Back to School Tips for Parents of Children with Special Needs

back to school

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