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5 Strategies to Help Your Special Needs Child Make a Successful Start at School


Back to school! Three words that provoke excitement in most kids but can leave a special needs child feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Here are 5 strategies to help your child with special needs make a successful start at school.

Gather Insider Information

It’s important for you to meet your child’s teacher before the start of the school year and develop a rapport. Nancy Christian, M.Ed., of Strategies to Excel, who works with children with learning difficulties, says this will help your child

  • Transition to a new style of teaching
  • Become familiar with classroom rules
  • Know what to expect in the daily routine

At this meeting, also talk to the teacher about the expected challenges and potential solutions that work for your child. Articulate specific things that help, for example, sitting away from distractions like a window overlooking a busy schoolyard. This proactive approach will give your child and her teacher insider information and shorten the time it takes for them to figure each other out.

Do the Groundwork

About two weeks before school begins, start easing back to a more structured routine. Reinforce bedtimes and wake-up times so your child doesn’t feel overwhelmed on school mornings. Don’t make it a one-sided preparation, though.

  • Practice getting on the school bus or opening lunch containers
  • Pick out new crayons or notebooks
  • Meet a classmate for a play date

These activities will foster independence, stir up excitement, and ensure your child already has a friend on the first day of school.

Because children with special needs can find the pace in a classroom overwhelming, it may not be a bad idea to review the previous year’s work and introduce some lessons from the new grade. This not only gets kids back in an academic frame of mind, but also eases the considerable stress of a new school year.

Take a Tour

Take your child on a tour of the school, especially if it is his or her first year there. Visiting the classroom, gym, library, playground, nurse’s clinic, and principal’s office can help your child develop a sense of familiarity. This will ensure your child doesn’t feel lost in a sea of faces in unfamiliar surroundings when hundreds of kids come pouring in.

In fact, take a camera along to the school visit and take lots of photos. Get your child involved in a scrapbooking project with snapshots depicting a typical school day. Begin with a picture of the school entrance, followed by the classroom, gym, library, lunchroom, and playground. Digital scrapbooking with phone apps is inexpensive and online photo editors can be lots of fun.

Practice Social Interaction

School will place a significant amount of social stress on your special needs child. You can make this easier by practicing playground games so your child is more confident in his or her interactions with other kids.

  • Take him or her to the community playground
  • Organize play dates
  • Encourage role play at home
  • Participate in extracurricular activities
  • Get involved in social support groups and clubs

Prepare for Morning Madness

The night before school is a sea of calm compared to the madness of school mornings. You can make your mornings less chaotic by:

  • Laying out your child’s backpack, clothes, shoes, and books the night before
  • Deciding what you’ll cook for breakfast and preparing accordingly
  • Preparing for your child’s packed lunch
  • Developing a routine (and sticking to it)
  • Involving your child in choosing clothes the night before or helping to fix breakfast
  • Setting your alarm clock!

Living with a special needs child can be a challenge. We hope these 5 strategies will make the transition to school a little less taxing for you and your child.

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