By Marvin Williams, MA, Intermountain Director of Education
When a child begins a transition back to school from a long summer break most parents can find this to be a difficult time. But for parents of a child with a disability the experience brings even greater stressors. There are three key phrases to remember to help make for a positive transition back to school: plan ahead, be realistic, maintain a positive attitude.
Before school starts, do your best to plan ahead. A health checkup may be a good idea. Checking in with your physician to ensure your child’s hearing, vision and medications are within the normal ranges is important. Appointments during the summer months can alleviate the stress of having to take a child out of school during the year. Disruptions to a child’s structure and routine can attribute to a child’s dysregulation.
Review all of the information you have received from the school, such as the child’s teacher, room number and school supply requirements. Mark your calendar, make a note of important dates. Make copies of your child’s health, medical needs and emergency information for reference as you will need this to provide to the school. Shop for school clothing and supplies early as possible. If possible take your child with you so they feel like they have some input and control.
Summer routines often look different than school routines, so it is critical to re-establish the bedtime and mealtime procedures. Preparing your child for this change at least a week in advance will help maintain the child’s mental and emotional state. Turn off or reduce TV and electronic time as this will ease your child into the learning process and school routine.
Take advantage of the school open house or make an appointment to visit the school with your child so that you both have an opportunity to meet the teachers, locate the classroom, locker, lunchroom, gymnasium, etc. Meeting the staff will support the child and help relieve your own anxiety. Get to know your child’s teacher(s). Find out how they like to communicate with parents. Establish a system for consistent communication which can be person to- person, phone or email. Familiarize yourself with the other school professionals such as the special education teacher, school psychologist, counselor, social worker and (CSCT) team.
Once school begins, it is critical to continue your attentiveness to the small things as they matter to children. It helps to clear your schedule in order to be free to help your child acclimate to the school routine. Get in the habit of making their lunches the night before and involve your child, if possible. Assure your child is dressed and groomed appropriately so that they don’t draw attention to themselves. Set alarm clocks and leave plenty of extra time to ensure plenty of time to complete their morning routine.
Reducing anxiety for your child is vital to their school success. Show you care about education and share your enthusiasm for learning. Model optimism and confidence for your child. Send notes in their lunches.
At the end of day, take time to review with your child how the day went and try to react with supportive language. Help your child deal with and resolve “typical” school problems. Natural consequences are those that occur naturally every day due to our choices so help your child understand this concept. If you have questions, contact the school for clarification but do this outside the presence of your child. Again you want to model hopefulness for your child. As a parent part of your responsibility is to monitor their social interactions. This is difficult but most schools have an established process that can help with this.
If your child is on an Individual Education Plan (IEP) then meeting with the special education team is an important step in relationship and trust building with the school staff. Come prepared to share your comments and concerns about your child. Teaching strategies, instructional approaches and interventions that have been successful in the past are helpful as well as sharing their likes and dislikes and treatment needs. If you have relevant information and or documents that could be helpful, be sure to bring a copy to the meeting. It is important to remember that accommodations are supports designed to give a student with a disability an equal opportunity to participate and benefit from school. They are intended to reduce or even eliminate the effect of a student’s disability and NOT to reduce learning expectations.
Ask questions when you don’t understand or have concerns regarding your child’s education and be open to the school staff suggestions regarding your child’s learning needs, challenges and accommodations.
Most of all, remember that being present shows the child you care about their education and in turn the child feels cared about.
Marvin Williams, MA, has been the Director of Education at Intermountain for 7 years. He holds a Master of Art in Education from Montana State–Billings and a BA from Eastern Montana College. Marvin has extended experience as an educator for children with special needs and served as the Special Education Director in the Helena School District previous to coming to Intermountain School.