Last month, we prepared our children for their summer holidays; and now it is time to get them ready to go back to school! Most children with special needs are anxious about returning to school. Your children may be starting a new school, moving to a new classroom or getting a new teacher. The uncertainty of these unknown places and people causes their anxieties.
A little preparation helps ease children’s anxieties about returning to school. Here are five tips to get your children with special needs ready for the new school year.
1. Organise your children with special needs
Organisation is a common problem for many children with special needs. Disorganisation results in missed assignments, tests and/or children not having the correct books for homework. This is stressful for children and parents.
Start by reviewing any organisational tactics used in the past. Consider what tactics worked, and what didn’t work. Talk with your children and get their input on where they need the most help. Then, together with your children, make a plan. When making this plan, consider:
  • what school bag will work best
  • will a calendar or diary be helpful
  • what binder or folder to use for loose papers
  • whether your children need help writing down homework assignments
  • whether two sets of school books would help
  • would using a laptop or tablet be more suitable
  • whether to colour-code books
  • what your children’s timetables will be at home and at school
Work with your children to help them learn how to be organised. This is an ongoing process, and your children’s teachers may have tips for you.
2. Uniforms and sensory issues
If your children have sensory issues or problems with fine motor skills (tying shoes, doing buttons, etc.), it may be difficult for them to adhere to your school's dress codes or uniforms. Kids do not want to stand out - they want to fit in, so do your best to find clothing that meets your school's requirements but also keeps your children comfortable.
Talk to your school about possible substitutions. For example, can children wear polo shirts instead of button-down shirts? Discuss this issue with your children's schools and teachers before, or at the start of, school. Confirm any verbal agreement in writing.
3. Extra set of clothes
Many children with special needs have toileting issues, or get upset if there is dirt on their clothes. Leave a set of clothes at your children's school. Let your children’s teachers and SNAs know about the extra set of clothes. Tell your children about the clothes, to relieve any anxiety they may get if they have an accident or spill something on their clothes.
4. Prepare the teachers of your children with special needs
Remember, you know your children better than anyone does. You know what works for them and what upsets them. Use your knowledge to educate school staff about your children.
A simple way to share your knowledge with school staff is by preparing a one- or two-page summary of information on your child. Include the following information about your children:
  • diagnoses
  • strengths
  • weaknesses
  • calming methods
  • medications
  • emergency contact numbers
Then, make two columns on the page. In the first column, list possible problems; and in the second column, write possible solutions. You can download a free template here.
Keep your summary short and easy to read. If you have articles that explain your children’s diagnoses or teaching tips, consider distributing copies of those as well. Give copies of these materials to all school staff that interact with your children.
5. Prepare your children with special needs
Ideally, your children had a tour of their new classrooms or schools and met the teachers. If not, try to arrange a tour before the official opening day of school.
Confirm all basic school information including bus pick-up and drop-off times, school starting and finishing times, classrooms, teachers, aides, etc. Use this information to make charts with your children showing their back-to-school routines.
Ask your children if they have concerns or worries about the new school year. If so, what can you do to alleviate or reduce them?
Special Education Advocate