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6 Ways to Prepare Your Special Needs Child for the School Year

Set the tone for your child's school year.

Sending your child off to school for the first time can make any parent feel anxious. But for parents of children with different abilities or special needs it can feel overwhelming. There are so many details you need to be responsible for from IEPs to Behavior Plans, team meetings and even medical interventions or special diets during the day. So, how do parents of children with special needs prepare to send their kids off to school?

Here are 6 Ways to Prepare Your Special Needs Child:

1. Communicate early. Set up a meeting or phone call with your child's teacher to share as many details about your child as you can. Let them know what comforts your child and ask if they are willing to offer a photo, or another comfort item you can send from home. During this meeting discuss how your child's teacher will communicate with you. Each teacher is different, and the demands of each classroom are different. Some teachers offer a notebook to travel between home and class; some teachers communicate via email or even by using a Remind app. Understanding expectations upfront will build the foundation for effective communication through the year.

2. Visit the classroom with your child. Arrange to bring your child to the school for a visit before the very first day. This will help both of you get comfortable with the layout of the school and the classroom. It can help alleviate some of your child's worries. Some kids worry about where the bathrooms are, or the exits. Some kids just need extra time to adjust to big changes so scheduling more than one visit may help. Giving them time to process their new environment will help ease some anxiety of where they will spend their day.  If you are able, make a few visits to the school playground too. It will make a fun connection for your child when they return.

3. Create a routine before school starts. Catching a bus may not be part of the summer time routine, but keeping a familiar routine each day can help ease anxiety and give your child an easier start to the day. Morning routines can help with getting to the bus on time and evening routines can help kids wind down for a better night’s sleep. It is so easy to stretch the days to include more fun, but returning to a scheduled bed time and morning routine a few weeks before school starts may help your child reset the clock. Find routine charts here.

4. Stay connected. It seems sending little notes in a lunch box are a very common and fun way for parents to connect with their kids during the day. The same goes for parents of children with special needs. Adding a note, or a joke or even a favorite picture let's your child know you are thinking of them. Some parents pack an extra favorite treat, or snack for their child’s lunch. You can tuck a small family photo, or comfort item in your child’s pocket or back pack for them to check during the day. Here are 5 ways to stay connected during the school day.

5. Create a social story. Reading stories about other kids going to school can help ease worries, but reading social stories written with "I statements” empowers your child to see themselves as having success at school. Hearing “I am safe” or “I enjoy riding the bus” can help them see themselves safe and happy while at school. You can find some free social stories already created here.

6. Learn to be a good advocate. Parents can sometimes feel intimidated by the authority of a school district. However, no one else is the expert in your child. Finding the confidence to push teachers and administrators to provide for your child can be difficult. Arm yourself with knowledge by attending a special needs advocate training through your county disabilities office. Understanding the regulations and what a school is required to provide in your child’s education is a first great step to advocating for their needs. If it is all too overwhelming, you do have the right to request an educational advocate, or that a peer advocate is present with you during all meetings. You may also notify your special education committee chair that you would like to record each meeting for record.

Trusting your child to a staff that is properly trained to work with your child and that has your child’s best interest at heart can still feel nerve wracking. No one cares for your child better than you. The most important thing to remember is that every person on your child’s team carries expertise in only one area of your child’s needs. You all bring a piece of the puzzle to the table, but you give your child a voice. Together you connect the big picture of your child’s education. Seeing everyone as a contributing team player helps set the tone for the school year. 

The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here. You can also find her musings and popular shares on Facebook and Twitter. Stay up to date with her creative ideas and outings on Pinterest. 

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