The beginning of a new school year can incite equal parts anxiety and excitement. We share our trusted “back to school” tips in order to aid you during the transition of this potentially stressful time of year. These have helped all of us at Huck and may be good tools for you to have now or in the future. Remember, as a special needs parent, try what you can, keep what you like, and save the rest to revisit later. Remove the pressure to be perfect and give yourself, and your child, some grace.
With that said, here are our favorite tips for back to school success!
1. Request (demand) a private “meet the teacher” before school starts. My son’s school provides this, and we can’t thank them enough. Otherwise, we would be meeting the teacher in a mass of “meet the teacher night” kids full of nervous energy. Entire families attend these nights with their student making for crowded and loud hallways and classrooms…which can be a sensory-overloaded recipe for an epic meltdown. Our guy often needs time to roam around the classroom, check things out and slowly inch his way closer and closer to where his seat will be – which is where his teacher and I place ourselves to visit. It is often a tearful and nervous experience and we are thankful that he is able to work through that without an audience of his peers. If your school doesn’t provide this I cannot encourage you enough to make it happen. It is a game-changer!
2. Prepare an “about me” document or portfolio about your child to give to the teacher. I truly believe that we teach people how to treat us through our own actions and words. In line with that thinking, it is imperative that our children’s teachers learn about our child from us. This gives the teacher a look at your child in a way she wouldn’t have access to otherwise and educates her from your perspective. If we provide them with this information, we can feel a little more confident as observers allowing the teacher and student to form their own relationship. In this “portfolio” you can include: Medical History, Tips for working with your child, your child’s interests, likes and dislikes, rewards that you find to be motivating for your child, hobbies and favorite topics or things, info about your family, any developmental history you would like the teacher to know about and contact info for you.
**We would recommend asking input for this portfolio from your child’s current therapists and past teachers. Individuals who have had success working with your child have invaluable information to share with teachers for handling situations or inspiring effort.
3. Make a social story or a “My School is So Cool” book to share with your child in the days leading up to their first day. Request photos from the school or visit one day and take pictures of the classrooms that your child will frequent, the cafeteria, playground, etc and use them to make a social story booklet that will familiarize your child with the new adventure of their new grade or their new school. This will alleviate some of the fear of the unknown that any child feels when entering a big, new and unfamiliar building for the first time or simply entering a new year. Listen…I’ve drawn a social story on construction paper with a pencil before and while my drawings were pretty sad they did the trick! Don’t overcomplicate it, just do it.
4. Create an after school schedule. Share it in written or picture format with your child and stick very rigidly to it for the first couple of weeks. The schedule should include a generous dose of downtime and brain breaks. Managing these first few weeks is tough and to be honest, at our house, we have lots of screen time after school those first couple of weeks of school and do not go to any sports practices or late dinners out. The first two weeks of school are mentally exhausting for everyone in the household and peace, predictability, patience and rest are paramount.
5. And last but not least, set your expectations at a healthy level. As sad as it sounds, we often set ours at a very realistic low and expect there to be some drama and meltdowns. Thankfully, I am always pleasantly surprised when things go even just a little bit better than I had expected! Give EVERYONE some grace…yourself, your child, the teachers, the aides, and anyone who will be coming into contact at some point with your child.
The back to school adjustment stage is a DOOZY and can last a month or two so be prepared and make sure to plan some time to take care of yourself, too.
Molly Russell, Founder
The Huckleberry Foundation