The beginning of a new school year is a time of great enthusiasm and anticipation. But for some, it also means stress, anxiety and trepidation. Families raising kids with special needs face numerous challenges throughout the school year.
Not only are IEP goals and implementation a cause of stress, but families also worry about how effectively a new teacher will work with their child’s complicated needs; how other kids in the general education classroom will accept their child; and how their child will react to a new classroom setting, as well as having new teachers, paraprofessionals and therapists.
The following advice will help parents and kids navigate the anxiety of a new school year and ensure ongoing success.
- become active in your child’s school
- create a “What Works” notebook
- develop an “All about Me” portfolio for your child’s classmates
- introduce your child to the kids in the general education classroom
- forget to visit the new classroom with your child
- begin the school year without a parent-teacher conference
- underestimate the importance of good communication skills
- assume you understand your children’s needs and desires
Being an involved parent will help ensure your child’s success at school because active parents can have a positive effect on their child’s classroom, school and education. Offer to be a room parent or a PTA member. If these roles are too time consuming, volunteer in your child’s classroom or lunchroom, or offer to chaperone field trips throughout the year.
This notebook is a great way to introduce your child to the new school team. Because some students with special needs have limited means of sharing their preferences, learning styles, needs and abilities, the “What Works” notebook gathers all of this valuable information in one place. Consequently, families can rely on this notebook to communicate these important details to educators.
The following elements are helpful to include in the notebook:
Samples of work from past years; IEP goals and a description of how these goals can be implemented in the classroom; ideas for differentiating instruction; tips for teachers on how to best relate to your child; ideas on how to organize the classroom (desk size, chair, PECS book, iPad with a list of successful apps); tips on alternative communication ideas; a complete description of health issues, personal care needs and physical assistance needed; and a copy of the student’s behavior support plan.
Because students with special needs benefit academically and socially from being in a general education classroom, many schools today are practicing inclusion. However, teaching typically-developing students to accept and embrace difference does not happen immediately—especially if these students are unfamiliar or uncomfortable spending time around kids with special needs.
Creating an “All about Me” portfolio can help your child’s classmates learn more about your child, which in turn, will help guide them to open their eyes and arms to difference, and ultimately lead to true acceptance and friendship.
This book is not only an opportunity for your child to introduce him/herself to the class, but also will help your child interact with peers and allow them to learn more about your child’s life outside of school. The following are several suggestions of what to include in the portfolio: A list of your child’s favorite activities, movies and books; family photographs; information about your child’s diagnosis; and samples of your child’s talents and interests.
Kids are extremely curious by nature. Most of them likely have numerous questions about your child and his/her diagnosis, but don’t feel comfortable asking them. Provide the class with an opportunity to openly ask all of their questions during a visit to the classroom in the beginning of the school year. Bring your child’s “All about Me” portfolio and share it with the class. Reassure them that no question is a bad question—and patiently answer every query. If your child is able and willing, allow him/her to also answer some questions. The goal of this visit is to emphasize the human side of your child. Once the class has a better understanding of your child, they will be more open to acceptance, kindness and friendship.
Taking your child to see his or her new room before the year begins will provide a sense of familiarity and calmness once classes start. Spend some time just sitting in the classroom and walking the halls. Be sure to show your child where the cubbies or lockers are located. Bring a camera and snap some photos, so your child can look at these before school begins. If your child uses a daily picture schedule, create one about school and include the classroom photos.
Connecting with your child’s teacher immediately can get everyone off to a good start. Let the teacher know that you want to be involved and helpful in ensuring your child’s success in the classroom. Take this time to review your child’s IEP goals and “What Works” notebook, and also discuss the best way to schedule your child’s introduction to the kids in the general education classroom. Be sure to not only express your interest in the new school year, but also ask for the teacher’s input. Discuss plans for ongoing communication. After the conference, stay in touch with the teacher. Keep the lines of communication open and ask for consistent updates on your child. Share positive school experiences with the teacher instead of only negative ones.
Communication is key to making the year a success. Because your child interacts with many different educators on a daily basis, it is very important to build rapport with each of these individuals.
However, effective communication is not always easy. It is helpful to remember the following tips for effective communication: Be a good listener; always attempt to understand the other person’s point of view; take a deep breath before speaking; do not respond until the other person has finished speaking; always put yourself in the other person’s shoes; do not blame others for how you feel; and don’t allow emotions to build up; rather, deal with conflict immediately.
Sit down and talk with your children. Ask them how they feel about school, their teachers and their classmates. Are they excited? Nervous? Worried? Ask them what they need—and brainstorm with them about how they can get these needs met. Listen to what they say without any judgment or anxiety. Be compassionate and let them know they can tell you anything—good or bad.
It is very important to get the school year off to a great start and keep the momentum going throughout the entire year. Develop positive relationships with your child’s entire educational team, as well as the school. Playing an active role in your child’s classroom experience and education is key to your child’s success.