15 Ways to Help Your Child with Disabilities Transition Back to School
The beginning of a new school year makes me anxious, but not as anxious as it makes my children, who have disabilities.
I worry about the teachers. I worry about friendships. I worry about all that is included in the IEP because, will it be followed?
My kids worry about the new classroom, the new teachers, the new friends (or lack of friends). Because one of my daughters has cerebral palsy, she worries about accessibility, locker placement and her seating arrangements even though all those details are covered in her IEP.
Thankfully, we were in a school district where the school was willing to work with us and make the transition as smooth as possible. Every year, a few days before school started, I took both my girls to meet their new teachers, see their new classrooms, find their desks, find their lockers and make sure any accommodations necessary were put in place. Teachers, therapists and the adaptive PE teacher were present. On good years, I even brought coffee for everyone as a “thank you” for their time.
Yet, transitioning back to school is not only about the building or teachers. There is so much involved in “going back to school” after the summer break. So we reached out to our Mighty community and asked the parents, “What helps your child transition back to school?”
These were their answers:
1. “Quite honestly, it’s a great teacher that helps the most. A teacher who doesn’t try to make my son fit her mold, but lets him be himself. A teacher who sees the beauty in him and allows his funny and sweet personality shine through in his own way, not the ways of his neurotypical classmates. She’s the biggest piece of the puzzle, and how she handles the first weeks will dictate the rest of the year. Get him to love you and you’re golden. Create tension and misunderstanding and you’ve lost him before you hit the starting line.” — Tracy S.
2. “It’s all about preparation. We have taken pictures of his new classroom and teachers and talk about it a lot.” — Ann W.
3. “A few things: 1. Verbally reminding my son school is going to start again soon. 2. Taking walks to the school yard and playing there. 3. Visiting the school the last week of August and meeting his new teacher (my son’s school arranges this). 4. Buying a new lunch bag and school supplies and showing them to my son (or you could do this together). 5. Starting our earlier nighttime/bedtime routine at least a week before school starts.” — Donna C.
4. “Continue some sort of schedule and routine throughout the summer.” — Abby H.
5. “A detailed visual calendar, starting before school gets out, going all the way to school starting in the fall. It must show all months. It helps my two autistic boys to see all four months and to see the days crossed off.” — Cindy S.
6. “It helps my daughter to get into the routine of getting up early going to bed at a decent time a few weeks before school starts on top of talking about going back to school and having a visual schedule about getting ready in the morning. We also have visits with the new teacher and classroom at the end of the school year and before the new one starts.” — Rachel M.
7. “Loads of coaching before school starts. ‘We’re going back to school on Monday. We’re going to see teacher Sharon and all your friends. You’ll be able to play in the jungle gym. We’ll wake up early and put our uniform on and eat breakfast. It’ll be fun to go back to school.’ Just repeating variations of those phrases. Reminding him what to expect and when a few days before. This morning was back to school after a month [off] for us and I had one half-hearted protest, ‘I don’t want to have to go to school’ but [shortly after] was fine. Not even a moan at the drop-off.” — Jeanine S.
8. “We like to meet with the teacher before school starts to make sure everyone has the same expectations and the way is paved for an awesome school year for our girl.” — Dana C.
9. “I work in schools. Have the child visit the school prior to the start of the school year. Seeing classroom(s) can help relieve stress. Review the schedule of the first day, so your child knows what to expect. If your child uses a locker, practice how to open one.” — Kelly C.
10. “I have two teenagers with severe anxiety. We have reviewed their 504 accommodations so they know what they are, again. They do better if they know how to handle an uncomfortable but likely situation, so we talk about that (in therapy and at home.) We talk about coping techniques and remind them that they can do this.” — Lynne S.
11. “I start telling my son three weeks before school starts that school is going to start and mark it on the calendar. We do worksheets throughout summer so he doesn’t lose skills. Also, I have him pick out favorite foods, snacks, new shoes and clothes several weeks before school starts so he is in the mindset.” — Lana B.
12. “My son has been given a transition book with pictures of his new teachers, his classroom, where the toilets are, where he’ll be picked up from etc. He helped make it. There’s also space for pictures of his new lunch bag and shoes and anything else we add over the summer.” — Liz B.
13. “We use social stories that have pictures of his new classroom, his new teacher, fun things in this classroom, we don’t start getting him prepared too early, as he can get anxious. We discuss what he will eat, we pick out a lunch box and school bag, we will try on his uniform to check there are no tags that will hurt him. We go over what he has learned [at school] repeatedly. It will never be easy for him to go back to school after six weeks, but these things help.” — Michelle B.
14. “Year round school. It [was] wonderful last year.” — Kate A.
15. “Back-to-school shopping and labelling his things. Bedtime routine and picking his clothes in advance. Social story about the bus and meet-and-greet at school.” — Leidy G.
What helps your child transition back to school? Let us know in the comments.
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