Is your child with special needs heading back to school this fall? To ensure that his or her experience is as successful and enjoyable as possible, here are some suggestions from Erica Kearney, M.A., BCBA, Program Director of the May Center school in West Springfield, Mass.:
- Several days before the first day of school, start “practicing" a morning and nighttime routine. Children respond better to change if they have a little practice before-hand. Start having your child wake up early so the first day of school isn't the first day he or she is getting up early. Use a visual schedule to help transition from one activity to the next. For example, “eat breakfast, then brush your teeth.”
- If your child is able to understand future events, explain that school will be starting soon. If he or she has calendar skills, put the first day of school on the calendar and review the calendar daily until school starts. After school is underway, you can use the calendar to record special school activities or events such as open houses or field trips.
- If possible, visit your child’s classroom and teachers before school starts. Often, schools will allow for children to tour the school and meet the staff before the first day of school. If your child will have a new teacher and/or paraprofessional, it may be a good idea to have them give your child something he or she will like. For example, if your child loves Thomas the Train, the new teacher could offer a Thomas the Train sticker or book when you visit. What child wouldn’t like to receive something cool from a new teacher?
- A visit to the school is also a good opportunity for you to talk to the teacher about your child’s likes and dislikes, and what kinds of things might trigger tantrum-like behaviors. It is also important for school personnel to know if your child is sensitive to anything before starting school (certain foods, loud sounds, bright lights, etc.).
- Make the visit fun and not long, as spending too much time in a new environment can be overwhelming for the child.
Transitioning to a new school year can be a challenge for students with ASD or other developmental disabilities, but with planning and support from the family and the educational team, it can be a pleasant and rewarding experience!