wake up is earlier. Sleep is a must!

  • If your child is visual, a morning checklist can me created and placed somewhere easily spotted in the room or bathroom. This one is chock full of options sure to grow with the child, and this chalkboard one is also great for chores. To keep it simple, a basic morning chart is perfect.

  • Cross the days off the calendar as visual reference to when the start of school will occur. Make it fun. Add stickers, glitter pens, and colors. Start at least two weeks before school will begin.

2. Back to School Shopping requires teamwork.

  • Some kids LOVE back to school shopping. Others could care less. For those kids, making it short and sweet, is the way to go, but involvement is key. Have your child pick the day that it will happen, have a list ready, and tackle it together.

  • Before purchasing new clothes, remove the too-small, unused clothes first. Some kids have emotional attachments to clothing, so start as early as possible and let them keep the clothes in a bin in another room for a bit “just in case” if needed.

  • Wash all new clothes, remove itchy tags, etc, before school starts to avoid morning dramas. Help your child break in new clothes before the start of the school year.

3. Pick school equipment wisely.

  • While this deserves its own special post (coming up). Keep school equipment simple, organized and adaptable. The child’s occupational therapist would best be able to recommend special equipment needed, but in general, trusty #2 pencils, wide ruled spiral notebooks, and a pocket binder are musts.

4. Make a social story.

  • Take photos with a digital camera and print them off. Create a book with real life photos to help your child process situations, emotions and change. Make one for your new morning routine at home. For example: when and how to wake up (alarm? Mom comes in?), dress, breakfast, and get to school. Make others for situations your child may encounter at school such as turning in the communication book, or eating lunch in the cafeteria.

  • If you’d rather have pre-made social stories, the “Social Skills Matter!” book for Pk-2nd graders has a great school sections including “my day at school” and “school routines” with over 25 school specific stories, and many more on communication, play, feelings, and keeping calm.

5. Meet the teacher and visit the school ahead of time

  • If possible, request to visit the school and meet with the child’s new teacher either before school starts, or just a few minutes before the school starts. If possible, walk through your child’s day with him/her.

Back to school means change, something that’s difficult for many, but knowing what to expect and preparing ahead of time to create a plan will keep things manageable. Show your enthusiasm and excitement for the new school year. Kids pick up on emotions. Keep it light, fun, positive and your kids will follow suit. Best wishes for a great school year.

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