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September is Special Needs Month. In conjunction, a new school year has just commenced, and all of us who have children with special needs know how important it is to start the school year off on the right foot. While school can be tough for any child, a child with special needs will have different challenges -- and once those are addressed it can have a huge impact on the type of school year that they will have.
There are many different things you can do to make school more successful for your child. Any parent can implement the 7 suggestions that follow -- they don't take a lot of time, and they will help ensure the happiness and health of your child.
#1: Dress for Less Stress
Many children with special needs require careful consideration when it comes to clothing. Choosing fabrics that that are comfortable, fit properly and are easy to use is key. For example, Velcro can be much more user-friendly than snaps, buttons and laces. And choice of fabric is really important, since children with sensory issues will find a scratchy fabric or tag inside clothing to be overwhelming. Another challenge can be choosing weather appropriate clothing. I have always done well dressing my child in layers that can be easily added or removed. However, it is important to keep in mind that a child with special needs may not remove or add appropriate layers if they get too hot or cold. It’s a good idea to discuss this with your child’s teacher to keep your child cool or warm enough throughout the day.
#2: Get To Know the Teachers
It’s hard to find out how your child is doing in school if you don’t have a relationship with his teachers. Plan to get to know your child’s teachers as much as possible. Find out whether it is easier to contact them via telephone or email and what length of turnaround time to expect. If there are parent-teacher meet and greets, open houses or volunteer opportunities, make sure to go and get involved as much as you can. I have discovered through my own experiences that your child will actually be treated better if the teachers know who you are and that the possibility of seeing you at the school is high. Once the teachers know you, they will be more comfortable reaching out to you to let you know of any challenges that pop up.
#3: The Right Tools
You know your child – and you know what tools will make your child most successful. It is very important that you let your child’s school and teachers know what tools will set your child up for success. If your child would be more successful sitting on a bean or ball style chair, make sure that is written into your child’s Individualized Education Plan. If your child needs extra services such as occupational or speech therapy – those are services that the school can offer. If your child is super sensitive to sounds, a pair of earplugs or headphones can have a huge impact on their health and happiness during lunchtime in the cafeteria. There is a tool that can make your child’s life easier for almost every circumstance – just make sure that your child is able to use those tools.
#4: Extra Books for Home
Something as simple as having a set of extra books at home can make the school year a little easier for a child with special needs. This way your child will always have everything that they need for homework when they get home from school. I recommend keeping the other set in the classroom, not a locker — it makes the transition from class to class easier and your child won’t forget a book. This is a simple tip that can have a big impact, removing some of the stress relating to school.
#5: Organization 101
Organization is very important, since having things organized will relieve a lot of stress and worry over where homework and classwork is stored. I have found the best way to organize schoolwork is in an accordion type file that zips completely closed. I label each of the tabs with my child’s classes and he keeps any work that relates to that subject in the corresponding tab. He also uses a tabbed section to hold his extra paper, a couple of pencils, his agenda and homework folder. By keeping all of his class and homework organized this way, it is very easy for him to find what he needs in a snap!
#6: Student Identification Packet
Beside an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and/or 509, you should have a student identification packet ready to give to all of your child’s teachers. A student identification package should include any and all of the information that you want your child’s teachers to know about your child. If there is a particular learning style that works well for your child, that should be included. Any tools that your family uses that make your child successful at home will be information that your child’s teacher will be happy to hear. If there is a particular tool that you use to keep your child on task, or a tool that helps with any type of behavioral challenges, these are things that should be included in the student identification packet. Other things to include are your child’s special interests, things that motivate your child as well as areas that your child finds difficult or challenging. And of course your contact information too!
#7: Communication is Key
Really, the most important way to ensure that your child is having a successful school year is through communication: communication with your child, the school and your child’s teachers. You are your child’s best advocate, you need to stay on top of everything to ensure that your child doesn’t fall through the cracks. I really can’t emphasize how important communication is for the success of your child. If something doesn’t seem or feel right to you, talk to someone about it. If you need help outside of the school system, find an advocate who can help. Speak up whenever you feel that something needs to be changed, discussed or built on – communication really is key!