Start School on the Right Foot

Transition back into school is tough for all kids, but for kids with disabilities the process can be more than arduous. Since several school districts go back into session the second or third week in August, this gives you a bit of time to work on ironing out the wrinkles that could get in the way of a smooth-move back into the school routine.

Autism Florida President, Stacey Hoaglund Shares her tips for back to school preparation


The Great Sleep Challenge:

The summer tends to be a bit more lax when it comes to keeping to a schedule. Even for kids who go to camp, parents often choose to sleep-in if they can, and take the kids to camp when everyone’s up and about. If your child’s used to sleeping until 9:00 AM and they’ll need to wake at 6:00 AM to have enough time to catch the bus, that means that there are 3 hours that need to be shaped down.

If you’ve got four weeks to go before school begins, have your child wake up a half hour earlier each week. Be sure to have something they love ready for them when they get up without an issue. If they think there’s something cool waiting for them, it might not be as big a deal as it could be.

Put on a Happy Face

When talking to your kids about going back to school, it’s important to think about just how scary this might be for them. This is especially true for those who are changing schools. Kids generally struggle with newness. What some of us consider exciting can leave someone else downright petrified. Remember to pay attention to signs of stress and talk to your child as calmly and positively about school as you can. They will naturally identify with the feelings they get from you. So, even if you’re worried about the return to school, put on an air of confidence of how this year is going to be the best!

Getting Prepared

There are things you can do now that are sure to make the transition so much easier.

  • Create a one page flyer called a “Day in the Life” to give to your child’s teachers. This should include helpful hints on how he or she learns best, where the best seat for him is, how to approach behavioral concerns that are likely to come up, how much work is too much and how much work isn’t enough. And don’t forget info on special diets, seizures or medications that the teacher needs to be aware of…. as well as anything else that comes to mind that would help the teacher get to know who your child is and what they need.
  • Visit the campus with your child before that very first day. This is especially important if the school will be a new one for your family. While you’re there, take pictures or video of all the common areas and the classroom, if you can. Even better, if the teacher and other support personnel allow you to take their photos, take them.  You can also get pictures off of some school websites and Facebook pages.
  • Use these pics to create a social story that your child can read each day. This should not only prepare them for what is to come, but should have a positive impact on anxieties that may be likely to surface. The more times you can visit or read the social story, the better.
  • Once the teachers are back (usually a week before school starts) meet them. Take your child into his new classroom and have the teacher show him where he’ll be sitting, where he can hang his backpack, and where he can find the classroom schedule. For middle and high school kids, plan not only to meet all the teachers, but walk the schedule BEFORE the halls are filled with bustling adolescents and teens.

First Impressions

Especially if you have a child starting middle or high school, it’s important to consider their wardrobe. Some kids with disabilities aren’t concerned with how they look or what they wear, but other kids their age are. If you’ve got that child who has a hard time getting rid of old clothes and would rather wear it until their growing body no longer can physically get into it, it will be extra important to spend some time acclimating them to the idea of “big kid clothes” before school’s back in session.

For ideas about what kids are wearing these days, people-watch as you take a stroll through the mall, a movie theater lobby on a Friday or Saturday night or one of the local gaming stores. This should leave you with a plethora of ideas as to what kids find acceptable. Looking like you fit in is the first step towards being accepted by your peers (whether we like it or not).

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