Each new school year means a new grade, new teachers, new goals, and maybe even a new school! This list was created to help you and your child with special needs be as successful as you can be, and to help make the transition into a new school year a little easier and more enjoyable.

  1. Start the New School Year by Making Introductions
    Send a short ( 1-2 paragraphs) welcoming note to the teacher and staff. List some of your child’s issues and “quirks” including likes and dislikes and invite the teacher to contact you for additional information. (provide them with your cell phone number and best e-mail).
  2. Helping Everyone to Get Organized
    Let your child know what to expect the first few days. Use visuals if necessary. Find some quiet time to discuss any fears or anxieties that your child may have. Keep a family calendar of school events, special education meetings, conferences, etc.. Set up a box to keep all school letters, mailings, and schedules. Build in time for homework, studying, and recreation ( be as consistent as possible). Make sure your child has a clear distraction free area to do their homework and for studying). Set bedtime routines and post where they are visible.
  3. Start a Communication Log
    Keeping track of all phone calls, e-mails, notes home, meetings, and conferences is important. Create a “communication log” for yourself in a notebook that is easily accessible. Be sure to note the dates, times, and nature of the communications you have.
  4. Review Your Child’s Current IEP
    The IEP is the cornerstone of your child’s educational program, so it’s important that you have a clear understanding of it. Note when the IEP expires and if your child is up for reevaluation this year. Most importantly, be sure that this IEP still “fits” your child’s needs! If you’re unsure, contact the school about reviewing their needs. Make sure that all goals and objectives have measurable outcomes.
  5. Keep Everyone Updated
    It’s important that you and the school communicate early and often! If there is anything (concerns, changes, questions about the IEP or changes in medication that you feel is important to share with the staff working with your child before school starts, or during the year, don’t hesitate to contact them! The more proactive and honest you are, the better the school staff will be able to meet your child’s needs.
  6. Establish Before and After School Routines
    Discuss and plan the changes in you and your child’s daily routine that will happen once school starts. You can even begin practicing your new schedule, focusing on morning and evening routines, and begin implementing them well in advance of the first day of school.
  7. Stay Aware of News in Special Education News
    Being knowledgeable about your child’s IEP and their disability can help you become a better advocate for your child. Try to keep up-to-date on new special education legislation, news, and events. The more you know, the more prepared you will be to navigate the world of special education and successfully advocate for your child! Join your local disability chapter. Keep informed of school board updates.
  8. Attend School Events
    Take advantage of Open House, Back-to-School Night, and parent-teacher conferences to help you and your child get a feel for the school and meet the teachers, other staff, students, and families. Share the positives about working with your child, and let the teacher know about changes, events, or IEP concerns that should be considered for children in special education.
  9. Make New Friends with Other Parents
    Find some other like-minded parents to share activities and conversations with. Help your child get into playgroups or social groups with appropriately aged children.
  10. Balance Your Activities and Trust Your Instincts
    Managing a household involving a child with special needs can be daunting. Do your best; do what you can manage without stressing yourself. Balance your (and your child’s ) wants with identified needs, and try to find time each day to relax, enjoy your child, and remember that you need to pace yourself.
  11. Ask for Help When You Need It
    We all need to ask others for help now and then. Learn the names and contact numbers of organizations that can offer support, instruction, and council if needed.

Adapted from the Unicorn Children’s Foundation email newsletter, August 2012

Organization doesn’t only refer to our child’s physical items and physical possessions; it can also include organizing their time and activities. Taking time to label what they want and need to accomplish allows them to sort through everything on their “plate” and how to tackle it. Since everything is lined out and identified, regulating their time and energy can seem less overwhelming and stress producing.

Write It Down

When organizing their priorities, it is important for children to write them all down and make themselves some sort of “primary list” because it helps them remember everything they want or need to accomplish or complete later. This list gives them a visual aide to use when making organizational decisions. They don’t have to list the items in any particular order, but just list anything that comes to mind. Once they feel they have completed the list (for now), then they can go back and assign their tasks in priority order. Common codes such as ABC or 123 can be used to determine each listings priority and how they will proceed with each one.
Common methods for “writing down” items and tasks to go on their “To-Do List” include:

  • Use an agenda or day-to-day planner
  • IPad (or other tablet) and/or IPhone (or other smartphone)
  • Laptop
  • Use post-it-notes
  • White board
  • Family or personal calendar

Help your children and family find the approach that works best for them and use it “always”.

An Amazing Tool to Identify Urgent and Important Tasks To-Do

Sometimes we confuse our urgent priorities with our important ones, which can cause us to be confused about what to take care of first. The Urgent/Important Matrix is a tool that we can use to think about our priorities and how we handle them. Before we can use the matrix, we must write down everything we want to accomplish in a certain period of time, such as daily, weekly, or even further and assign their priority in which we want to get them done (See previous exercise).
The matrix is divided into four quadrants, each ranging in importance, and allows for activities and projects to be plotted in each one based on their need. Using the list, the child creates with your help, you and your child would plot each job in the corresponding quadrant. After all of the tasks have been plotted, you can see all of the things your child wants or needs to do and how urgent or important they are to us and them. This leads them to make better choices regarding their time management and overall organization.

Here is one of many versions of the Urgent/Important Matrix that can be used for various things. We’ve included a common version that can be used with everyday activities.


Divide Tasks

Now that your child made a list and categorized all of the things they want and need to accomplish, it can seem overwhelming or even intimidating to get started. But by dividing their tasks into smaller groups of things to do, they can feel more empowered to get them done. Tasks can be divided any way that is convenient, such as things to do for one particular project or maybe even things to do that involve going through papers. They key is to find what combination works for them.
Helpful hints:

  • Sort tasks by each specific project
  • Decide what tasks can be done the fastest
  • Determine what tasks will need more time

80/20 Rule

Simply put, the 80/20 Rule targets the need to focus on what is or should be important to our children, and disregarding the rest. In most cases, 20% of things we have or accumulate are important to us, while the other 80% is usually trivial, if not useless. If the 20% is handled first and focused upon, the remaining 80% practically takes care of itself. For example, using the 80/20 Rule, they can sit down with their daily To-Do List and identify the top three or four projects or tasks that need to be done (the 20%). Then outline the less important things that can be done next, or even at a later time (the 80%). By focusing on what is the most important/urgent first, they are more focused and ready to tackle them. Once they are completed, the rest of the tasks seem less daunting and can be done with ease.
The 80/20 Rule is about being organized while doing what they want and need in their everyday life (and not just more organizing!).

Excerpts taken from the workbook titled “Organizational Skills for High School, College, and Career Readiness” Program, offered at The Support for Students Growth Center in Boca Raton.