New School Year for Kids with Special Needs

By Pam Dillon

The back-to-school adjustment is a big one for everybody – students, parents and teachers. But for kids with special needs and their families, settling into the September routine can be even more challenging. You may, as a parent, be dealing with the fallout when your child returns home in the afternoon. You may also be wondering and worrying about how she or he will ever survive and thrive through the next 10 months.

The good news? There’s a lot you can do to ease the way. Local school boards serve students with a broad range of special needs and exceptionalities. Departments, programs, teams, specialists and a multitude of provisions and opportunities exist for that very purpose: to meet kids’ unique needs and to support them to succeed. Your role in this is pretty straightforward: make sure it happens. You are your child’s chief advocate and, as the person who knows her or him best, you have the power to articulate needs and set expectations.
It’s worth every minute of your time and effort. To save yourself some frustration, consider this advice (from the School of Been There, Done That).

The Squeaky Wheel

Be the squeaky wheel. That means communicate. Call the teacher or resource teacher. Ask for a meeting. Ask for supports and/or accommodations you know are necessary. Be specific. You may not get everything you want, but you will be heard and your requests and concerns will be noted.
Talk about what your child can do when modifications are provided.
Keep the conversation going – right through the end of June (and beyond).

D & Ds

Don’t assume the teacher will know how to support your child.
Don’t wait until there is a problem to make contact.
Don’t be strident or abrasive.
Do listen respectfully to the teacher.
Do your homework. (Ask around and get on Google to find out strategies and ideas that have worked for kids with similar profiles in education settings.)
Do be prepared to advocate.
Have your child’s exceptionalities been identified? Do you have a report from a professional? Has there been an Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) meeting? Does your youngster have an Individual Education Plan (IEP)? If so, make photocopies and bring your documentation to any meetings. No paperwork? No worries. Jot down key points you want to relay.
Do be assertive and positive.
What are your child’s strengths? Challenges? What do you want the teacher to know about your amazing, beautiful son or daughter?
How can you work with her or him and the school to ensure needs are met and your child can thrive? You are partners in making good things happen for your youngster. Aim to work collaboratively to anticipate difficulties and solve problems.

A glimpse at Options

  • Classroom support, resource room support.
  • A daily communication book between school and home.
  • A calm-down/safe/quiet place.
  • A buddy/mentor from an older grade.
  • A circle of friends.
  • A go-to adult outside the classroom.
  • A laptop and/or assistive devices. Pencil grips, ipads and apps, tennis balls on the bottoms of chairs, computer software, weighted vests – there are all sorts of gadgets.
  • Wiggle time.
  • A card or a signal your child can use to let the teacher know he or she is having difficulty.
  • Visual cues, social stories or a daily timetable, so your child knows what to expect next.
  • Incentive systems to improve compliance or help your youngster reach agreed-upon goals.
  • Ample opportunities to succeed in the school setting.
  • Modified assessment. Perhaps more time is required for tests and assignments. Can answers be provided orally? Ask.

Ask other parents too. Never forget there are countless moms and dads who have been in your position already and who would be happy to answer questions and offer their support. 

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