Summer holidays are coming to an end and your special needs child will be back at school shortly. Here are three tips for special needs parents to get the new school year off to a smooth start.
1. Ease your children’s worries
Just like adults who get anxious before starting a new job, children are anxious about starting the new school year. For children with special needs who need routine and structure, starting a new school year causes many worries. Children worry about a variety of things, including what their new teacher is like, whom they will sit next to, if they will have too much homework, etc.
If you do not already know, try to find out as much as possible about your children’s teachers, classrooms, bus drivers and anything else worrying your children. If possible, visit the school and classroom with your child before school starts. Go over the routine they will follow when they go back to school. Talk with your children about their concerns, and reassure them that they will be okay.
2. Establish a communication link with your children’s teachers
Special needs parents need an effective way to communicate with their children’s teachers. You want to learn about issues as they arise, not weeks later. Getting information about potential problems early lets parents work towards a solution before the problem escalates.
At the start of the year, talk with your children’s teachers about the best way to keep in touch. Email is a perfect solution, but not all teachers use email to correspond about their students. Many parents and teachers use a communication book. Communication books are notebooks that are kept in children’s school bags. If a teacher wants to tell you something, he writes a note in the communication book that goes home with your child. Parents read and respond to notes, and send the communication books back to school with their children. If a sensitive issue arises, a parent or teacher just puts a note in the book suggesting a phone call or meeting.
3. Prepare your children’s teachers
Many teachers have little experience working with children who have special needs. In addition, children who share the same diagnosis often have vastly different needs. A great way to help your children and their teachers is to prepare an information sheet about your child. At the top of the sheet, give basic information about your child including name, date of birth, medications, strengths, weaknesses and your contact information. Underneath this basic information, create a table with two columns for issues and solutions. (See the sample below.) So, if loud noises trigger a meltdown in your child, list that under ‘issues’. Then, in the ‘solutions’ column, describe what methods to use to calm your child.
Teachers are busy, so limit your summary to one or two pages. You can download a blank information sheet to use for your summary here. Give a copy to each of your children’s teachers and anyone else that works with your children at school.
There are many articles on the internet with teaching tips for autism, dyslexia, Down syndrome and other special needs. If you find one you think is appropriate, give a copy to your children’s teachers. For example, autism advocate Temple Grandin, PhD wrote 28 tips for teaching children with autism. Her article is on the website of Indiana Resource Centre for Autism.
Keep the communication lines open between yourself, your children and their teachers to make the school year easier for all of you!