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Back To School List For Special Needs Families

mother_and_kids_walkingPrepping your child to go back to school includes a list of necessities; from backpacks to binders and smocks to snacks, the list is long. Beyond the basics, there other factors to consider when getting ready for a new school year. As a parent of a child with special needs, both you and your child may feel apprehensive about the upcoming year and the changes it may bring. Preparing for the transition back to school will help ease that fear and ensure a positive experience from the start.


Prepare for transitions by using a visual story.Imagine knowing you will start a new job but you don't know any details- your anxiety would be through the roof! Prepare your child for the transition into a new school year by creating a visual story including the details of when school starts, the names of classmates and teachers, and some activities he will enjoy when he returns to school. Include photographs of the school, classroom, and toys, if possible.


Visit your child's school and classroom, especially if they are different from last year.The anticipation of the first day of school can be reduced by simply walking the halls of school once or twice before the throngs of students and teachers return. Allow your child to explore the school and the classroom when the building is fairly quiet. Call the teacher to schedule your visit so she knows you are coming- the last few days before school starts are valuable preparation time for a teacher so ask what works best for her.


Reach out to your child's teacher to share your hopes for the upcoming school year.Let the teacher know of any important changes that occurred over the summer and share your hopes for this year. Frame your goals using positive language. For example, say, "We are excited to work with you to help our child learn (skill)." Fostering open communication and a team approach with your child's teacher will help both you and your child.


Visit the school nurse to discuss your child's medication.If your child has a health condition that requires daily medication, it's important to speak with the nurse before the first day of school. Many parents come in the first day of school to drop off paperwork and medication, which can cause a traffic jam in the nurse's office. Set a time with the nurse to meet and discuss necessary arrangements beforehand so she and your child can connect and for your own peace of mind.


Reintroduce structured morning and bedtime routines. It's nice to have a break from the morning rush and the stress of powering down at night, but to ease both you and your child back into a routine, start now. Schedule an appointment in the morning so you have to get up and out on time. Stick to routine bed times to help your child fall asleep each night. A well-rested child wakes easier and is more likely to have a positive start to his day, which will affect his performance at school.


Review your child's Individualized Education Program (IEP) and cross reference it with the daily schedule you receive from school to ensure it is accurately implemented.If the classroom teacher doesn't provide you with a copy of the daily schedule, ask for one and check with the individual Speech, Occupational, and Physical Therapists to verify their meeting times with your child. You should have a daily schedule within the first few days of school, if not before the first day.


Connect with other parents. Whether it's through the school's parent-teacher organization, a special education parent group in town, or parents of your child's classmates, making a connection will help you feel supported, strengthened, and informed during the transition and throughout the school year. 


Taking these few simple steps can help reduce anxiety and increase motivation to work towards new goals this year for both you and your child. Be prepared and be positive as another year gets underway!


cerbasiJennifer is an educational consultant who works with families and educators to establish healthy and productive routines in the home and school. Adapting behavior management techniques she implemented for years as a special educator, she helps parents and teachers adopt these tools to fit their unique needs and priorities. In addition to her one-on-one consulting work, Jennifer speaks to parent and education groups on current topics in education and children's health. For more information, go to



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