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The start of a new school year can get hectic for any family. Add kids with special needs to the mix and it gets even trickier. It doesn’t need to be stressful, though. With a little planning, you can help your child have a smooth transition back to learning.

Is this a new school for your child? Ask to take a tour. School staffers always return a few days early, and if you explain your situation, they’ll probably let you look around and see his classroom. I helped prep my son for elementary school not only by doing this, but by visiting the playground every day the week before. When he went in that first day, he felt less anxious about the “new place” because he’d already been.

WRITE A LETTER

If you haven’t had a chance to meet the new teacher, introduce yourself and your child with a little “hello” email. Include things like skills your child needs the most help with, as well as her strengths, things that might motivate her, favorite subjects and things that might be scary or sensory triggers. If your child has speech articulation issues, include frequently used phrases and what she really means. List the best ways to get in contact with you: email, phone numbers, etc. Also, establish a daily communication log with your child’s teacher. It can be something as simple as a notebook that you both write back and forth in to fill the other in on your child’s day or night.

FIND A BUDDY

Write up a short “Hi! I’m so and so’s Mom” note with your contact info and pass it out to the class parents. It’s good to know you have someone you can panic text at 6:45 am asking “OMG! Is it dress like a pirate day or dress in your favorite sports team’s jersey day?” Or my personal favorite group text: “Are we getting a snow day?” Other parents are valuable resources for general info and after-school fun alike.

CONFIRM EVERY LAST DETAIL

Make sure all transportation arrangements are set. Since most children with IEPs have door-to-door bus service, you should be hearing from a bus driver a few days before school starts with a pick-up time and bus number. If you haven’t, call your school district’s transportation department. Trust me, the first day of school isn’t the best time to find out there’s a mix-up. When your child’s picked up, introduce yourself and give the bus staff your contact information.

START PRACTICING THE MORNING ROUTINE

You and your child might have an easy, breezy summer routine, but that first day back can be quite a 180! Start a week ahead with school bedtimes and morning routines. Tell your kids it’s time to say goodbye to the “a dip in the pool counts as a bath” way of thinking. Make a countdown calendar and have your child cross off the days. Get him involved in making sure his backpack is ready. Let him shop with you for back-to-school snacks and supplies.

REVIEW YOUR CHILD’S IEP

Let’s face it. You haven’t really thought about it in a while. You were too busy chasing your kids to reapply sunblock and eating ice pops for dinner. So, it’s good to go over it again. If your child’s able, do this with her. Talk about what things she’s interested in working on this upcoming year. Remember, you can call for an IEP review meeting anytime. If you find your child’s needs have changed since the last time you met, don’t wait. Set up a time to meet. Chances are if you’ve seen a change, the staff at school has, too.

REMINISCE ABOUT FUN TIMES AT SCHOOL

If you’re anything like me, you have hundreds of pictures from years past. Sit down with your child and go through them for a little impromptu story. Remind him of past events like school concerts and field days. Show him past shots of him boarding the bus or a visit to a class party. Start talking about school and keep the conversation upbeat. Here’s to a wonderful school year!

—Autism is a trip Wall Twp. mom Eileen Shaklee didn’t plan on, but she sure does love her 14-year-old tour guide. Join her adventures with a side of sarcasm (and fries) at autismwithasideoffries.blogspot.com.