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Back to school for kids with special needs

Elizabeth McAllister, clinical coordinator, Autism Program, McMaster Children’s Hospital

Plan ahead

Change and transition can be hard for anyone including children with special education needs. Re-establishing routines and building familiarity when it’s time to go back to school helps all children succeed. As a parent, it’s helpful for you to participate in any meetings with teachers and school staff and use these opportunities to describe your child’s individual strengths, needs and interests. It’s helpful to plan ahead. Take time to think about your child’s unique abilities and needs. Try to anticipate opportunities for success and areas where your child may face challenges.

Communicate with the school regularly

Keep the lines of communication open. Teachers and school administrators are an important resource. Talk to them regularly about your child’s progress, strengths and requirements. If your child has an individual education plan (IEP), it may be helpful to review it at the start of the school year. Talk to your child’s teacher about any new or ongoing goals. If you have them, provide the school with any professional reports that can help them understand how your child learns best. Discuss resources or accommodations that can support your child’s learning needs. For example, some children may have difficulty with verbal explanations but may do very well with visual ones.

Involve your children in decision-making

During the return to school, children — including those with special needs — may feel a loss of control and that can be stressful. Providing them with choices can give them a sense of control. For example, they could choose their back to school materials or pick out their snack for break time. Throughout the school year, help them build a positive relationship with their school and classmates. Try reading stories about school, arranging play dates with classmates or other children. Practice skills for school at home like packing a backpack, opening their lunchbox, lining up for activities or walking to the bus stop.

We hope that by keeping communication open, focusing on how your child learns best, and practicing school readiness skills at home, your family has a successful return to school.