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Back-to-school time can be tough, especially for children with special needs. Here are a few strategies to make the transition easier:
• Do a dry run. Go over how his routine will change during the first couple weeks of school. Set the alarm earlier, show him where his bus stop or the door to the school is and where he’ll be picked up at the end of the day. Don’t be afraid to role-play; let him be the teacher and you can be the student. Most importantly, give yourself extra time in the morning so there’s no stress about being late.
• Find familiar things. Buy supplies your child is familiar with to keep her organized. Send her to school with the same pencil she uses at occupational therapy, for example.
• Plan ahead for separation anxiety. Have someone meet her when you get to school. Since her teacher may have a lot going on, find out if a fellow student or a nurse or aide is available to help him feel welcome.
• Don’t let paperwork do all the talking. Your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) won’t tell the teacher everything. Put together a short overview about your child’s likes and dislikes, what sets her off and what calms her down. Explain how you deal with these issues at home. Make digital copies of the IEP and other documents so you can easily send them to teachers. The more proactive and upfront you are, the better the teacher can meet your child’s needs.
• Keep him involved. By law, your child can be part of the IEP team whenever it’s appropriate. There’s no rule on how old or mature he needs to be. Before he goes to a meeting, see if he knows what an IEP is and find out if he really wants to attend.
• Keep an eye out for changes. Listen to and acknowledge her concerns to help her feel more secure. If your child’s anxious, she may have nightmares or her sleep habits may change. She may get crabby or sad, too. Tell her it’s okay to feel this way.