How to Transition Children with Disabilities Back to School

Now that summer is drawing to a close, it’s time to prepare kids for back to school.  Here are a few tips to help parents and children of all abilities make an easy transition into the upcoming school year.

1. Begin the regular school year routine before returning to the classroom. 

August is the time to start early bedtimes, regular meal hours, routine morning tasks like getting dressed promptly and brushing teeth and maybe even homework assignments. Over the summer, some or all of these things may have fallen by the wayside. Now is the time to gradually integrate them back into your schedule and routine. You can also email your child’s new teachers and ask them when lunch and snack will occur, so you can match the upcoming schedule to help create a seamless transition.

2. Inform teachers and staff of any major changes that have happened over the summer, good or bad. 

A lot can change for your child over the summer, like mastering potty training or learning to dress on his or her own. Those are good things. But, negative changes can happen too, like the appearance of self-injury, more frequent outbursts, or a newly discovered food allergy. Then, of course, there is the straightforward march-of-life: the onset of puberty or a new baby in the house. Your child’s teachers and aides need to know of any major changes as it can affect how they work with your child. Tell them about the “new normal” in your child’s life, and also be sure to warn them of any stressors that can cause difficulties for a child who cannot communicate fully. For example, if a parent has lost a job, a child may feel the difficulties going on around them without saying so. Share that a major life-shift has taken place in your home, so the school staff can better plan for incidents. Remember to call an IEP if you think your child will struggle more this year.

3. Ask the school’s administration if any major changes have taken place on its end. 

Last year, we not only had administrative changes in our school’s special ed department, but we also had new therapeutic staff. This lead to some very good changes, but also created stress when my daughter’s programming was altered without warning or approval. Find out if there are changes to your school’s special ed department or in any policies. If there is new staff, I strongly suggest you meet with them and call an IEP.

4. Now is the time to organize and plan for improved school-day nutrition and eating. 

Many parents say, ’I’d like my kid to eat better but I don’t have time to plan for that!’ Now is the time to tackle that excuse. Finding healthy food, free of GMOs, preservatives, and sugar (think anything that comes in a package) is challenging, but studies have shown that preservatives and food dyes may heighten issues like ADHD, aggression, and a lack of focus. Plan now to send your child to school with healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, etc., and buy organic when you can.  Ask your doctor about natural, healthy supplements that support brain development (such as fish oil) to see if they are a good option for your child.

The transition from summer to back to school can be challenging for kids with disabilities, but many look forward to a relief from the dullness of late summer or a change of scenery, even if they can’t verbalize it. Taking proactive steps before something stressful happens will help you and your family get back into a school routine as smoothly as possible.