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August 22, 2018

A smooth school transition for kids with special needs

by Elizabeth McAllister, clinical coordinator, school support program, McMaster Children’s Hospital

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 can be an important way to help our children succeed. Depending on your child’s needs, you may want to:

  • Visit the school to see the new classroom, meet the teacher, and play on the playground equipment
  • Read stories about school
  • Arrange playdates with classmates or other children
  • Practice skills for school (e.g., using a lunch box, backpack, walking to the bus stop)
  • Start adjusting bedtime and wakeup routine to match your school schedule

Focus on opportunities

As the school year begins, take time to think about your child’s unique abilities and needs. Help yourself plan ahead: try to anticipate opportunities for success, and areas where your child may face challenges.

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 Individualized Education Plan (IEP), it may be helpful to review it at the start of the school year, and talk to your child’s teacher about 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 a difficult time with verbal explanations but respond very well to visual ones.

Choose choices

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 a healthy snack for break time.

You can get more back to school information and tips, from our Back to School booklet.