Children across Rowan County will be going back to school in the coming weeks. Parents’ lives will be filled with school supply shopping and back-to-school nights. For parents of children with special needs a little more preparation can be helpful. Here is some advice from local parents and professionals.
Countdown: Special Education veteran Jtan Whisenant suggests doing a visual countdown to help your child grasp that it’s time for school to start. This could be executed in many different forms. For example, a paper chain using a link for each day or numbers on index cards that lead to a picture of a bus. Whatever the visual implementation, the exercise is designed to help the child see something concrete because time is such an abstract concept.
Review Curriculum: Joy Childers, educator and mother of a son with Down syndrome, suggests familiarizing yourself with the curriculum you child will be learning and begin working on it before the school year begins.
Ease Into the Year: Whisenant also suggests easing the child back into the school schedule several weeks before it is time to start back. “Sometimes in the summer our routines get slack and it’s not fair to throw them back into that routine too suddenly,” she said. She suggests bringing concrete items into the daily routine before school starts, such as a back pack or lunch box. She also recommends reading stories about going back to school. Some good books to read with your child include “Curious George and the First Day of School” or “Lama Lama Misses Mama.”
Familiar Ground: Childers also recommends touring the school with your child to show them where their classroom will be. She says this will help reduce stress.
Ashley Morgan Deaton, occupational therapist and co-owner of One Step At A Time Therapy Services, agrees with this tactic. While touring the school, she recommends visiting the office and introducing your child to the personnel and talking about that being a safe place to go if he or she gets lost or confused. She also recommends taking pictures of some of the rooms in the school (and a bus if they are planning to ride) and make a social story book with about a boy or girl who goes back to school and goes to all those places. “So much anxiety and sensory over stimulation will be averted if the child can conjure up mental images of school locations on that first day instead of everything being brand-new,” she said. Deaton recommends these tactics even if your child will be going back to the same school and to the same classroom. “A summer is a long time and they need to see these areas without the pressure of it being the first day back.”
Get to Know the Teacher: For a child with special needs, developing a strong relationship with his or her teacher is very important. Childers recommends establishing this relationship before the open house. “Give them a list of positives and strengths along with weaknesses. Many of our children have speech issues so it is good to make a scrapbook of pictures of people close to them as well as trips you’ve taken and favorites with a little blurb for each. This gives the teachers something to talk about with your child as well as more background knowledge about your child,” she said.
Develop Regular Communication: When you have a non-verbal child, communication with his or her teacher is vital to a smooth school year. One the best ways to communicate, especially if you can’t see the teacher and/or therapists face-to-face each day is a journal or log. It can be as simple as a notebook or more involved including a custom sheet with your child’s daily schedule.
Every step you can take to help your child with a smooth transition will help him or her and the whole family throughout the school year.
Jill Wagoner is the mother of a child with Down syndrome. She serves as an advocate, writer, speaker, fundraiser, and grant writer for organizations that support children with special needs. A former journalist and current marketer and public relations specialist, Jill has been published in many publications and blogs, including The Salisbury Post, Modern Parent, and Rowan Magazine.