I am looking at the calendar and realizing that in less than 2 weeks, my oldest child will be entering middle school and my youngest will be starting first grade. Transitions galore and anxiety for mommy! This article may be helpful for all parents who have children with a wide range of strengths and challenges. I am actually writing it for myself, as I anticipate middle school for my oldest, and as I think about what I need to do to prepare my youngest, who does have some sensory integration challenges, for starting grade school.
I did some research and talked with some moms ( who have been in the “special needs world” longer than I have) and read up a bit…and here is what I found to be some fabulous wisdom as relates to preparing for school….
Have an excited and energized attitude for your child.
Your child will pick up on your vibe and feel more relaxed about the transition ahead if you are relaxed! (I know, easier said than done!)
Allow ample time.
We all know that beginning the school year means : TRANSITION… hard enough for a “typical” child, but when you are parenting a special needs child, ample time is the order of the day to prepare for a new routine.
- Some moms recommend a “transition book” in which photographs/drawings demonstrate the progression of the day (from waking up through breakfast to school day to coming home)…this visual helps the child to lessen anxiety and encode in their brain what the school routine will look like.
- Studies indicate that creating “social stories” (by either drawing or photographs/magazine cut-outs) demonstrate hypothetical scenarios children with special needs may need to prepare for (i.e., joining in during recess, having lunch with a classmate, learning to take turns/not interrupt/etc.) See any of Carol Gray’s work at thegraycenter.org for more ideas.
Practice your routine a few weeks before school starts.
- Begin by dialing back bedtime by 10-15 minutes each night until you arrive at the preferred bedtime for your child. Ideally, start this process a few weeks before school starts so that waking up in the morning is not a set-up for a meltdown.
- Wake up at the same time every day for the 2 weeks preceeding school and run through the routine you will go through with your child each morning, including having a nutritious breakfast, getting dressed, etc. Have visual photos or drawings of the order of routine so that your child can follow along, especially if they have difficulty sequencing events or focusing/concentrating. Reward child on sticker chart for following through with tasks.
Begin early gathering supplies.
- If your budget allows, have child assist with purchasing new clothes and school supplies. He/she will feel empowered to be a part of the process of being “grown-up” and anticipating the excitement of the learning experience.
- Have IEP paperwork copies available for teachers and for you, as the parent, to refer to. (Use as a fluid document to make adjustments and keep track of your child’s progress)
- Create a one-page guide as an introduction to your child for school staff. Include allergies, suggestions for rewards for good behavior, strengths, potential triggers for set-offs, calming activities, and names of people in child’s support team.
Other miscellaneous suggestions:
- Create space for homework and organization at home. All children thrive when they know that “everything has a place.” Special needs children require an organized space to thrive. See Lakeshore.com for organizing suggestions (i.e. color-coded folders, writing implement holders, etc.)
- Do a visual trial-run of the school your child will attend. Visit the school and show him/her the classroom(s). If possible, meet the teacher beforehand. Having the visual experience of seeing the school will help reduce anxiety in your child.
- Volunteer to assist your child’s teacher and build a relationship with him/her and support staff to help your child to feel successful in school.
- Be sure to line up doctor/dental appointments before school starts and record in your organizer.
Some websites that might be helpful in this transition to school….
I hope this article is helpful for you and your children. May you have a wonderful school year of growth, positive challenge, and blooming self-confidence.
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