Is your child with special needs starting school in September? Then you need to do a few things now.
I wrote this a few years ago, but it’s still extremely relevant, especially as we start to prepare for a new school year. Right now is the time to register your child. If you have a child with special needs starting school in September then you need to run, not walk, to the school right now. Do not wait.
It is vital that schools know who is coming and when. And if your child, or children, have special needs, even more important that they have a chance to plug in support NOW.
It’s Time to Get Started
I know you just got over Christmas, or you want the chance to plan ahead for the summer months and scheduling summer camps is top of mind, or booking a cottage vacation. Maybe some of you are in denial and have zero interest in going in to the school in the dead of winter.
Or maybe you are reading this in May or June and counting the days, if not the hours, until school is out. Students may already be vibrating with the promise of leisurely summer days at cottages and beaches. Parents are either jumping for joy at the thought of no more school runs and Mommy taxi duty, or cowering in fear at the possibility that their children will run amok all summer.
Either way, you are not off free yet. If you parent a child with special needs there are some details that still need to be managed and ironed out. The sooner you start the planning process, the better. If you do not plan ahead, then September, and the start of a brand new school year, could be a mess for your child. (And for you too!) That’s reality. An ounce of prevention and preparation and everyone will benefit in September.
As some of you know I am the parent of two girls with special needs. I sat on the Thames Valley SEAC – special education advisory panel, at one point when my kids were young and and was on half a dozen committees for parents and advocates. I have travelled around North America speaking about, and researching advocacy and FASD. (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder ).
Preparation and knowledge help. They are a special needs parent’s most powerful tools.
Have a Child with Special Needs Starting School in September?
Here are Five Tips to Help them Transition
1. JK is not mandatory. SK is not mandatory. Is your child ready?
You know your child best of all. In Ontario, your child doesn’t need to be enrolled in school until the age of six. That’s right JK and SK are optional. So if you feel your child isn’t ready for the transition, or if you feel the chaos of school doesn’t work, you can opt out.
You do not have to register your child for JK. Many parents choose to keep their child at day care for the year. It is one less transition. Keep them home for another year getting one on one with you, or do a different placement at preschool. We kept our youngest at the preschool where they understood her best for as long as we could. She did not go to school until she turned six. Her preschool had a better ratio of children to teachers and she also received more resource support where she was.
2. If you plan to register you should do it NOW.
Go Monday. First thing. Get yourself into the school immediately, if you haven’t done so already. They need to be prepared. Even neurotypical children require support. Schools have to hire the right number of teachers, so they need to know how many kids are coming. They really need to know if your child has special needs so they can plan to support them as needed. (This really should start in January or February. If you are late it’s better late than never and you still have time for damage control. In September it will be chaos.)
3. Contact your Area Learning Coordinator.
Phone the board where you live and ask to speak to the area learning coordinator. If you have not done this yet, you should touch base. This person can be an excellent resource and a bridge between school and your child. They can attend school meetings and communicate what they think the school needs to do to help your child. I found ours to be an excellent resource when my youngest was starting school. In fact she already had her diagnosis before school started so that part was easier to communicate.
The January before my child moved to grade one, I called our area learning coordinator and told her my concerns. I told her my child’s diagnoses and let her know which school my daughter planned to attend. I also described to her what happens when my youngest is not monitored 24/7 or supported. We had a fabulous EA for half days and a team that really supported my daughter well in grade one. They were ready and prepared to help. We still had difficulty, but for the most part the year went very well. Preparation was key.
4. Visit the school with your child.
We have always done a lot of transition work with my child. She needs to see the physical space she will be in and she needs to feel safe. To help, we rehearse new situations. We drove her to the school that first year many times and we played nearby at the park and watched them building a new parking lot.
In the Summer Before School Started..
In August, the lovely principal and teacher called us in to visit the classroom. The teacher in grade one gave my daughter a teddy bear and tried to make her feel welcome. It was really a kind and gentle approach that should be the standard for many students with special needs and difficulty transitioning.
Take Photos, Do Visits
Gather as much information as you can and build a picture for them of what will happen at school. Take pictures, if you want, and you can show him or her what to expect thereby reducing stress. It helps anxious children and many with special needs to know who will be teaching them in advance of the first day of school. Request for that to be made clear, or included as a requirement in the IEP (Individual Education Plan), so you all succeed.
5. Prepare A Small booklet called An All About Me.
Or a small page. Depending on the age of the child, he or she can help. It doesn’t have to be too fancy. A page or two with a picture of your child. Tell what the diagnosis is, or if you don’t wish to tell the exact DX, you can describe what the needs are. My child is a runner, so she needed to be safe and still does. So I stated simply that my daughter is a runner and someone needs to watch her at all times. She doesn’t mean to run but will do so when threatened or overwhelmed.
I have always given them a blueprint to my girl. In grade one it looked like this.
My All About Me Booklet
My name is Ainsley.
I have sensory processing disorder. (Here’s a Today’s Parent article I wrote about that a few years ago.)
When I am upset or overwhelmed, I run away.
I also have a brain injury that means I am impulsive and don’t always understand or process cause and effect thinking.
So if I run and a car is coming I may not even see it, or I may run in front of it because I am stressed. Please help me stay safe.
Tips that I am stressed:
I clench my fists and my voice gets louder.
Sometimes, I start running in circles.
What You Can Do To Help:
Please tell me to stop and help me to stop.
Tap me on the shoulder and whisper to me. That gets my attention sometimes.
In the past, I did a lot of occupational therapy to help me.
Heavy, weighted equipment helps me feel safe and grounded. It gives me the right amount of feedback for my muscles.
Thanks for your help. I am a bright productive helpful little girl and I want to succeed and make friends, but I need your help.
There’s obviously way more to the booklet than this, but that gives you an idea of the flavour of the book and the content too. Always remember personal photos. In fact, I have had many officials call me back when I complained about poor supports or school failures in elementary and their first comment was always about the photos. We had one of Ainsley with Olympic champions Jamie Sale and David Pelletier and that was GOLD. Pun intended.
Don’t Fret Just Do It!
It’s never too late to do these things when you have a child with special needs starting school. And if you need help with any of it you can contact me by email.
I will prepare a booklet for you as a writing service. Preparation is key. Good luck!